Text: Genesis 1: 26-27; Hebrews 10: 19-25
Illustration: During last and this year's Pandemic, when we were all isolated from each other.
Community is something we all want. Every human being longs for a meaningful relationship – a context in which we can know and be known. No matter how you’re wired – introvert, extrovert, socially adept or socially awkward – something in our soul longs for meaningful relationships with other humans. We value friendships that allow us to truly “be ourselves”. Though some of us have never found this sort of community and though others have been deeply wounded by relationships, all of us still long for a deep, authentic, and real community.
How did we get this way? How did this craving, this longing, this yearning, get hardwired into us?
Because we are:
1. Created for Community (Genesis 1:26-27)
Theologically, this longing for community is rooted in God himself: Among world religions, there are basically two views of God: monotheism (one God) and polytheism (many gods). But among the monotheistic religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity – the Christian view of God is distinct. Christians believe that God is a Trinity or a Triune: one being in three persons. God is a relational being (three persons in one as the Trinity).
In revealing Himself as a Trinity, God demonstrates that he is a community in and of himself. There is much about the Trinity that is a mystery to us. However, the fact that God has revealed himself to be triune makes it clear that community is fundamental to the structure of reality. God always existed in a lifestyle of community.
The Trinity means that God himself is in community. More accurately, God is community: one God, three persons.
The Bible answers that question by explaining that we are created in the image of God. Genesis 1: 26 – 27 lays the foundation for this doctrine. Let’s read again!
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
In the biblical account of creation, this Triune God says: “Let us make man in our image” (Gen. 1:26). Human beings are made to image God, to reflect his likeness.
Having been made in God’s image, we are built for community and connection. When we live outside of community and interdependence on one another, our very humanity is compromised and subverted. We live out of accordance with our true nature and thus are bound to feel a sense of emptiness and a lack of fulfillment.
Illustration: When God created humanity, He proclaimed that it was “not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). That’s why He created Eve for Adam.
Application: So if deep community is something we all want, if it’s part of being made in God’s image, then what makes it so hard to attain? What keeps us from achieving the type of meaningful human relationships that God wired us for?
2. Broken Community: The Fall
If you think for a moment about the nature of your relationships, you’ll quickly identify another tendency that’s present – something darker and more sinister than your God-given desire for community. It is the tendency to use people to meet your own needs first. It’s not hard to see how often we are self-focused, pursuing our own interests and protecting ourselves from people and relationships that will demand too much of us.
Think of the times you’ve intentionally avoided someone who bothers you.
Or the times you’ve stopped pursuing certain friends because they were no longer useful to you.
These selfish tendencies reveal that something has gone deeply wrong in our pursuit of community. Though made in God’s image, we have fallen from our original glory. We have devolved into something less than what we were made to be. There’s something selfish and self-absorbed about us that prevents us from becoming more like God the way we were designed to.
Illustration: Sociologist Christopher Lasch, in his book The Culture of Narcissism, discovered that ordinary people (Americans) now display many of the same character traits that are usually associated with pathological personality disorders. Narcissism has become normal.
As pragmatic people, we tend to have a functional view of community. Knowingly or unknowingly, we think of relationships in terms of what they do for us. In other words, functional community puts me at the center: I value relationships for how well they function to fulfill my needs and desires. And if they don’t function well or aren’t “meeting my needs”, I have no need for them.
E.g. Luke 6:32-34,
32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.”
Recap: We are created for community, but something is wrong within us – sin has created broken communities and selfishness rules. Sin has turned us in on ourselves and distorted our relationships with others. So if this is the problem – then what’s the solution?
We need Someone who can deliver us from our selfishness and restore our capacity for true, deep, lasting community.
3. Redeemed For Community (Hebrews 10:19-25)
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 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.
We have confidence in the Gospel (v. 19-21), through all that Christ has done for us.
In other words, because of what Christ has done for us, we have two great freedoms or assurances that grow out of the gospel (v. 22-25). They are:
The freedom or assurance before God: “Let us draw near” (v. 22). To whom? To God. Why? Because I am accepted by Him through the work of Jesus Christ; and now I am not afraid of rejection by Him. One of the effects of sin is fear of moving toward God, as our primary communion with God is broken because of sin. But Christ through his work gives us the opportunity and freedom to draw near to God.
The freedom or assurance toward other believers: “Let us consider how to stir up one another to...” (v. 24). There is a new bond with this group of Christians; it is my family.
One of the main things that Jesus accomplishes when he redeems us is to restore our capacity for community – to God and to people. God has created us for community, though sin has broken our community, and Jesus has redeemed us for community.
How does Jesus make redeemed people move into community? – Jesus has restored our community with God, paid for our sin, he freed us from selfishness – if Jesus could do this for a selfish person like me, then because of his grace, power, I can move toward others the same way Jesus moved toward me.
That is why Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his small but powerful book “Life Together”, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this…. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ”
I am a brother to another person through what Jesus Christ did for me and to me; the other person has become a brother to me through what Jesus Christ did for him/her. Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us.
Illustration: Movie – Black Panther: In the movie, Wakanda is a fictional African homeland hidden from the rest of the world, it is uncolonized, technologically advanced, brimming with black excellence and beauty, industrious, mountainous, and breathtaking. It was a homogeneous society, a tribe of the Panther, provided a distinct pleasure for those within it.
I can remember the first Wakanda experience I had with Christians. Men and women from similar backgrounds, who spoke the same vernacular, opened up their Bibles to hear from and worship. Finding yourself in a room full of similar people can make you feel at home like little else can. But at the same time, as a Christian, I thought, “What of the beauty of diversity? Shouldn’t that be the ideal? Is it wrong to feel so at home in Wakanda?
As I continued in my Christian walk, Scripture taught me that there is a pleasure that exceeds even the sweetness of cultural sameness.
In God’s word, we learned that Wakanda has borders that expand beyond cultural similarity. Christ has redeemed us not for a community of people who look and act just like us, but a community made up of people from every tribe and tongue and nation on earth (Rev. 7:9).
Laldena Intoate Hmar wrote an article at E-Pao on “Tribalism in Manipur”
“Even church organizations are based on tribal lines. The whole tragedy with most of the tribal Christians is that their ethnic loyalty often transcends their commitment to Christianity. In other words, they are tribal first and Christians second”.
The healthy church is a foretaste of the coming paradise where Jesus, our King, unites a people of differences. Our distinctions don’t disappear, but a greater reason for unity appears. This family is connected by better blood: His.
In God’s coming Wakanda, he offers something even greater than the world of Black Panther: a unity made perfect through diversity. In this place, union not uniformity – will be the greater light.
One unique thing about the church is its diversity. The Christian community is not homogeneous, but heterogeneous, consisting of all different kinds of people. But it is only the gospel which unites us together – in Christ and through Christ!
4. Transformed in Community (Hebrews 10:24-25)
And we are given three important commands regarding one another in this passage:
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works (v. 24): “Spur” or “Stir up” is literally to “shake someone,” to contend with, to speak pointedly. “To love and good works” shows the purpose of Christian fellowship is to changed lives.
Let us not neglect to meet together (v. 25): “Meet together” means to ‘come together as a congregation’, to form a body. This is opposed to the idea that a Christian can live and grow properly in isolation from other believers. We are to make time for the community!
Let us encourage one another (v. 25): This means to come alongside and call on to progress or to grow together.
You see, redemption is not the end of the story. God is preparing us for “new heavens and new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). God is out to preparing his people for this glorious future by transforming them now, a process the Bible calls sanctification.
The agent of sanctification or transformation is the Holy Spirit.
The tool of sanctification or transformation is the truth of the gospel.
And the context of sanctification or transformation is community.
The Christian community provides a context where others can remind us of the gospel and give us support for the enduring battle of smashing our idols and becoming followers of Christ with undivided hearts. It also provides a context in which our sin and idolatry can be exposed and where others can “speak the truth in love” to us. Regularly worshipping God with the larger church on Sundays, in fellowship groups and as an individual regularly is necessary if our lives are to change.
Did you ever notice how patient you are – as long as no one is getting on your nerves? Or how loving you are – as long as you’re surrounded by people who are easy to love? Or how humble you are – as long as you’re respected and admired by others? Every one of us is a saint in isolation! It’s in the community that our real weaknesses, flaws, sins are exposed. That’s why community is essential – not optional – for transformation. We can’t become the people God wants us to become outside of the community.
In his book, Love in Hard Places, Don Carson writes,
The Church is …made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. Christian come together … because they have been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance … They are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.
We are “natural enemies”. The gospel works to overcome these attitudes. We are sinners saved by sheer grace, and we need to draw out the implications and live in total consistency with that.
One of the most important ways that the Christian church embodies the gospel is in the unity of Christians who are different from one another – ethnically, culturally, and economically. We need to show the world that people who cannot live in love and unity outside Christ can do so in Christ.
New City Imphal is a diverse community committed to love our city through the transforming power of the gospel for the glory of God.