Values: Community (Part 2a)

Last week, we talked about the gospel; the message of Christ's life, death, resurrection and return. We looked at the essence of the gospel, as well as the implications of the gospel. Today, we'll focus on the effects of the gospel. The gospel changes things. It brings about a new state of affairs. Jesus' death and resurrection make us new people (2 Corinthians 5:17). When we trust in Christ's work, we are declared righteous (Romans 5:8-9), and adopted into God's family (Galatians 4:4-7). Ultimately, Christ's work will transform the entire universe, and bring heaven down to earth (Ephesians 1:9-10; Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:15-20). The gospel creates new individuals, and it will soon create a new world. But it also creates a new community. Jesus came, “to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). Our Savior died to create a people. When we become God’s children, we’re adopted into his family (John 1:12). When we’re united to Christ, we’re grafted into his body (1 Corinthians12:13). And when we’re reconciled to God, we’re reconciled to one another (Ephesians 2:11-22). As Chester and Timmis say, 

We are not saved individually and then choose to join the church as if it were some club or support group. Christ died for his people, and we are saved when by faith we become part of the people for whom Christ died.[1]

Salvation is incorporation. When we trust in Jesus, we are united to him; incorporated into his resurrection life (Ephesians 2:6). At the very same instant, we are spiritually united to our brothers and sisters in the faith; incorporated into a new community (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13). As Joe Hellerman says, salvation is a community-creating event. And God's community is called the church. The church is not an aside in the story God is writing. Rather, as John Stott says,

“The church lies at the very center of the eternal purpose of God. It is not a divine afterthought. It is not an accident of history. On the contrary, the church is God’s new community. For his purpose, conceived in past eternity, being worked out in history, and to be perfected in a future eternity, is not just to save isolated individuals and so perpetuate our loneliness, but rather to build his church, that is, to call out of the world a people for his own glory.”[2]

The church is God's primary instrument to accomplish his purposes. Paul makes this clear in the book of Ephesians.

What is God up to? What's his plan for history? According to Ephesians 1:10, God's plan is to, "sum up" everything in Jesus. One day, every evil power will be defeated, and all of creation will be liberated from sin (Habakkuk 2:14; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Ephesians 1:19-23). All things will be reconciled; brought into a state of unity, peace and flourishing. And Jesus, the lord over the earth, will be lord on the earth. In him, the discordant melodies of history will be brought to resolution.

That sounds exciting. But how do we know it's true? Where's the evidence? According to Paul, the church is where we catch of glimpse of God's coming kingdom. One day, God will reconcile all things. But he has already reconciled believers to himself, and to one another (Ephesians 2:11-22). One day, God will fill all of creation with his presence (Ephesians 1:22; 4:10). But he has already filled the church with his presence (Ephesians 1:23). The church is the signpost of a future kingdom. In this community, God's wisdom (Ephesians 3:10) and love (Ephesians 3:14-21) are put on display. Moreover, as God's kingdom expands, so does the church (Ephesians 1:23).

A clear implication flows from this: if we want to fulfill God's will for our lives, we must be vitally involved in the church. Apart from this community, we cannot live as God intends us to. The church is where…

  • We Change: How do we grow? By, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16). How do we experience Christ’s life? Through Christ’s body; the church. Christ’s love flows through others to us, and through us to others, so that the church is built up in love. A Christian severed from the church is like a hand severed from the body.
  • We Glorify God: God saved us so that we “might be to the praise of hisglory” (Ephesians 1:12). The church puts the “manifold wisdom of God” on display to the universe (Ephesians 3:10). The church proclaims, “the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
  • We Witness: How will the world know our message is genuine? Through our love for one another. Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Elsewhere he says, “The glory that you [the Father] have given me I have given to them [the church], that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
  •  We Belong: We are members of one another (Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:25), and we belong to each other (1 Corinthians 12:21).

For Christians, identity is not simply a matter of "me," but "we". If you’re a Christian, you are a child in the Father’s family, a member in Christ’s body, and a stone in the Spirit’s temple. The Christian life is truly life together. Believers…

  • Share their lives (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
  • Share their resources (Acts 4:32; Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 9:13)
  • Share in the gospel (Philippians 1:6-7; Philemon 6)
  • Share in Christ’s sufferings and glory (1 Peter 4:13)

Because of our shared life in Christ, we are called to live for the benefit of one another.[3]

The gospel creates a community. If we've been transformed by the gospel, then we will be radically committed to the church. What does this look like in practice? We'll explore that question in our groups next Monday.

Here are some recommended resources on community:

[1] Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2008); 39.

[2] John Stott, The Living Church (Nottingham, UK: Inter-Varsity Press, 2007),19-20.

[3] For example, we are called to be at peace with each other (Mark 9:50), wash one another’s feet (John 13:14), love one another (John 13:34-35; John 15:12, 17; Romans 13:8; 1 Peter 1:22; 4:8 I John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12; 2 John 5), be devoted to one another in brotherly love (Romans 12:10), honor one another above ourselves (Romans 12:10), live in harmony with one another (Romans 12:16; 1 Peter 3:8), stop passing judgment on one another (Romans 14:13), accept one another as Christ has accepted us (Romans 15:7), instruct one another (Romans 15:4; Colossians 3:16), greet one another (Romans 16:16; I Corinthians 16:20, II Corinthians 13:12; I Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14), wait for each other (I Corinthians 11:33), have equal concern for each other (I Corinthians 12:25), serve one another in love (II Corinthians 13:12), carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), be patient, bearing with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2), be kind and compassionate to one another (Ephesians 4:32), forgive each other (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13), speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19), submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21), consider others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3), not lie to each other (Colossians 3:9), bear with each other (Colossians 3:13), admonish one another (Colossians 3:16), make our love increase and overflow for each other (I Thessalonians 3:12), encourage one another (I Thessalonians 4:18, 5:11; Hebrews 3:13; Hebrews 10:25), build each other up (I Thessalonians 5:11), spur one another on toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24), not slander one another (James 4:11), not grumble against each other (James 5:9), confess our sins to each other (James 5:16), pray for each other (James 5:16), offer hospitality to one another without grumbling (I Peter 4:9), and clothe ourselves with humility toward one another (I Peter 5:15).