If you look at the word community, you will find two words hidden within it that are rather telling—common and unity. Harkening all the way back to the Latin roots of the word, community finds its foundation in people unified around a common thing—someone, a goal, or an idea. Go to any sporting event or concert, and you will find strangers uniting their common passions and interests. Our world is filled with various communities united around common histories, goals, neighborhoods, and the like.
So, when it comes to our Christian brothers and sisters, what does it mean to find real community? Simply put, our unity as Christians will always start and end with who is to be the most important part of our lives: Jesus!
The Bible gives us an incredible example of Christian community through Jesus’ own closest friends, his disciples. Jesus’ followers teach us the power of a group of once-strangers with different backgrounds and opinions as they find unity in their shared love for and devotion to Jesus. The result? Transformation—the likes of which the world had and has since never seen. Lives lived on mission that ultimately changed the entire course of human history.
Take a look at just a few of Jesus’ closest disciples. Among them were fishermen (working men), a tax collector (working for the political enemy, so in many ways, an enemy himself), and a zealot (a radical on a mission using forceful means). And those are just the differences highlighted in Scripture. These three examples alone, are enough for us to picture of a group filled with issues and conflict.
How then was it possible for these men to come together? They found purpose, transformation, and unity in Christ. Together, they would not only learn to be family but to live a life on mission for Jesus and spread his good news.
Let’s dive a bit deeper into the distinctives of Christ-centered community using 1 Corinthians 12:12–31 as a template. In this passage, we see a beautiful example of Christian community through the imagery of the body, providing us a look at unity versus division, celebration versus comparison, and care versus isolation.
Unity Versus Division
For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body—so also is Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12, CSB)
If there was one thing to unify on in life, it would be Jesus Christ. Everything else falls into place when this is where we center our unity. The Scripture above points to a beautiful oneness, so much so that the functionality is just like one body seamlessly moving in unified purpose and function.
Though we may have different backgrounds, upbringings, experiences in life, and even differences of opinion and approach to life, we find our unity in Christ, who he is, and what is said in Scripture. We unify around his message, what Scripture says, the example Jesus set, and the good news of the gospel. We hold each other to this unity.
When a part of the body goes down a wrong path without repentance, refuses to honor or allow for differences that reflect non-essential aspects of the faith, or embraces an unwillingness to forgive, the unity of our Christ-centered community is jeopardized. Instead, Jesus calls us to unify around him as a person, as revealed in Scripture, enabling us to hold each other accountable, speak the truth in love, and forgive one another in grace.
The Enemy would like nothing more than to divide Christians, using our smallest differences to drive us apart. We have to work together for the health of the body, knowing we are all different but united in Christ, his Word, and his mission. When we stay united—living based on the tenets of Scripture—the body stays healthy. When we allow ourselves to be divided, the body hurts and is hindered in the mission Jesus calls us to.
Celebration Versus Comparison
Indeed, the body is not one part but many. (1 Corinthians 12:14, CSB)
The human body is made up of many parts, each with a specific purpose and function. When each piece of the body fulfills and works its individual purpose, the body works together for the same goal. As a Christian community, this is the image we are given and are to emulate. When we celebrate the diverse gifts and purpose of those around us, the body is able to function towards the complex but common goods Jesus desires to bring about.
This is a beautiful vision of unity. When a community of people gets excited about what each person is doing for the glory of God—when we affirm and encourage each other forward—the Church thrives. Think of a time a brother or sister affirmed you and what you were doing for the kingdom of God. For me, having friends who encourage me in my purpose has helped me in times of doubt and weakness.
And what is the opposite of celebrating each other in what we feel called to? Comparison! Comparison can kill community quickly. Just because we each have unique gifts and purposes does not mean that any of us is better than another. When we begin to covet a specific gift, calling, or purpose, division begins to erode our unity and make us or others feel less than. When we compare, the focus becomes ourselves rather than Jesus.
So, together, let’s fight to celebrate what God is doing in our community—not comparing, coveting, and dividing.
Care Versus Isolation
So if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26, CSB)
For the body to stay healthy, all the parts need to care for each other. If an arm is broken, the entire body groans with pain, and there are other parts of the body that will take on more responsibility and weight so that the arm can heal and gain its strength back.
In our Christian communities, when a person is hurting, weak, doubting, or even falling away, it is vital that we care for that person, giving them the support they need to gain their strength back and heal. Despite this, we often isolate ourselves when we are hurting and allow others to do the same. But isolation allows the Enemy room to prey on the wounded members of our number. Instead, when a part of the body is hurting, we as a community are to surround them, pray for them, encourage them, and help point them to rest and healing.
Christian community is vital to our lives. Jesus gives a beautiful example of community through his followers. Each different, each unique. Did they disagree? Probably. But ultimately, they found unity in Jesus, coming together as a body that accomplished amazing things for God’s kingdom.
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