Community is a popular word, not just in churches, but in businesses, schools, gyms, and the like. Everyone has caught on to the fact that there is something to gathering with other people around a common goal that feels right. In fact, at my gym, there is a sign on the wall offering “small group training.” The sign reads: “Get inspired. Get together. Get results.” Inspiring, right?
What all of these gyms and businesses have stumbled upon is the simple truth that we are created for community. All of you introverts may not think that is true. But the reality, the biblical reality, is that God created us to exist in relationship with him and in relationship with others.
God created us to live alongside other believers—especially in gathering together for corporate worship. This is so important that the author of Hebrews writes that we’re not to neglect meeting together. That’s a biblical command. Here’s what the Bible has to say about the importance of being together with other believers.
Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 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.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
This begs the question, “What are we relying on to create biblical community?”
Good environments with coffee will draw people in. Some superficial friendships may encourage people to stick around. A teacher with a magnetic personality can hold people’s attention. But if that’s what we were relying on to create community, we’re no different than a coffee shop, a motivational speaker, or a gym.
What happens when a leader isn’t dynamic enough for certain people? What happens when you can’t “create the right environment” for community to happen? The impact of our current circumstances should remind us of this central truth:
True biblical community is not manufactured or sustained by human effort;
True biblical community is sustained by the Spirit of God, no matter the circumstances.
In his letter to the Ephesian church, one of Paul’s main concerns was unity. Through Christ’s reconciling work on the cross, God had brought people of various backgrounds together under one Lord and in one Spirit who confess one faith. Yet, this unity is not always easy to maintain, particularly today. This is why Paul writes in Ephesians 4,
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
I want to draw our attention to a few things in this passage for a moment:
First, we should be eager to maintain unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ. This means having a strong desire to maintain unity, whether it’s through disagreements or distance. What is the opposite of being eager? Being apathetic. Being uninterested. Ask yourself this question: Do I desire to be with God’s people? Do I desire to do whatever I can to maintain my relationships with other believers? This is not a question as much about our motivation, but about the condition of our hearts. The bottom line is, if you love Jesus and are full of his Spirit, you will love and grow in your love for his Church.
Secondly, we should be eager to maintain unity, not uniformity. Just before verse 3, in verse 2, Paul lists some character qualities we’ll need to be able to maintain unity: humility, gentleness, patience, and love. Why will we need these things? Because though we may be unified, we are not all the same. As we’re living life with one another, we’ll discover that pretty quickly. God has a patchwork quilt for his people; we are, each patch, knitted together, but distinctly different in our own personalities. That can be seen easily by how different types of people are handling being stuck at home right now. The difficulty of maintaining unity is something many of you are experiencing now that kids are home, and you’re trying to figure out balance of schedules. If I had to guess, qualities like gentleness, patience, love, and humility, those essential ingredients for unity, can run in short supply. It sure would be easier if everyone was the same right?
Finally, we should be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit. This is the crux. Paul wants us to remember that Christian unity depends solely on the work of God, who unifies us in his Spirit. Why do we need this reminder? Because it’s so easy to think that our unity should depend on other things.
- We can be unified around a dynamic personality—a good or popular Christian teacher. But Paul shot that option down in 1 Corinthians 3:4–5.
- We can be unified around people or “our group.” Biblical unity becomes cancerous when it’s an inward-facing unity and the group only cares about the group.
- We can be unified around our interests.
Here’s the problem, all of this is man-centered unity. It is focused on us. Paul’s point is that the unity we’re called to maintain is not something we’ve achieved, or that is built around us and our preferences, but around God and his gospel.
The foundation of our unified life together in the Church is the Spirit of the Living God, the one who holds us together. Nothing can snuff out true biblical community because it’s something created and sustained by God. We should be eager to do all that we can to maintain unity with our groups. Let’s encourage each other all the more as the Day is drawing near.
Questions to consider:
- What are some things that can get in the way of building genuine biblical community?
- Michael Kelley has said, “Unity is harder than uniformity because it requires death to our preference.” What does dying to our preference look like, in our families and in the church? How can we exemplify biblical unity practically?
- How can we strive for this type of unity in our church and LifeGroup?