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Community and Discipleship

The world seems to be shutting down around us as our communities respond to the spread of a new virus. For some of us, this will be very painful for very real reasons.  That pain may even cause us to make the mistake of thinking some parts of our communities, like the grocery store, or even our places of work, hold more value than they actually do.  I am reminded of someone with whom I frequently converse.  I have an acquaintance who confides in me once or twice a week.  In a way, I am his friend — though we’ve never had any personal chemistry.  In his moments of confession, he tells me often that he has no friends. This is not true, since he’s confiding secrets to me, and trusting me to custodian them discreetly. What he is lacking is something bigger than singular, mortal friendships. What he is lacking is a vibrant, life giving community that can offer him both identity and multiple avenues of companionship. He is aging. He is sick. He is lonely. He has given up trying to build social ties. He lacks purpose. Most of his family is dead, and those who still live bear no desire to include him. Of course, they have reasons for that. But he chooses to ignore those reasons.

It’s a sad situation, and I do my best to encourage him. Unfortunately, any encouragement that I offer is only a temporary salve. It lasts only a bit longer than his brief encounters with me. This is because when he returns to his lonely and dark home, crammed in the midst of people who he views as beneath him, he has no one to reinforce the encouragement he received from me. There is no one to challenge him to consider his family’s reasons for distancing themselves. There’s no one to challenge his assumptions. There’s no one to offer wisdom. There’s no one to praise his accomplishments. He is an illustration of how to be lacking in community is to be drowning in an abundance of misery. In fact, the highest quality wealth comes from properly enmeshing yourself in a healthy community. When you’ve done that, your physical needs generally will be met, and you’ll also find purpose, love, belonging, and identity.

To enmesh oneself in a community requires discipline. You must discipline yourself to serve others, and you must submit yourself in such a way that others serve you, either with their wisdom, or with some other offering. We were never designed to live in this world alone. This fact is established in the very first narratives of the bible (Genesis 2:18). And that concept is reinforced all throughout the new testament. Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us to stir up love in one another. Galatians 6:2 teaches us that we fulfill the law of Christ when we bear one another’s burdens. Paul teaches us over and over again that we should function as a body (1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Romans 12:4-5, Ephesians 1:20-23, Ephesians 3:6, Ephesians 4:16).

When we are able to function together in a healthy faith community, we become very powerful, both individually and collectively. Our lives become enriched with a value that is hard to measure adequately. And we can weather storms, loneliness, joblessness, difficult times, and even the fear of viruses.

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