Christian community is vital.
This Christian life is not, nor has it ever been, meant to be done alone. There are no lone wolves in the Christian faith. We are designed to be relational and to be surrounded by a community of fellow believers. Sadly, this seems to be a dying trend in churches today. Many people simply want to come in, get their quick dose of Jesus, and make sure they’re back in time for the game to start. When we do this, or when we attempt to avoid being part of a relational community in our church, we are short changing ourselves and sacrificing something very special.
I had the opportunity this week to preach to a wonderful congregation on Philippians 2:19-30. In this passage, the Apostle Paul gives a very beautiful description of two men that have come alongside him for the sake of the Gospel. Timothy and Epaphroditus worked with Paul and were sources of great encouragement for him. Paul goes so far as to call them his brothers, fellow workers and soldiers in the work of Christ. The community these men shared together is a wonderful example for us all to emulate in our own lives.
I believe that a true, biblical, Gospel-centered community can be defined by three things. Three specific characteristics that the people of God should embody. The first is Gospel-centered sympathy. We are called to care for one another in a deep, meaningful and intentional way. This is above simply the common pleasantries that are normally exchanged in church or in society. This is a gritty, deep relationship that only occurs between people who share the very strongest of bonds. We as Christians share the strongest bond in the world. We are bound together by the love and work of Jesus Christ. There is nothing stronger than this. We should all be marked by Gospel-centered sympathy as we strive to encourage, convict, support, and come alongside our fellow believers as we spur one another on toward the image of Christ.
The second mark of a Christian community is that the believers are marked by Gospel-centered service. This service is done without grumbling or complaining, always seeking to aid in the the needs of others before our own. The ultimate example for this is of course Jesus Christ. He left perfection and perfect communion with His Father in order to save sinners. He left the praise of Heaven and angels and exchanged it for homelessness and death. Christ did not “count equality with God as something to be grasped.“ He emptied Himself of everything so that we might have life. This is the type of service that we Christians should show to each other. Selfless, humble, self-sacrificial love. We should be people marked by Gospel-centered service.
Third and finally, we should be people marked by Gospel-centered sacrifice. Again, the ultimate example we have for this is Christ himself. No one in history has sacrificed more than our Savior. Yet there are others we can look to for an example as well. We can also look to the martyrs, those brave men and women who gave everything they had and paid the ultimate price for the cause of Christ. They sacrificed their lives, reputations, comfort and everything they had for the cause of the Gospel. This is what the Apostle Paul did for the Savior that he loved.
If you ever get the chance, you should read through Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and be inspired by the bravery and commitment to the Gospel those men and women had. Even in the face of the most horrible circumstances, they never wavered or forsook the truth of Christ. It is amazing how the grace of God can transcend any situation and make even the most frail human beings stand in the face of death, claim their Savior, and face the flames without flinching. I am very thankful for these men and women and the example they left us.
Christian community must have Gospel-centered sympathy, service and sacrifice. When these are present, unity is found and joy shines within the body of Christ. The Gospel of Christ must remain central to everything in order for true unity to be had. We sympathize and care for each other because that is exactly what Christ did for us. We serve one another because Christ, in His glory and majesty, still intercedes for us every day. We sacrifice because Christ sacrificed. When we do this for each other, when we give of ourselves sacrificially, we exhibit a small fraction of Christ. We show just a little of the glorious amount that Christ has shown us.
What a privilege it is to love our fellow believers. What a privilege to invest and be invested in by a community of saints as we strive to bring glory to Christ through the advancement of His Gospel. Christ died for us so that we might live for Him. This is what brings unity and joy in the life of a Christian. Let’s start living in community with one another. Let’s start today.