Since God created us as image bearers we are by nature creatures of community and relationship...It’s the way we are wired. Existing in complete isolation is not our intended course in life. God himself, when he created Adam had said “It is not good that the man should be alone…” (Gen 2:18).
You can see the power that being in community can have. To see it on a large scale look at the olympics, or world soccer. The nationalism that results is powered by the unity and passion that millions of people together have for one goal. Here in Missoula, nothing builds a greater sense of unity in our city than Grizzly Football Saturday, nearly everyone will wrap themselves in maroon and silver. On a smaller scale we connect with others whom we find commonality with. Sometimes those are common seasons of life, common interests, or common occupations. The relationships that humans form in various ways help to define us. There is power in community on the large and the small scale.
However, community for the Christian goes much deeper. You see there is no area of life where the gospel does not affect and changes us. To the Christian, community, relationship and unity are changed by the gospel to become more than just horizontal relationships between men and women, they become part of our vertical relationship with God.
The phrases “one another” and “each other” appear more than 100 times in the New Testament. And the majority of those appearances reference either unity in the church, love, or humility. All of which are contextualized within the church. The basis of Christian living includes involvement in the local church, however all Christians together make up the church, one church: the global church. We are unified by that which God has done for us: saved together by grace through faith. Together we are the church, the Bride of Christ (Eph 5:25-27, 2 Cor 11:2, Rev 21:9-10).
Before the fall of man in Genesis 3, God physically dwelt in the garden amongst Adam and Eve. In Genesis 3:8 we see that communion between God and man was perfect. But because of sin, and the idolatry of Adam, God separated himself from man. God is perfect in nature and character. He cannot tolerate the existence of sin therefore he separated himself from communion with humanity. But that perfect communion is what we were designed for! God created us for the purpose of living for his glory, when sin removed us from his fellowship we lost the ability to fulfill our greater purpose. By being separated from God we cannot accomplish what we were created for. The result is humanity attempting to find the fulfillment of that perfect communion with one another apart from God, and never truly satisfying that need. It is easy then to focus on the shadow and not the one who casts it. In this case, the shadow is relationship and community, and the one who casts it is God himself.
None of this is to say however, that community is a bad thing, on the contrary, community is vital to the health of the church and the Christian. As we pointed out, “one another” is mentioned over 100 times in the New Testament! It is important that we recognize the larger context of the role of community within the church: a means of grace by which God blesses the individual and the church. When we do this together we are becoming the perfect Bride. The whole helps perfect the part.
So what the does all of this mean practically? For one, it is imperative that we take community seriously. Discipleship and fellowship are part of the change that comes with the gospel and we should value them accordingly. Second, taking community seriously means actually participating in it. Life gets busy, but not busy enough to neglect regular fellowship and discipleship. Participating means training and teaching through discipleship, loving, caring, and serving through fellowship (Rom 12:10; Eph 4:2; Col 3:16; Heb 10:24). Are you being taught? Are you teaching? Are you caring? Are you being cared for? Are you serving? Are you being served? We are the Bride of Christ, one bride, one church baptized into one body (1 Cor 12:12). Does not the hand feed the mouth? Or feet tread the ground and lead the way for rest of the body? We cannot flourish as Christians without the church, because together we are the church.
So are you in community? Prioritize time for the church. You need the church and the church needs you. Paul says in Ephesians 4:15-16, “...speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it build itself up in love.” In order for the body to grow together, the body must be together. So be together.