In general, Christians understand the importance of going to church; we worship together, we hear Biblical teaching, and we fellowship with each other. Some view the church as a social club or just “what you do” on Sunday mornings – but it’s really much more than that. During Bible times, the church was all about community and fellowship.
1. The Jewish Nation
The nation of Israel in the Old Testament is one of the first pictures of community that we see. God always addressed a group of people, not individuals. He always wanted to be God to a group of people: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6).
The children of Israel wandered the desert for 40 years together. They obeyed God together, they disobeyed God together, and they returned to God together (after God had withdrawn His blessings, which seemed to get their attention). Together, they were given the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20) which were God’s instructions for living in community; God instructed them how to relate with each other and how to relate to Him. And as long as they followed God’s teachings, things went well for them.
2. The Jerusalem Church
In Acts chapter 2, we get a glimpse of the church right after Jesus ascended to heaven. He told them to wait together in Jerusalem for the promise of His Father, the Holy Spirit. “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. … All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1, 4).
We’ve got to imagine that these believers were praying, sharing scripture, encouraging one another, and reminding each other of all the things Jesus did and said while they were waiting for the Promise from the Father in that upper room. Maybe some of them started to doubt and wonder if this Promise would ever come, but it finally did on the Day of Pentecost.
Notice that this group of believers were “all together in one place” and that “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit” (emphasis mine). That’s community – everyone together, unified, on the same page, with the same purpose. Notice as well that these people experienced God together in ways that none of them had ever experienced before.
Later in Acts chapter 2 (verses 42-47), this same group of believers (who were now Spirit-filled) “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). As they were together, they had “everything in common” and even “sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need” (verses 44-45). Because of the strong community among them, they witnessed signs and miracles. They ate together, went to the temple together, met in homes together, and enjoyed favor and happiness (verses 46-47).
And best of all: Their community continued to grow (verse 47)! Why? Who wouldn’t want to be included in a community like this? They took care of one another, pursued God together, and enjoyed each other. This is a beautiful example of community in the New Testament, and it’s something that churches today should strive for as well.
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had” (Acts 4:32).
3. The New Testament Church
Much of the New Testament (excluding the books of Matthew-Acts) contains letters written to churches instructing them how to live, how to treat each other, and how to stay strong in their faith in Jesus Christ. The leaders of these churches faced some challenges in leading their churches, so these letters (mostly from the Apostle Paul) gave lots of great advice to help them excel in community:
“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Peter 3:8).
“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:4-5).
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited” (Romans 12:16).
“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).
Let’s be honest. Any time you spend a lot of time with someone, challenges will arise. It was no different then, and it’s no different now. But the key is to remember that as believers, we belong to a community of people, and we are responsible to that community of people. We are expected to share our gifts and talents with each other. We are expected to love, to be generous, to encourage, to live in unity, and to be humble. Why? Because that’s how the world will know that we belong first to Christ, and second to each other.
~ By Jennell Houts
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