Doing Life Together

I would like a picture of the Massachusetts Bay colony or Plymouth rock etc.

The year was 1630. The place was the Massachusetts Bay along the Atlantic coast near the place known as Plymouth Rock. On board the ship the Arabella, John Winthrop, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Company challenged the Puritan settlers to establish a new kind of Christian community.

Winthrop said: “We must be knit together in this work as one man, we must entertain each other in brotherly affection. . ., we must delight in each other, make others’ condition our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together. . ., our community as members of the same body, so shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, the Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us.”

Winthrop knew that they were in this thing together; no one could go it alone.

It is one of the deepest felt needs deep within every human heart. I would think that nearly every one of us in this room long for community. We long to be in a relationship with others where people know our names. They know our struggles and they know our personalities. They walk with us through the bad times and walk with us through the good times. Most of us have some form of support system in our lives. It could be family or neighbors or the people we work with but almost every one has someone they are connected to.

The apostle Paul felt this way toward a group of people in a place called Philippi. He wrote them a letter from prison where he was serving time for being a follower of Jesus Christ. These were people that he had helped bring to faith in Christ. He loved them. He missed them. He has walked with them, taught them and encouraged them in their faith.

In short you could say he had done life with them.

From his writing to them we learn some very important lessons about what authentic community looks like. Together today we will look directly at this letter from Paul to his friends and I think we will find some important expressions of community to fold into our own lives. I believe if we take this message seriously today it could have life-changing and life-long ramifications in our personal lives.

The fist expression of community:

1. Community expresses itself in thankfulness for others

“Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.” Philippians 1:3

When we are truly in community with others we will have a thankfulness for them that will enable us to maintain a godly attitude. It is easy to be thankful for people that we like. It is easy to be thankful for people who are just like us, who think like us, act like us, and make the same choices we make. It is something entirely different for us to open ourselves up to those who different or who do things just the opposite of how we do them.

Paul had to deal with some of these kinds of people. There were two women in this community of believers that had a disagreement and later in this letter he writes these words: “Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News.”

Really this is about practicing a spirit of thankfulness for others. It is about being gracious and kindhearted toward others. It is about be compassionate and loving instead of harsh and judgmental.

If you are in a small group or an organization of some kind that provides a form of community I want you to think of them right now. It could be that your community comes from your immediate and extended family that you interact with on a daily basis. It could be that tight nit group of people that you work around.

Take a second or two to figure out who these folks are in your life. . .now let’s search our hearts regarding them. Can you find something to be thankful for in each one of these people? Could you express it to them in a personal conversation or a note?

People who are in healthy community relationships will be thankful for those around them. Let me encourage you to speak this into their lives. Get beyond the small talk and surface stuff and truly express you thankfulness to them.

Thankfulness will free us from the sins of envy, jealousy and resentment and irritation.

Could you for just a few seconds, express quietly in your heart, a spirit of thankfulness for the people you are in community with?

Pause and be silent for about 15 seconds.

2. Community expresses itself in prayer for others

“Whenever I pray, I make request for all of you with joy.” Philippians 1:4

Can you imagine the size of Paul’s prayer list? I am convinced today that we need to be reminded of the incredible privilege it is to pray for others.

Shouldn’t Christ followers be praying for other people on a daily basis? Too often we neglect prayer period and sometimes I think it is because we have lost sight of the beauty of praying for others. Maybe after a while you get tired of praying because it just seems like all you ever do is pray for yourself and all of your problems. If that is all you are doing in your private moments of prayer you will certainly get tired of it and soon find your self rarely if ever spending time with God in prayer.

Praying for others cleanses our own soul of selfishness and self-centered thoughts. Praying for one another cleanses the church of negativity and purifies the souls of those who practice it.

Praying for others produces a joy in the hearts of those who practice it.

Praying for others connects us in a deeper way to those in our community.

Look at the things Paul was praying for in verses 9-11:

“I pray that your love will overflow more and more”
“...that you will keep on growing in knowledge and understanding.”
“For I want you to understand what really matters.”
“ that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return.”
“May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation”
“...the righteous character produced you life by Jesus Christ.”

Can you remember the last time you prayed for those who make up your personal community? Can you imagine how different we would be toward those we love if ye actually took this seriously and practiced this kind of loving prayer for each other?

Let’s take another fifteen seconds or so and quietly say a prayer for those we are in community with.

3. Community expresses itself in faith of others

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6

Notice that his confidence was not in the people he was writing to but in God’s purpose for them. Paul was focused here on their lives of faith and how they were living it out. He was expressing his confidence in what God was doing through them and was going to do in them in the future.

Sometimes it is easy to lose faith in others. We are tempted to think that they will let us down and sometimes they will. We are prone to protect ourselves from being hurt and so if we are not intentional about it we will pull back and withdrawal from those who care about us the most.

All of us have been here. We have all been in some kind of a relationship with another Christ follower and pulled back because we were losing faith in them or ourselves. Paul struggled with this at times and in fact he remarked that he had no confidence in himself or in human nature but he also taught clearly over and over that he had great confidence in what God was doing and in what God was going to do.

Let me illustrate this faith from the story of our Lord Himself. In John 1:42, Jesus is inviting Simon to be a disciple. He knows his temperament, his personality flaws, He knows that he will continually put his foot in his mouth and try to talk, yet in spite of that Jesus invites him into the community of disciples. He not only invites him but He gives him a new name. He names him Peter or rock because Jesus knew what he would become over time. He had faith in his purpose.

Isn’t that how we should look at those around us in our community of faith? Will you be disappointed by people? Yes. Will you be sometimes hurt by people? Yes but don’t give up on your community. Have faith in God and what He wants to do with others as you grow together.

4. Community expresses itself in love to others

“So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming truth of the Good News. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:7-8

This is authentic love and community at its best. Paul was in such a healthy relationship with this group of people that he brought them figuratively right into his prison with him.

“You share with me” he writes. He longed for them and loved them.

In his book, Walking the Small Group Tightrope, Bill Donohue writes these words:

“How many people in your small group have “refrigerator rights?” According to therapist Will Miller and communications professor Glenn Sparks, the refrigerator may contain a clue about the level and quality of relationships in your life. Here’s a test proposed by these two authors: ‘Imagine I come to your house for a first-time visit. We’ve never met before. You have invited me into your kitchen, and we are sitting at the table getting acquainted. Now suppose I get up, open your refrigerator, pull out the makings for a sandwich and start putting them together.”

Miller and Sparks contend that most folks would be annoyed or offended by such behavior. But then they offer an contrasting scenario: “Let’s say I’m your brother and come home for a visit. While we’re catching up on the news, I get up, open your refrigerator and grab a cold soda. Are you upset? Of course not. Simply put, strangers don’t have refrigerator rights; those really close to us do.’”

I am not suggesting that small groups should invade each others refrigerators but when I read this illustration I thought of what it is like to get ready for my kids to come home and the love we feel as we shop and put food in the refrigerator and cupboards that we know they like. I thought how rewarding it is to see the kids help themselves to this food because it is home and we are family.

Somehow in our communities there as to be this kind of love for each other; where we know each other well enough to have these kinds of reactions and responses.

Jesus said in John 13: 34-35, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Let’s look at these famous words from the Bible on love:

“1 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;[a] but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

5. Community expresses itself in ministry with and for others

We have all been given the same set of instructions. We are to make a difference, through Christ, in the lives of those around us. This is not optional or for a few of us. It is a command for every one of us. Can you imagine an army where every one operated on their own page?

Paul identifies the ministry we are all called to:

“And I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News.” Philippians 1:12

The key phrase here is “spread the Good News.”

We spread the news by caring for each other. How do we do that at Newark Church of the Nazarene? In a church our size you must find ways to belong to small groups of people who care for one another. You must be willing to involve yourself in ministry groups. Every time people get into ministry in our church community should happen. It is truly the next step to community.

We recently discovered that there are a little over 500 ministry positions in this church. We also discovered that over 300 people are serving between Real Life and Williams Street. We are doing ministry together. No one does ministry alone successfully. Jesus had twelve men he was building into on a daily basis.

The reason the word community is one of our 3 C’s is because it is a biblical and critical component in the life of any serious Christ follower.

Several years ago a pastor wrote these words.

“I was at a conference a few years ago where they told the story of a church that looked as though they were really thriving: they had about 500 people attending, and had many outreach ministries reaching their community, and many people were coming to Christ and to church through their ministry.

The problem was that the church was not growing in numbers – people were leaving as quickly as they were coming in. They began to do some research on the people who were leaving and they found that the majority who left were not attending another church, they just stopped going to church all together. They realized that although the church was great at evangelism, because of their inability to hold people, they were actually de-evangelizing their neighbourhood. Those who were leaving were almost impossible to bring back into any community of faith.

The staff realized that something had to be done, so the pastor called up that last 12 people to be baptized and invited them to supper at his house. These were all new Christians and very excited to be invited to the Pastor’s house. After supper he sat them down and asked if they wanted to know the future. They all said “yes!” So he said, statistically speaking in the next 2-3 years… two of your marriages will have broken up and the shame will cause you to leave the church, three of you will have a conflict with someone in the church and you will leave the church, one will have a tragedy and lose faith and leave, two will have a moral failing and leave, and two will lose interest and drift away. In two to three years, out of this group only two of you will be attending church, and only one of you at this church. There was dead silence in the room. All these wide eyed Christians were about to say “surely not I, Lord.” When one of them spoke up and said, “What can we do to change the statistics. The pastor said, you can get together and as a group and decide that you are not going to let anyone go.

That is exactly what they did – these strangers formed a small group and supported each other through the tragedies, divorces, conflicts and failings and in four years, only one had left the church never to come back. The church went from losing 10 out of every 12 converts to losing only one.

That church that was so great at evangelism learned the hard way that community and small groups are essential for the growth, encouragement and perseverance of any Christian.

Bill Donahue suggested that there are five things that must take place for us to enjoy authentic community relationships:

To know and be known
To love and be loved
To serve and be served
To admonish and be admonished
To celebrate and be celebrated

Jesus left us on this earth to be His hands, eyes, and feet. In short the Bible says we are His body. We do that by functioning as his body. We must do it together because we need each other. We need each others diversity and we need each other to be able to functional as a whole.

Let us pray:

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let us be thankful for one another
Let us be praying for one another
Let us have faith in Your work in each other
Let us love one another
Let us serve in ministry with one another.