“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal. Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.
Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2: 1-4
In recent years there has been a growing movement in American culture in which people are seeking spiritual experiences while intentionally disconnecting from the church. Church involvement is declining while American fascination with spiritualism continues to increase. The idea is that our spiritual life is individualistic and personal and can best be experienced in solitude and personal reflection. Many Americans feel no compulsion to gather with other people in order to increase their spiritual connection. This is a very dangerous path and most who go down this road will eventually find emptiness and faith that is void of substance.
For the Christian, we are designed for two main purposes: To glorify and know God and to live in community with other believers who are seeking to do the same.
In the New Testament there is no such thing as a Lone Ranger believer. The NT writers were all strong proponents that believers should exist in community with other believers. “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25. Though it can, at times, be messy and complicated, we are called to do life together as Christians. In Philippians 2, Paul clearly communicated this truth to the church. In verses 1-4 he gives us a perfect description of the goals of Christian community. In verse 1 he speaks of the “fellowship of the Spirit”, which is the mountain top of Christian community. The Greek word is koinōnia which speaks of sharing common fellowship with other believers based on the work of the Holy Spirit living in you. This word represents the highest goal for real, authentic joyous Christian community. Every church should be marked with this unique experience. Only the Christian church can provide koinōnia. This kind of fellowship cannot be found in sports bars, community clubs, civic organizations or online chat groups. We were created to live in fellowship with other believers and no place gives this type of opportunity like a local Christian fellowship.
Our culture is becoming less social and less personal.
We don’t take the time to get to know our neighbors or chat on the front porch. Americans are so addicted to their smartphones and technology that we have forgotten how beneficial it is to personally communicate with other people. Our idea of being “social” these days means getting on Facebook and checking everyone’s status. In studying congregations and church health I have found that the most effective and dynamic churches are the ones who have successfully cultivated faith into community within the life of the congregation. I believe our culture is starving itself through individualism and the absence of authentic community. Authentic relationships will continue to become a growing desire for Americans. Authentic community as seen in churches will become more attractive to non-Christians in the coming years as they see a group of people who genuinely care for one another and simply do life together. Believers and unbelievers alike all have the need for authentic community and no place in the world does it better than the local Christian church.
Yet some churches are struggling with authentic community. There are churches that suffer from chronic division and God forbid that an unbeliever chooses to visit that church to find authentic relationships. The threat of individualism among church members needs to be addressed and corrected. In other words, if believers are simply grabbing their Bibles and sitting in a pew each week without taking part in Christian fellowship they are missing an important part of God’s purpose for them. Some Christians will not seek to be builders of fellowship and relationships due to their own insecurities or fears of feeling vulnerable. Past hurts have eradicated their desire for community and the devil’s strong grip on their life remains.
I remember singing that old hymn on Sunday mornings when I was a child, “There’s a sweet sweet spirit in this place and I know that its the presence of the Lord. There are sweet expressions on each face and I know they feel the presence of the Lord.” Those words still resonate in my heart as I recall the sweet spirit found in my home church. People caring for people, believers loving believers.
What should be the marks of Christian community?
- Authentic concern for other’s well being. “Let each of you look out not only for his own interest, but also for the interest of others.” Phil 2:4. The story is told of an older lady who made frequent trips to the local post office. One day she confronted a long line of people who were waiting for service from the postal clerks. She only needed stamps, so a helpful observer asked, “Why don’t you use the stamp machine? You can get all the stamps you need and you won’t have to stand in line.” the lady said, “I know, but the machine can’t ask me about my arthritis.” Life is messy, difficult and down right painful at times. The Christian experience should be marked with care and compassion for those around us, especially those we share church membership. In writing to a church Paul encouraged the Romans to “Weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.” Romans 12:15.
- Authentic concern for each other’s spiritual growth. “From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.” Eph 4:16. A few years ago we bought our children a fish aquarium. When we went to the pet store to buy fish a store employee was helping us choose the right kind. One particular fish caught my attention and I said, “We will take one of those.” The employee said, “You can’t just take one, you need to take at least two. This type of fish needs other of its species to grow and flourish.” We left that day with two of that type of fish. What was true of that fish is also true of Christians, we really do need each other in order to become all that God wants us to be. As Paul says to the Ephesians, when the whole body does its work together it builds itself up and promotes growth among its members!
- Authentic accountability for other’s spiritual edification. “Yes, I also ask you, TRUE partner, to help these women who have contended for the gospel at my side, along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers whose names are in the book of life.” Philippians 4:3. Paul consistently called on fellow believers to correct one another throughout his letters. “Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted.” Galatians 6:1. If our fellow believers will not correct us then who will? In Christian fellowship there should be an expectation that accountability will be an essential part of authentic community. We should submit our spiritual lives to one another knowing that “Iron sharpens iron.” Solomon wisely states, “For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.” Eccl. 4:10.