Just a Closer Walk With Thee

Part 5: The Discipline of Community
People are lonely. Research studies show that today, Americans in particular have decreasing family sizes; fewer friends with whom to discuss important problems; and a high number of people taking antidepressants and anxiety medications. Furthermore, America has the third highest divorce rate in the world.1 Apparently, Americans are among the loneliest people anywhere.

COVID-19 only deepened the problem. A recent study by Harvard University found that since the pandemic began, almost half of young adults reported feeling lonelier than before.2

Believers desperately need deep, meaningful relationships centered around pursuing Jesus together: Christian community. Finding that type of community isn’t getting any easier. That’s why we need to consider what the Bible teaches about pursuing Christian community as a spiritual discipline.

The Drive for Community
God created us to thrive in deep, spiritually oriented relationships. This fact has been true from the beginning of creation.

When God spoke the universe into existence, He delighted in its perfection, calling each element “good.” Light, oceans, land, vegetation, the cosmos, and every living creature all received God’s ultimate pronouncement of inherent perfection. Everything was good—except one thing. After God made man, He said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18).

The only thing “not good” in all of God’s creation was a lonely human without a “help meet for him” (KJV). That phrase, also translated “helper fit for him” or “helper comparable to him,” uses the fascinating Hebrew words etzer kunegdo. Etzer is more than a helper: It’s an ally, a rescuer, an advocate.

In fact, in the Bible, it most often refers to something God does for His people: He rescues, helps, and intervenes on their behalf. Jesus even called the Holy Spirit our Helper (Jn. 15:26). Kunegdo is Hebrew for “suitable for him,” or “corresponding to him.” God’s cure for Adam’s “not good” loneliness was the creation of a deep, spiritually invested, reciprocal relationship.

In other words, we were made for intentional community relationships with others. To be sure, marriage is the pinnacle of human relationships. However, the need for meaningful connection was obviously designed into Adam before Eve was created.

When we live solitary lives, disconnected from other Christians, we are living according to what God calls “not good”; all is not as it should be. We were made for community. That’s why we all want it—and need it.

The Enemy of Community
Unfortunately, many times our attempts to find relationships just don’t seem to scratch the itch. Sometimes we feel lonely in a crowd of churchgoers. Or perhaps we feel frustrated with our small-group experience for lack of heartfelt conversation.

Most of us have wrestled with feeling that our connection to other Christians is forced or shallow. Unfortunately, our drive for meaningful relationships can feel unfulfilled because of more than merely awkward social situations. We have an enemy that often ruins our attempts to make and keep the life-giving relationships we need: sin.

Sin makes us hide from community. Again, the story of Adam and Eve demonstrates the fundamental nature of our relationships (Gen. 3). When Adam and Eve chose to believe Satan’s lie that God was holding out on them, and they ate the forbidden fruit, they immediately hid, both physically and spiritually. They hid their bodies from each other and from God. And when God questioned them about their actions, they hid by shifting blame. The trust and openness of their relationship with God and each other was broken. Sin made them hide the truth about themselves. And it still does today.

After all, isn’t it easier to withdraw than to trust someone? Isn’t it safer to remain lonely than to invest in a relationship that might hurt us? So we hide from meaningful community. Knowing the darkness in ourselves and being unwilling to trust Christians around us, we wilt in our solitude, choosing to miss out on the health and beauty of the spiritual connections for which we are made.

Christian community isn’t merely hanging out at a potluck dinner talking sports. It involves making ourselves
vulnerable to one another through the grace of God.

But the beauty of the gospel is that God took our sin and iniquity and cast it into “the depths of the sea” (Mic. 7:19) because of Jesus’ work. Honest, accountable Christian relationships bring freedom and growth. As James 5:16–20 says, a Christian who gently helps a sinning brother return to the truth rescues his brother’s soul and covers a multitude of sins. It’s only in community that we find grace in action and vulnerability reciprocated because of the gospel.

Christian community isn’t merely hanging out at a potluck dinner talking sports. It involves making ourselves vulnerable to one another through the grace of God. The courage to live that way is a discipline we often avoid.

The Call to Community
There’s an apocryphal tale about a church split. As the story goes, a deacon at a small country church noticed that each day when the pastor arrived, he left his hat on a back pew. So the deacon decided to install a small peg near the door so the pastor had a place to hang his hat.

Another deacon, noticing the new peg, got upset because he hadn’t been consulted on such an important building improvement. The ensuing fight divided the congregation, leading to a church split. The two branches of the former church began to call themselves Peg Baptist Church and Anti-Peg Baptist Church.

We chuckle at stories like these, but how far from reality are they really? It’s no wonder that almost the last thing Jesus prayed was for God to give His disciples unity: “That they all may be one” (Jn. 17:21). He wasn’t asking for agreement on building décor. Jesus prayed His people would be “one” in the same way the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father. He prayed we would be intrinsically, inherently part of one another’s very existence, like the Father and Son. He asked that we replicate the community of the Trinity—which is no mean feat.

The Bible presents Christian community and relationships as a habitual lifestyle that stimulates spiritual health. We are repeatedly told to love, teach, encourage, and motivate one another to good deeds for Jesus’ sake and for our growth. Isolating ourselves from other Christians is a recipe for spiritual shipwreck.

The Search for Community
The only question left is, “How do we find these relationships?” Beyond simply attending church, how do we get close to people to find this spiritually driven community? The best advice is simply this: Jump in.

Make it a priority to commit your family to a small group at your church. Invite a Christian you don’t know well to meet for coffee, and trust the Lord to help you face the social awkwardness with grace. Volunteer for a church ministry that needs help, even if it isn’t an area in which you feel skilled. Invite another Christian family over for dinner, even if you don’t feel you connect. With the Holy Spirit’s help, get involved and open yourself to the opportunity of relationships with other believers.

Make no mistake: If we are to find the spiritual health of the meaningful connections for which God made us, we must do the work. So, jump in, Christian! Discipline yourself to flex your spiritual muscle of vulnerable, life-giving Christian community.

ENDNOTES
    1. Susan Mettes, “Guest Column: Who Is Most Likely to Experience Loneliness and How Can Churches Help?” Barna, December 8, 2021 (barna.com/mettes-loneliness-blog).
    2. “Loneliness in America: How the Pandemic Has Deepened an Epidemic of Loneliness and What We Can Do About It,” Making Caring Common Project, February 2021 (mcc.gse.harvard.edu/reports/loneliness-in-america).

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