Community in Christ
Community is defined as “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.” And in today’s society, we talk a lot about community. We long to be seen and known, to find people who share some characteristic or interest with us. We find joy in our work communities, our parenting communities, our (fill in the blank) hobby communities. And so it has become especially important to discuss what a Christian community needs to look like in a culture that seems at times oversaturated with communities for any of our niche interests. What is distinctive about our community? Is it any more significant than any of these others?
Our missional family has been reading a book called Everyday Church: Gospel Communities on Mission, by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. In this book, the authors deeply explore these questions of the attributes of a Christian community. There is much to say about this topic, but perhaps the ultimate difference is that when Christian community is completely focused on and dependent upon the Word and Christ for its sustaining, then our communities can become a catalyst for true redemption and change in our unbelieving friends and neighbors.
1 Peter 1:22-23 sets up the framework for Christian community by saying that it is the Word of God that forms our community. We are called to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart since we have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” We are born into a new family, the permanent family of God, which is the ultimate community to which we belong. This community is greater and deeper than any other because it is defined and sustained by Jesus and the love of his Word. This community is one in which we understand how to care for one another because we have been cared for by God. It is one in which we understand how to forgive each other, because we have been forgiven by Jesus. It is a community that we never have to fear fading away, because the Word itself is imperishable, and the community is sustained by this imperishable Word.
And so our community looks different from other communities. Acts 2:44-47 paints a picture for us of what this community is purposed to look like. It says, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” This passage draws out many of the beautiful things that occur when we function in a family community that is born by and sustained by Jesus. When we look to the Word for the endurance of our community, we are able to do life together, to love one another well, to selflessly seek to meet each other’s needs, and to rejoice together in the grace of the Lord that redeemed us and adopted us into his enduring family.
The last verse of this passage, though, shows us the deep impact our community can have on our neighbors and our friends. True community is desirable and much sought after. When our unbelieving friends see this community lived out as Jesus has designed it, they are attracted to it. Tim Chester and Steve Timmis write in Everyday Church, “Mission must involve not only contact between individual Christians but between unbelievers and the Christian community.... We need to introduce people to the network of relationships that make up the believing community so that they see the Christian community in action. People are often attracted to the Christian community before they are attracted to the Christian message. This does not necessarily mean inviting people to Sunday services. It means introducing them to our network of relationships in the context of ordinary life: inviting both Christian and non-Christian friends around for a meal or for an evening out.” When we live in community like this and welcome our unbelieving neighbors into it, then Jesus’ word which sustains us also changes hearts. May our communities live in such a way that we may see the change that the church in Acts did, that the Lord will add to our number “day by day those who are being saved.” May we remember that our community does not exist simply to gratify our own desires, but to bring glory to God and to faithfully proclaim the gospel to our unbelieving friends in the context of everyday life.