Archive for July 29, 2011

What If I Don’t Practice Community?

man holding question mark over faceIf We Don’t Practice Community Nothing Will Happen

I had a very sad thought as I was preparing to write this post. It occurred to me that if we fail to practice community nothing will happen. Nothing will change. Things will go on just as they have, and all the gospel growth that comes from needing and being needed will go unclaimed.

It is amazing how even the most spontaneous among us are creatures of habit. We go to church each Sunday. We worship and take notes in the sermon. Maybe we even go to a Sunday school class and even go out to lunch with church friends. And all the way home in our cars we think how much we enjoyed being “at church”.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the experience I just described. It has been my experience for most of my life, but as I have read and studied God’s Word I have come to realize how sterile it is. Such an experience is not the life on life, family experience that should be the basis for our walk through this world. Such an experience doesn’t allow us to see one another as we really are.

So what happens if you don’t practice community? Absolutely nothing. And that is the saddest part of all.

There Is Only One Body

Boy Pointing UpThe Gospel Unites All Into One Body

There is only one plan used by God to reconcile all people to Himself and that plan is the gospel. God is not dealing one way with one group and a different way with another. The gospel represents a new covenant of grace that was sealed by the blood of Christ. This new covenant was a fulfillment of the old covenant which was based on works. How can anyone read the Pauline epistles and come away with any other view.

Consider the following passages:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

– Ephesians 2:13-16

Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

– Colossians 3:11

For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

– Galatians 3:26-29

In case you are wondering what in the world this has to do with community, I am about to tell you. The ability of the gospel is rendered powerless if it cannot unite all people into one body. There is only the gospel and this gospel unites all who receive Jesus into one family. The new covenant of grace manifested in the gospel leaves no room for divisions or dispensations.

And that is the gospel truth. N’est-ce pas?

Now Thats Family

chained handsHow far are you willing to go to be family for your brothers and sisters in Christ?

I have made the case on this site that true gospel community means living as a family with your brothers and sisters in Christ. That sounds good in theory but what exactly does it mean in practice? I think a good place to answer that question is found in the book of Philemon.

The small letter of Philemon was written by the Apostle Paul to one of his converts in the town of Colossae. Philemon, the addressee and namesake for the book, was a wealthy believer who had several slaves who worked for him. One of these slaves was named Onesimus. Onesimus had apparently stolen some money from Philemon and fled his household eventually landing in the city of Rome. In the kind Providence of God, Onesimus ran into Paul who shared with him the gospel which led to his subsequent conversion. Paul then writes the letter to Philemon as a means of affecting reconciliation between Philemon and Onesimus.

What is remarkable about this letter is how Paul uses the gospel to demonstrate how it radically redefines relationships. Consider the following:

I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother.

– Philemon 12 – 16a (emphasis mine)

Is there any doubt that Paul saw the relationship between Onesimus and Philemon radically different in the light of the gospel? Even though Onesimus would still be a slave, or at least and employee of Philemon, he should also be considered a brother.

This is not idle talk because Paul also demonstrated here what brothers do for one another. Look at these verses found a little later in the same passage:

So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

– Philemon 17 – 20

Paul put his standing and his wallet on the line for Onesimus. His use of the word brother was not just talk because he backed it with his walk. This is the kind of family that the gospel makes. This is family.

How you been family like that to one of your brothers and sisters in Christ lately?

Your Personal Savior?

JesusJesus Is For You, But Not For You Alone

It is very common to hear people refer to Jesus as their personal savior. In a sense they are correct. Jesus is a pursuer of persons and he loves those who know Him in a very personal and loving way. And still it is not completely correct to say that Jesus is your personal savior. Jesus plan from before the foundation of the world was much bigger than you.

In Ephesians chapter one we read:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”
– Ephesians 1:3-6

The personal pronoun used here by the Apostle Paul is Us. This is not trivial or insignificant. God’s plan is to redeem a people, a body, a church, a family. If this is true, why do we walk with God in isolation stubbornly independent as if that was God’s desire? Why do we envision the marriage supper of the Lamb as a quiet dinner for two?

Is salvation personal? You bet it is! Did God send His son to die so that you can live life on your own apart from His family? Not on your life!

Is Jesus just your personal savior?