People Need People
People need people.
Why do we have a deep-seated longing to connect with others – not just at the surface level but at the deeper heart level? Why do we experience feelings of loneliness when we are separated from others? Why are those in solitary confinement driven mad due to lack of human interaction? Why has the cultural isolationism of this past year been so hard for us?
We were created for the fulfillment of in-person relationships. We were created for community.
How do I know this? While I speak from experience, I also know this because Scripture teaches about community. God created Adam, and even though God said it was “very good,” God also knew Adam was not complete without his spouse. God could have made Adam self-sufficient and to not long for human companionship, but God specifically fashioned Adam to need the presence of his wife.
In addition to this, most of the epistles in the New Testament were written to churches – groups of people living in community. To build this case further, there are many “one another” phrases in the New Testament.
We know community is essential. But what role does community play in the life of a Christian?
The community (based in the life of a local church) aids the believer in spiritual growth through admonishment and sanctification.
In the New Testament, the Greek for admonish (noutheteo) means “to admonish, warn, exhort.”
In Colossians 1:28, Paul uses this word to “warn” the church at Colossae so that he might present them “mature in Christ.” Again in 1 Corinthians 4:14, Paul uses this word to represent his dealings with the Corinthian church. He “admonished them as beloved children.”
Based on these two examples, it might seem like the job of the church leadership to admonish, exhort, and warn those within the body who are in sin. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul says, “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another” (Romans 15:14). Paul had enough confidence in the spiritual maturity of the church at Rome that he never second-guessed their ability to instruct each other in matters of doctrine and to live out their Christian faith in a twisted culture. It is the job of every Christian to rebuke a fellow Christian when needed lovingly.
In light of this, Paul reminds us of the spirit behind admonishment. “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1). The spirit behind giving an admonishment to a brother or sister is to be one of kindness, love, and an attitude of being a fellow-struggler.
I have personally been blessed by individuals in my life who love me enough to speak up when I am heading in the wrong direction, to admonish and rebuke me in a loving way, and to always come back and reaffirm their love for me. Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “A man who loves you the most is the man who tells you the most truth about yourself.”
A true Christ-centered community takes the time to care for the souls of its members through gentle rebuke and admonition to turn from sin and walk in the light of life.
It is no question that being involved in close relationships is messy. Despite this messiness, God commands us to live in community with other Christians. It is for this reason that being a grace-driven community is so important.
Even though believers in Christ have new hearts, the flesh is still in the process of dying to self and being made alive in the Spirit (see Colossians 2:13-14). Patience and perseverance with others throughout this process of sanctification is sanctifying for both parties involved.
Romans 8 is key in helping us understand this process of sanctification. “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30).
This process can be outlined as follows:
1) God’s foreknowledge of believers
2) God’s predestination of believers
3) Believers being called by God
4) Believers justified by God
5) Believers’ sanctification in the Spirit (conformed to the image of Christ)
6) Believers’ glorification
After being saved by God’s grace (justification), the focus of our salvation moves toward sanctification. This is what Paul means in Philippians 2 when he says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). Also, see 1 Thessalonians 4:1-3. Paul’s main concern for the early church was its sanctification in light of living in community.
In conclusion, community plays a vital role in the life of a healthy Christian. If your version of “Christianity” drives you away from people instead of toward people, check your heart. True love for God includes love for the local body of believers. Living in this Christ-centered community includes admonishing each other in love and gentleness. We must progress in our own sanctification both as individuals and as a corporate body. If spiritual growth is not taking place at a corporate level, make sure you are with a truly gospel-centered, cross-centered, and Christ-centered church body.
Love for God is the springboard to loving others. Love God well, and you will love your community well too.