“As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” ―Proverbs 27:17
Two or more fellows on one ship; that’s the definition of fellowship. People living in close quarters together and learning how to get along; that’s community. For too many, church is a club or a convention or simply an event. It’s a preaching station or, perhaps, a filling station; a spectator sport or a means of entertainment. All of these ideas fall short of the biblical ideal of the Body of Christ, which is organic, dynamic and vital. It’s possible to put on our “Sunday best,” attach a smile, glide in and glide out, and miss the point.
God puts us together to live together. Living together is hard work. It’s sometimes painful. It’s risky to expose ourselves; to be known. Yet, to be known and loved at the same time is a great blessing. God knows us perfectly and He still loves us. When we only expose our “good side,” and are never seen for who we really are, we must remain hidden people who can’t experience the depth of Christ’s love that comes through His church. Instead, we have to pretend, cover-up, and retreat.
The whole purpose of being in a community is for our growth and sanctification; the place where we are gradually conformed to the image of Christ. God puts us in a community of fellow sinners who are also being transformed into the image of Christ. The Holy Spirit uses the guy next to us to transform us and the family across the room to teach us and to hone us. Sometimes, that guy irritates us so that God might teach us longsuffering. That other family shows us something admirable or something unattractive to instruct us to be more or less like them. As we get to really know others, we have opportunities to serve as we are being served, and in both instances we grow. Conflicts inevitably arise, and we have to learn about love, and repentance, and forgiveness and grace. In a community (when we are really a part of it), we learn about doing our duty to God and our neighbors; to give, to labor and to sacrifice. To be part of the Body of Christ means I am less “me” and more “we.” I become the grist in God’s mill whereby He transforms me into something good and useful. True community is a humbling experience and humility is a necessary virtue. It’s the antithesis to the cardinal vice of pride.
Are you really a vital part of the community or simply a pretender? Are your playing church or are you actually one of the living stones that make up the church? Are you a “parameter member, sitting on the edge, observing or criticizing but not really jumping in? Have you only dipped your toe in or waded in up to your ankles, or have you plunged into the deep end and become fully immersed in the place where God will transform you and use you for His glory?