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.
Opportunities for community are all around us but there is one community that is better than any other. A Christ-Centered community should be a place of safety and unconditional love. It should be a place of accountability and encouragement.
All of us have a need to be in community. You may not know it or even think it but without people in your life that you can care for and that care about you, you are missing out on a relationship that God demonstrated for us in the community of the Trinity.
There was an animated character in a movie in 1998 that probably expressed this angst better then most of us can. Ant worker Z is sitting in an ant psychiatrist’s office, relating his woes of living in a modern urban ant colony/community.
What Z is articulating is exactly what many folks feel regarding their lives. We want to be noticed and feel special. We want to be individuals, not just some cog in a wheel. We live everyday of our lives in a me centered culture. At the end of this movie Z ultimately finds himself sacrificing for and serving the community to which he belonged.
The individual is valued in community but ultimately the community collectively values something larger than themselves as individuals. For the Christian community, Christ is valued over all others. The Christian faith boldly and conterculturally invites us to think of others as more important than ourselves.
The God we worship is a God Who has eternally existed in community. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have dwelled in perfect unity, love and joy before and throughout time. This triune God created humanity as the chief of His creations for the display of this relationship.
In the beginning it was written that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
Man was walking in the garden with God and without sin and yet such a relationship was not ideal. It was not in accordance with the purpose of the Creator for the creature.
We read in the Gospels that among Jesus’ final words before the cross was a prayer for the unity of His people, a unity expressive of the unity found within the godhead (John 17:21-22).
We know from the testimony of the early church that community was the natural result of the Spirit’s influence upon the Church (Acts 2:42-47).
It is apparent that community is not some peripheral Christian teaching but is central to the outworking of God’s purpose in the world. God is glorified when He is properly reflected; by dwelling in unity, we rightly image our communal Maker.
In being obedient to this calling, The Newark Church of the Nazarene urges each member to be deeply involved in the lives of others, to “do life together.” Unfortunately, we have not always done a great job of explaining exactly what this phrase means or how to live this out.
How do we “do life together” and what do we need to know to be able to participate in a Christ –Centered Life Group? What are some ways that you and I should behave or what are some practices/disciplines that we can embrace to help us experience community? We find the following characteristics found in Romans 12 to be particularly indicative of biblical community:
1. Be Humble
3 Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Romans 12:3 NLT
When you are trying to be in community with other people it is really helpful if you are not arrogant or a no it all. This advice by the way will help you in your family relationships and even at work.
This biblical admonition is really something that every one of us should pause and evaluate in our lives. You see those that don’t have humility rarely see it in themselves. “Pride is the only disease known to man that makes everyone sick except the one who has it”
A young woman went to her pastor and said, "Pastor, I have a besetting sin, and I want your help. I come to church on Sunday and can’t help thinking I’m the prettiest girl in the congregation. I know I ought not think that, but I can’t help it. I want you to help me with it."The pastor replied, "Mary, don’t worry about it. In your case it’s not a sin. It’s just a horrible mistake."
Every day we need to remind ourselves that we are nothing without Christ. We humble ourselves and submit ourselves to others being careful not to become arrogant and prideful in our humility.
Paul W. Powell once observed: “Pride is so subtle that if we aren’t careful we’ll be proud of our humility. When this happens our goodness becomes badness. Our virtues become vices. We can easily become like the Sunday School teacher who, having told the story of the Pharisee and the publican, said, ‘Children, let’s bow our heads and thank God we are not like the Pharisee!’”
Humility, Rick Warren reminds us, is “not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” In the context of a Christ-centered community we will not think more highly of ourselves than we should.
Let us surrender our ego’s and submit to one another in the spirit of surrender and Christ likeness. Think about this concept of humbleness in relationship to the people you live with, work with or hang out with.
2. Be Honest about yourself
Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5 so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. Romans 12:4-5 NLT
Being honest about ourselves is a real challenge.
A children’s ministry worker had her straight hair permed in to a curly style. One morning she noticed that 4 yr. old Jack, who was usually cheerful, looked sad and bewildered. "Is something wrong, Jack?" Jenny asked him.
"Your hair," he mumbled."You noticed!" said Jenny. "I just had a permanent and I love it!" "You do?" whispered Jack. "Have you seen it?"
The writer in Romans 12 says that we are to be honest in our evaluation of ourselves based on the faith God has given us. We are to measure ourselves by our relationship with Christ. This takes great discipline because most of us measure ourselves by evaluating other people and convince ourselves that we are for sure better than them.
The illustration that we find here in God’s word is simply that we are a part of a body. We are Christ body and the body has many members. While we are to be unified to be able to function we are to also be diverse in our uniqueness. Each of us has a unique function based on our strengths that we have been born with. (Strengthsfinder class) A youth pastor once painted a football to look like a giant eyeball. He wrapped it in a blanket and went around asking kids if they wanted to see his baby. The typical response when he unwrapped it was one word, “Gross.”
Then he asked them, “What if your girlfriend was an eye? Imagine taking her out to eat and having a giant eye sitting across from you in the booth. Without diversity in the body it becomes a monster. We are to evaluate our place and then serve in our strengths for the good of others around us.
Stuart Briscoe tells a story about what it means to honestly evaluate yourself in a Christ-centered way:
“A friend of mine was singularly successful in launching a special ministry in the church in such a way that it became extremely beneficial in a brief period of time. After developing the ministry for five years, however, he resigned his position as president, stating that he knew that his gifts were such that he could take the ministry only so far, that it had grown to such a size that he was becoming a hindrance to its development, and that he felt his former deputy was the man to take over. His decision was made in response to his own convictions, confirmed by his friends and colleagues who loved him and the ministry, and who were unanimous in their desire to see the work of the Lord continue and to see him functioning in the setting for which he was most suited.”
He was thinking honestly about himself and measuring himself by the faith that God had given him.
3. Be Honoring of others
9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Romans 12:9-10 NLT
Loving other people is not something that just happens because you are in a life group and happen to have a small group or life group covenant. I recently reviewed a small group covenant that was written several years ago for a life group we were in. It was excellent and full of agreements on how to be in relationship with the others in the group but none of it would work if we didn’t honor each other by obeying the covenant. To do this we would have to commit to genuinely loving others with “genuine affection and take delight in honoring others.”
Many years ago at the University of Wisconsin, there was an undergraduate literary club. The club consisted of male students who had demonstrated outstanding talent in writing. At each meeting one of the students would read a story or essay he had written, and then submit it to the others for criticism. And they got it. Nothing was held back. The students showed no mercy in dissecting the material line by line. The sessions were so brutal that the members called themselves “The Stranglers.”
Then a similar club was formed called “The Wranglers.” The Wranglers were the female counterparts to the Stranglers. They would read their writings at meetings and critique one another, but there was a noticeable difference. The Wranglers’ criticism was gentle, thoughtful, positive and kind. They lifted each other up and encouraged one another in their writing. Twenty years later, a university researcher looked at the careers of the members of both groups. Not one of the bright young talents in “The Stranglers” had achieved a literary reputation of any kind. “The Wranglers,” on the other hand, had produced half a dozen prominent, successful writers. What was the difference? The formats of both groups were similar. Both groups had very talented students who were equal in ability. The difference was that “The Stranglers” cut each other down while “The Wranglers” lifted each other up. “The Stranglers” strangled the life out of one another while “The Wranglers” were life enhancing. We are called to encouragement. We are to offer support and care to one another. And this happens as we gather together regularly for prayer and worship and fellowship. “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.”
4. Bless Others: everyone!
14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Romans 12:14-16 NLT
This is such a life changing teaching if we can grasp it. The bible is full of counter culture radical teaching that goes against everything you and I have been taught.
Here we are told to bless those that persecute us. We are told to not curse them but pray that God will bless them. When is the last time you got down on your knees and prayed for someone that is your enemy or someone that has mistreated you?
I submit to you that the authentic follower of Jesus Christ will possess enough grace in their hearts and lives to follow this principle. Verse 15 says we are to be happy with those that are happy and weep with those that weep. We are to live in harmony with each other. Someone wrote a little limerick about this verse:
A sorrow shared is but half a trouble
A joy that’s shared is a joy made double.
We are to live in harmony with each other.
There is an old Jewish story about a rabbi who was talking with God about heaven and hell. "I will show you what hell is like," God said. They went into a room where there was a large bowl of soup. The smell was delicious, but around the bowl sat people who were very thin and starving and hungry. They were all holding spoons with very long handles which reached to the pot. The handles were longer than their arms. So it was impossible for them to get the soup into their mouths. "That is what hell is like," God said.
Then God took the rabbi to another room where He said, "Now I will show you heaven." There was a similar pot of soup. And the smell was just as delicious as the first room. And the people had the same size spoons. But these people were all well-fed and were smiling and laughing. Everyone could eat. "I don't understand it," said the rabbi. "Why are they happy here when they were miserable in the other room?" The Lord smiled," Ah, don't you see?" He asked. "It's simple. Over there everyone only tries to feed himself. Here in heaven, people have learned to feed each other."
In the past year I have enjoyed watching some folks live out what it means to be in a Christ-centered community. I was eating breakfast with Dr. John Roberston, a family doctor that attends this church. He asked me if I could visit a patient or have someone go see a young woman that was recovering from an attempt to take her own life. He just simply said, “I don’t think she has had many or perhaps any visitors.” He saw something in her that made him want her to experience what it means to be surrounded by a community. I contacted Cheryl Simpson and well you would be better off to hear it in Danielle’s own words.
3 Because of the privilege and authority[c] God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.[d] 4 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5 so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.
9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection,[e] and take delight in honoring each other. 11
14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!