Monday, November 17, 2008

Community - Be the Church

Don't go to church - be the church. Because the church is not a meeting, nor a place, but a family. A community of people with diverse gifts and abilities but a unified purpose and mission. And the gifts God has given are not for me, but for someone else. And that is because, by God's design, each member of the body of Christ functions to serve the body.

"For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." (Romans 12:4-5, NASB95)

Paul reminds us that each member functions to serve the body, not the body to serve the members. The difference may be subtle but vastly important. Here is an important reason to consider.

In Paul's letter to the Corinthians, he reminds us that the church is "Christ's body and (we) individually members of it." (1Cor 12:27) Therefore, the supreme value of the church is to "image" Christ to the world. Individually, we give a distorted and incomplete view of this image, but corporately, as the church, when each member functions to serve the body, the image of the body, that of Christ, becomes clear. Therefore, the church is not a place for personal opinion and individualism. Instead, the church is the place where unity transcends all differences for the name of Christ to be magnified.

That is the reason why we live in community - in order to "image" Christ to the world. How we do it is a limitless conversation but let me give you 3 ways to consider

  1. Share a Meal: Throughout the New Testament, the early church is often seen gathering for a meal. Many times this meal was the Lord's Supper and was intended to be a reminder of the sacrifice of Christ and the new life, the new community (i.e. church), made possible by His death and resurrection. But what we may not realize is that most often, this meal was at some one's house and it lasted all day. This was not just a simple tradition, it was a family affair. And the Lord's Supper was not the only time a meal was shared and yet the importance of this activity seems to carry great significance. For example, Paul addresses the issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols. He does so because sharing a meal within the community of faith is a regular occurrence and of great importance. So important, that Paul took time to teach the church about how to eat with one another. More specifically, how to avoid letting food be a stumbling block to a weaker brother. You remember the story. The conclusion of which is very simple. If eating meat sacrificed to idols causes your brother to stumble, don't do it. Technically, there is nothing wrong with eating this type of meat but the offense it may cause must be avoided at all costs. Why? Because Paul says "when we wound our brother, we sin against Christ". (1Cor 8:12) In other words, since the church is the image of Christ, offending our brother or sister is ultimately an offense to the image of God. So here is the point - sharing a meal is a practical application to living out community within the body of Christ. And when we do, let's be sensitive to consider how to encourage each other to love and good deeds. Let's be careful not to cause anyone to stumble. Let's give the world an image of Christ that draws them to Himself. Are you too busy to have someone over to spend time sharing a meal? If so, you are too busy! It is not an event you plan, it is a privilege you share. Make a point to share a meal with someone in the church very soon.
  2. Share Your Possessions: The early church describes an environment where "the one who gathered much had nothing over and the one who gathered little, had no lack". (2Cor 8:15) In other words, no one had too much and no one had too little. Now this does not mean that everyone had joint ownership of all things in the absence of private property. Yet, at the same time, it does not suggest (nor will you find it any where else in the New Testament) that any person in the body of Christ has any "right" to have such possessions. In fact, the idea of "rights" is a foreign concept in scripture. The gospel is not about claiming a right. It is about accepting a gift. All that we own should be in view of the cross and for the service of others. It is no different than the discussion of spiritual gifts. Similarly, material gifts are not simply for me but more often are for someone else. Paul did not form communes but he was very clear about common attitudes to property. Those who entered into the community of faith could never again look upon what they owned with the same eyes. Nor should we! May we be reminded to "give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver". (2Cor 9:7) Why? Because He is a cheerful giver and when we share our possessions, we image forth the most important attribute of the gospel - an unmerited sacrificial gift.

  3. Sharing Emotions: It is not possible to present a complete image of Christ without community because no one person (outside of Jesus himself) possesses all the attributes of His divinity. Even further, it is not possible to live in community without meaningful relationships. And finally, it is not possible to have a meaningful relationship without authenticity. This seems to be the point of Romans 12:9 when Paul instructs the church to demonstrate love without hypocrisy. (Rom 12:9) The word for hypocrisy literally means "to pretend or act". Therefore, love without hypocrisy, is love without pretending. That means when someone within your church family asks you how you are doing and you are struggling in your marriage, you do not answer by saying, "Fine. Everything is fine." That is pretending and pretending is hypocrisy. As a church, we are called to love without hypocrisy. Make a point to peel back the layers of your life and invite someone in to those places you have previously hidden. Why? So they can fix you? So we can roll in the mud of our sinful lives? No and no! It is all about the image of Christ. We cannot present a complete image of Christ outside of community. Community cannot exists outside of relationships. And relationships are not as God intends when they are not authentic. Don't be an actor, remove your mask and for the sake of Christ, live in the community He purchased with His blood in the depth of relationship He demonstrated and has called us to: "Love one another as I have love you, that you also love one another." (Jn. 13:34)

Don't go to church - be the church!

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