The Community Challenge
Be at peace with one another. Be devoted to one another. Honor one another. Instruct one another. Serve one another. Forgive each other. Bear with one another. Have concern for one another. Confess your sins to each other. Love one another.
When was the last time you had coffee with a fellow believer and talked about something other than your days? When was the last time you asked a probing question of a sister or brother and expected an answer? When was the last time that you confessed a sin or struggle to a friend and was encouraged and held accountable for that sin in your life?
I ask because I also struggle with the answers to these questions. I yearn so deeply for a Godly Christian community, and yet I shy away from it at every opportunity. Thoughts like, “How do I bring it up?” or “What if they don’t understand?” and “What if they respond badly, or I make them feel uncomfortable?” The possibility of condemnation often keeps me from delving deeper than the surface level.
Here’s some basic information of my life. Here’s a touch about the fight I got into with my husband. Here’s stories about the difficulty of my job. Here’s some anecdotes about my son and being a mother. Now you go. Wash-rinse-repeat and goodbye.
Here’s the challenge of community as written in Hebrews:
“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” Hebrews 3:12-14
Challenge 1 - “Brothers”
The writer of Hebrews is careful to address his readers as “brothers.” But how can I expect to be a “sister” (the female equivalent) to a person I hardly know? On reflection, I think I’m probably not a very good “sister” to my flesh and blood family. Perhaps the disconnect stems from the cultural shift in familial relationships. Families are getting so confused and mixed up. How can we define “brother” without the baggage of recent events? Families used to be a strictly constructed relationship of flesh and blood, people that were stuck together no matter what and forced to work through any difficulties that may arise.
Today, with the rise in divorce and alternative family arrangements, the traditional stick-together family is more rare than anything. But I have to believe that this is what it means when we are called to be “brothers.” We are called to stick together and be in each other’s lives no matter the difficulty. No matter my discomfort about how I am responded to, I am challenged to be a good “brother.”
Challenge 2 - “In any of you”
This part of the verse is especially challenging for me, because it holds me accountable for my “brother’s” and “sister’s” sin. The writer doesn’t say “take care that you don’t foster an evil and unbelieving heart within yourself.” He says “Take care, brothers, lest there be IN ANY OF YOU an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away…” Because I am part of a community of believers, a family, my own wellbeing is threatened when another believer is struggling without help.
How can I fulfill the challenge of this part of the passage if I “mind my own” and have no idea what is happening in the lives of those around me? As a mother, I am painfully aware when my son does not have his nap. He makes it obvious to all those around. I can read the signs and know when the meltdown is coming. I can help to dissuade such outbursts with snacks and downtime. As a wife, I know when my husband has a bad day at work, whether he tells me outright or not. This only comes from a deep and observant relationship with my family. I can help my husband and my child when they are emotionally distraught or even falling into sin. The challenge is to be able to translate that same skill into my relationships with fellow believers.
Challenge 3 - “Exhort one another every day”
The only way that I can possibly manage to foster a relationship that is deep enough to be considered “familial” is to spend a significant amount of time with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Once a week at worship service on Sunday is not going to cut it, not for me anyway. There is no way that I personally can grow and foster the type of relationships I will need to fulfill the community mandate in the 20 minutes of “chat time” after service. Relationships won’t be perfect even with the addition of once-a-week MFAMs. What I need is constant exposure to Christian community: family dinners, one-on-ones, and coffee, but most importantly it must be intentional.
The third challenge is not just about exposure in time, but also about exposure in content. We are called to be “exhorting.” Not gossiping. Not chatting. I am challenged to be intentional with my time and “exhort” my brothers and sisters, allowing them to “exhort” me as well.
Challenge 4 - “Share in Christ”
There is so much that one could take from this passage, but my final point is about THE POINT. The point of community, the point of our struggle, the point of our conversations should be Christ. John Piper says, “Christian fellowship in all its forms exists for one reason: to say things that will keep each on believing.” My conversations need to stop being about me, and start being about Christ.
Community is a challenge. It is counter-cultural. It is uncomfortable. It is weird. It is hard. It is vulnerable. But, more importantly, it is the reflection of the Gospel that Christ left for us. It is the means by which we may live in holiness and keep each other from stumbling day by day, “firm to the end.”