“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
“And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common.” (Acts 2:44-45)
“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” (Matt 18:20)
The old saying, “The good is the enemy of the best,” has never been more true than in the case of one of the most effective twists of truth Satan has perpetrated on the church today. Is it good that we show the world we are Christ’s children by loving them? Fans of this blog know I would be the biggest hypocrite ever to deny that. Is it good that we serve in ministries, minister to the poor, preach the Gospel, and bring hope to the hopeless? Ditto.
But that’s not the way Jesus said we would be known as His disciples. He said He wanted us to be known by the love we had for one another, not the way we loved those outside the fellowship. Therefore, I would propose that the “good” model of loving others has become the enemy of the “best” model of showing them our love for one another as well as for them. Why? Because it’s given us an excuse for not gathering in community, where they have an opportunity to see us be known the way Jesus said He wanted us to be known—the way He set it up for He and His disciples to be known.
Jesus’ first act, immediately after He ascended from His baptism and before He ever started preaching and fulfilling His ministry to the world, was to gather His disciples—His community. Ever the living example of all He taught, Jesus was interested in more than loving and serving them. He wanted to see those people witness us loving each other. Likewise, when the Holy Spirit descended upon His people at Pentecost, the first order of business was not to send the Apostles out to preach with their new-found power. It was to gather believers together in community so the world could witness the “love they had for one another.” That was to be the foundation of their mission, and provide the gravitas to all they were to preach about.
Today we still work on the “loving others” part of the equation, but coming together as visible community, out in the community? Living in community demands as much, if not more, than reaching out to the world outside of it. Community demands that living as disciples be a lifestyle: Not an occupation, a “ministry”, or a series of meetings. It requires extraordinary patience, forgiveness, and love forged in the kilns of fellowship, manifested daily. It means facing, and overcoming, being together to both challenge and edify one another: learning to live with one another’s shortcomings, and learning to contribute our gifts to a collective in a way that edifies without dominating or demanding. Loving an unbeliever we disagree with is easy. Ah, but loving another believer we disagree with? That takes true love. That takes true commitment.
What has driven us apart from community stems primarily from two factors: first, simply living in the affluence of America causes us to gravitate towards convenience and the evidence of what the world calls success. That means steering clear of difficult tasks, and it also means pursuing independence. If we don’t our own home, our own car, and have a healthy income and nest egg we’re seen as losers. If kids live at home after they age of 18 they’re seen as losers. If people need to move in together to make it financially they’re likewise seen as losers. Here in America the only place you find anything resembling true community is among the poor, the addicted, and the disadvantaged, and that is because they need community just to survive. You never witness it where people have the financial wherewithal to be independent.
Furthermore, we have been so processed by our current system of religion that has taught us the Christian life is about events rather than lifestyle, trying to introduce the concept of true community has become such a paradigm change in thinking most can’t even wrap their minds around it. Even for the most passionate followers of Christ life is a series of meetings and events. We go to church, we go to Bible studies, we go to numerous Christian meetings, and we even go to “do ministry.” But consider actually coming to spend the majority of our day in community, where it’s a lifestyle instead of events? We need the Lord to “transform us through the renewing of our minds” if this paradigm shift in thinking is going to set in.
Well, the days of the greatness of America, contrary to what so many of the faithful find new hope in with the latest election results, are numbered. When our worldly security falls under the weight of its own greed and sense of entitlement from within, or God’s judgment from without people will, to survive, be forced in to community once again. It’s too bad crises is what it seems it will take to bring us back into community, because we’re missing out on the incredible benefits to be had that have nothing to do with survival! As a good friend of mine calls it, we should be about “Surthrival”!
We are missing out on Jesus “being in our midst” 24/7 (Matt. 18:20). We are missing out on power and healing fellowship, and experiencing the challenges and rewards that are the stuff true love is made of. How many “Day of Pentecost” experiences are we failing to realize because we don’t experience true community? We should not have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into community for the sake of survival in the flesh. We should be passionately seeking it out for the sake of fulfillment in the spirit! We should be seeking out community, not because we have to but because we need to.
What would life for the disciples have looked like if Jesus “called them to a gathering” for a few hours a week while with them? Do you think they would have experienced lives with power anywhere near the ones they knew through the community He instituted with them? We hear our brothers and sisters talking all the time about how they want to experience more of God’s presence. I do too. Well, Jesus promised—promised –where two or more were gathered in His name that would happen. We likewise hear them say all the time how they need encouragement and love. I do too. Well, the Writer of Hebrews said we would find that, and more, if we did “not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, and all the more as the day draws near.”
The power of community is what we are missing out on. The love and the blessing of God the disciples knew has been sacrificed through living in the isolationism affluent society perpetuates. If Satan is successful in convincing us good is good enough, the best will never come. If he is successful in keeping us from the kind of fellowship the Acts 2 church knew, then all of our “ministries” will continue to lack the power they could have. If we’re not ministering to each other as well as to others, we ourselves won’t be known as the sort of “disciples” Jesus commanded us to go out and “make” (Matt. 28:19-20). If we cannot get there, how can we bring others along? What is the knock on modern day Christendom, if not lots of conversions but few disciples coming from it—lots of sinner’s prayers being prayed, but very few living the lifestyle of apostles? The world is not buying the promise of modern Christendom, because they’re not seeing lifestyle Christianity.
People zealous for good works start wonderful ministries all the time, and that is certainly “good”. But then they try to build community upon the shoulders of ministry. It’s backwards, and community rarely forms when ministry is the foundation. The two must go hand in hand, that is true. We must at all times “abide in Christ [inward focus] and bear fruit [outward focus],” but community must come first. We must make community the starting point—the foundation—as Jesus did with His disciples and the Spirit did with His church, and build everything upon it. Until community is achieved, we must make everything else secondary. We must stop letting what is merely good stop giving us an excuse to fail to pursue what is best. Community. That’s where it starts. Or it ends in merely “good”, because it fails to present the body to the world as disciples known for loving one another.
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