It Takes Work: Read an Excerpt From "Called to Community"

Such a life demands that we engage in very concrete practices. Perhaps the first fruit of community is time. Those who love one another spend time together. Time is important because without being available to each other, fulfilling the biblical "one anothers" is virtually impossible. Take the construction metaphor of "building one another up." Building is a process that requires effort and persistence. Leaving a project undone will do damage to the materials. Or take the command to "do good to one another." It takes time to discern what is good for another person. Time is crucial if we are to serve one another as Jesus served his disciples. It takes time to wash one another's feet. It takes time to outdo one another in love and good works. It takes time to put another's interests above one's own. It takes time to show one another hospitality. It takes time...

As important as time is, so is sharing space. This may or may not mean living with one another under the same roof. But it will mean becoming more proximate with each other. The notion of a commuter marriage is an oxymoron. So is a commuter community. Unless we are physically present in each other's lives in the same physical, social space, community will only be skin deep. There are many ways to draw together in closer proximity. Whatever its size or form, any authentic community will find practical ways to live out their life of faith together. This, of course, takes sacrifice.

However, Christian community demands more than sharing time and space. Everything we do must be done in Christ and placed under his authority. For this to happen, we must be governed by the Word and seek to obey it together. Christian community means allowing God's Word to shape us as a people. Almost all the New Testament epistles are written to churches, not to individuals. And when we think about the various "one another" commands, we are only capable of fulfilling them in the spirit of Christ. Being under the Word is not just a matter of listening to a sermon at some designated hour, but of seeking with each other, by way of dialogue and prayer, what it means to live out Christ's commands together.

This leads to yet another mark of community: eagerly sharing our possessions with one another. In the New Testament, koinonia means more than "fellowship." Its predominant use denotes the sharing of resources. The Macedonia and Achaia churches, for example, set up a common fund for the impoverished church in Jerusalem. Since the Gentiles shared in the Jews' spiritual blessing, they in turn helped meet the Jews' material needs (Rom. 15:26–27). "In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity," Paul writes, adding that "they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord's people" (2 Cor. 8:1–15). Such generosity led others to praise God (2 Cor. 9:13). In fact, it was this very practical expression of love that so impressed pagan society. The Christians' love for one another was not in words, but in deeds – real, physical expressions of care and service.

On the question of possessions, it is vital to specify mutual expectations. To break away from the grip of private property we must remember that Christ's cause, not our own fulfill­ment or happiness, is at stake. This means going beyond the usual social expectations and proprieties. We keep our pocketbooks and bank accounts to ourselves (in more ways than one). Money matters are nobody's business. But in the body of Christ, our goods are not our own (Acts 4:32). If we are serious about forming community in Christ, then we need to start laying everything out on the table (check book, credit card statements, bills, investments, etc.) and discuss ways in which we can become more radical in our giving and simpler in our living. Only in this way can the forces of the workplace and marketplace, which pull us away from God and each other, be combatted. We need to be open enough to share where we find it difficult to cut back or where we overspend, and to help each other discern what our needs are as opposed to our wants. We need to give each other honest feedback on how much we work and why. Only in this way will we get free of the chains of having to earn and spend. Then the "common life" gets real and we start to really depend on one another; then God's justice breaks in.

Laying everything out on the table should also include other "private possessions" – our sins and burdens, both of which we are commanded to share with one another (James 5:16; Gal. 6:2). Holding each other accountable is the work of being our brother's and sister's keeper. Only in this way can the threads of our separate private lives be knitted together into a fabric in which Christ makes all things new. Confession means far more than unloading one's problems on someone else or striving for personal betterment. We bare our souls before our brothers and sisters for the sake of building up the body of Christ. Only by sharing life to this degree can we show the world that Jesus really does have the power to forgive sins, set burdened people free, and restore broken relationships.

5/16/2016 4:00:00 AM
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