Monday, March 07, 2016

Monday Morning Rewind: Community

Yesterday, we finished up our "We are Covenant" series.  I hope it was both encouraging and clarifying for you.

We spoke for several weeks about where we find ourselves contextually as a church, what Jesus has called us to be, and how we should fulfill that calling.  But what we covered yesterday is an absolute necessity if we are to fulfill Jesus' vision.  We can't be effective at anything He calls us to do if we aren't doing it together.

Together.  Its a beautiful word, but living it out isn't easy because we are all different.  We have different tastes, different convictions, different ways of relating to each other, different ways of showing our love to each other, and all of these are fueled by different personalities.

So how on earth do we take the hundreds of people who are part of our church family--all different--and become ONE body?  We do it by emphasizing and living out Biblical community.

Another word for that is fellowship.  But when most Christians think of fellowship, they think of a long table full of casserole dishes full of delicious and unhealthy food.  But the Scriptures define community differently, and more deeply.  Community occurs when we love God's family with the love of God Himself--when our VERTICAL relationship with Him both defines and informs our HORIZONTAL relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

That is what we looked at yesterday.  And 1 John gives us a glimpse into what true community looks like.

1. Community Makes us More Like God.  The word "love" is very nebulous in our language. For example, I "love" my wife, my kids, my Harley, and Jesus--but obviously not all in the same way, or with nearly the same intensity.

Thankfully, the Greek language of the New Testament is more precise, and the word John uses here that we translate "love" has a more defined meaning.  The love we should have for each other is defined specifically as the very love that originates in God.  And when our church family has that kind of love for each other, the bond formed is so strong and powerful, it can't be avoided.

Conversely, if we don't love in this way, then we don't know His love.  But if we have His love, we are bonded together in a way that produces the unity we can then take to international students at Shepherd University, victims of trafficking, troubled kids who spent their formative years in horrible home situations, and others.  And we can provide for our community and the world something they can't find anywhere else!  Because in loving them in this way, they feel the presence of God.  But that love has to start in our midst--among each other!

2. Community helps us learn to get along.  When different people congregate together--especially when they do so in a church our size--"getting along" doesn't happen naturally.  It takes work!

Too many today conclude they don't want to invest too deeply and too emotionally in a church community because "I might get hurt."  The truth is, there is no "might" to it.  If you invest emotionally in anybody, eventually you will get hurt!  That happens because we are all imperfect, and in a sense, we are all, simultaneously both victims AND perpetrators of hurt.  This is because we all sin, and community is necessary for our sanctification (big word that means our character is gradually becoming more like God's character), and for the church on a group level

This is why John reminds us that community is commanded by Jesus.  Think about it for a moment.  Most likely, the worst emotional pain you have ever felt has come from those closest to you--your parents, your spouse, your children.  That's because the closer we are to each other, the more sin is revealed in our lives, and the more that sin exhibits itself in our relationships.  But just as we would never disown our families, we must also remain committed to each other.

In every church, there will be arguments, dissagreements, and difficulties to be worked out.  When we love each other through that process, the result is that we learn what true love really is.  And the sense of community that comes from taking those hard steps makes it worth the journey.

3. Community Helps Prepare Us for Eternity.  John isn't teaching that you get saved by loving other people.  But what he is saying is that if your conversion was genuine--if you genuinely love God with all your heart--one of the expressions of that genuine faith will be healthy, growing, mature relationships with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

But you can't claim a love for God if you don't also love those He created in His image and for whom He sent Jesus.

But here is the exciting part.  Practicing the kind of unifying community John describes in a world full of Gazas, Fergusons, political debates, and Syrias will reveal the power of the Gospel like nothing else.

And at the end of the day, that's really what matters.  In the future as your pastor, I'll be preaching about vision, mission, structure, systems, staffing, and of course, money.  Those are all real issues and our future is affected by viewing each of them in the right way.  But none of that really matters if, at the end of the day, we aren't a true community of faith.  Because no matter howlarge,  rich, slick, or well-organized we may become, without community it all evaporates at the first sign of conflict.

Here is the great news!  Covenant has many, MANY people who have seen conflict before, and they have already modeled community for us because they are still here.  We have much to learn from them!

And we can also continue to learn this principle from the Scriptures.  Next week, we launch from the subject of Biblical community to begin a new series entitled "One Body: A Study of Philippians."  How can a diverse group of people move as one?  How can we respect our differences, celebrate our diversity, and at the same time live in Gospel community together?

For the next ten weeks, we will learn how this happens from another highly diverse church that existed in the first century.  I look forward to seeing you there!

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