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A Monopoly of Outcasts

The church is a gathering of the redeemed. We are made holy. We were not innately holy. The church is a place where those who know they are sick come to the Great Physician (cf. Lk. 5:31). The church is a monopoly of outcasts. It is filled with struggling ex-thieves, ex-drunkards, ex-adulterers, and ex-revilers (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11).

The church is (or should be!) a welcoming place for all because we have all been welcomed at Jesus’ own expense. Colossians radically says that in the church “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11).

The church is filled with all sorts of people with all sorts of problems. Let’s not be prideful about our problems and prudish about the problems of others. 

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“Thou Shall Not Dishonor The Sabbath”

To be honest with you I am convicted that I have not in my own life placed due emphasis on the Lord’s Day. So here I want to explore the Sabbath and what it means to us today.

Four major views on the subject:

First, the Seventh-Day Sabbath view. Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, and Seventh Day Baptists hold this view. This group gathers on Saturday for worship.

Second, the Christian Sabbath view. Edwards, Spurgeon, and a lot of other puritans held this position. They believed the 10 commandments are eternal moral laws and thus the 4th commandment still applies but they believed it applies to Sunday rather than Saturday.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism, for instance, says the whole day should be spent in “the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy” (Question 60).

Third, the Lord’s Day view. This is the view that I hold. Many of the people that hold this view are not very distinguishable from the Christian Sabbath view because of the way they live on Sunday.

In this view Old Testament regulations are obsolete (cf. Col. 2:16-17). However, believers follow the New Testament principles about the Lord’s Day. 1) Worship with other believers is the priority on the Lord’s Day. Believers are to gather together (Heb. 10:25) and it is observed from the New Testament when they gathered (cf. 1 Cor. 16:2), on Sunday-the Lord’s day, the day when Jesus the Messiah rose from the dead. 2) This group observes Sunday as a day for remembering the Lord. It is His day! They evaluate every activity in light of this truth. This day is reserved for extended worship of our great God.

Fourth, the Oblivious view.  This is when Christians do not care and do not even consider what is and is not right to do on Sunday. This is where the majority of Christians are. However, it is also the worst place to be.[1]

What does it mean for us today?

What does “honor the Sabbath day, and keep it holy” look like now (see Ex. 20:8-11)?[2] It appears from Scripture and early church history that the Church began meeting on Sunday instead of Saturday, the Sabbath, because that is the day that Jesus rose from the dead (See 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10; Acts 20:7; Jn. 20:19 see also Matt. 28:1,6; Jn. 20:17; Lk. 24:45-47; Jn. 20:21; Matt. 28:19-20; Jn. 20;22; Acts 2:1-4 for other “first day of the week” passages). That is why the majority of Christians celebrate the Lord’s Day rather than the Sabbath. This was truly a radical shift. Yet, of course, the shift came because of something far more radical, the resurrection (see 1 Cor. 15).

So historically we see the surprising shift from gathered worship on the Sabbath to worship on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. We also see that in Mark Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (2:27-28 note context). What did Jesus mean? Can we just do away with the fourth commandment?

Jesus meant that Sabbath observance is not the end-all and be-all. The Sabbath is not an end in itself or the greatest good. It is designed to help, restore, and revive God’s people. The Sabbath is not to be legalistically observed like the Pharisees in the passage but neither is it to be disregarded.

Dr. Donald Whitney has said,

“Resting from work and worshiping God in prescribed ways on the Sabbath (Saturday) was a sign of God’s covenant with the Jews (Exo. 31:16-17). But it isn’t a sign of the New Covenant, and the Old Covenant Sabbath isn’t for New Covenant believers (Gal. 4:9-11). The Sabbath was a symbol, a “shadow . . . but the substance belongs to Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). Jesus Christ and His work is the fulfillment of the Sabbath. A person now enters the Sabbath rest by resting from trying to work his way to God and trusting in Christ’s work (Heb. 4:9-10). Thus we should read the Fourth Commandment with New Covenant, Christ-focused eyes.”[3] 

Ok, so we have a little bit of the context set. What does that mean for us? Does the fourth commandment still matter? Yes! All of the other commandments are still very vital, thou shall not kill is a good one. All of them are good ones. So, I think it is more a matter of how we keep it. Jesus did not say I am doing away with the Sabbath or the importance of the Sabbath. He said it was important, we need it, it is for us. Yet, that does not mean that we have to count how many steps we walk on the Sabbath to ensure that we are not working on it. However, it is important!

The Lord’s Day is a great privilege and not a burden. In fact, it is a great means of undeserved kindness to us. We must remember that God told us to honor the Sabbath, which I believe now is the Lord’s Day, not to burden us but to bless us. Often people talk about not doing anything on Sunday because it is wrong, yet I think it would be more accurate to carefully consider what we should  do. We are exhorted to keep the Day holy; we are not exhorted to lounge around, though that is not necessarily wrong. I believe, however, that the Sabbath is meant for much more than just physical rest, though that for sure is a blessing which you will see if you’re at my house around 3pm on Sunday, yet what we need more is spiritual refreshment. We need the Words of life to feast upon. So yes, lounge around. But I greatly encourage you to lounge around with a Bible or a godly book. Make the Day holy!

A Few Practical Principles:

Lastly, a few practical principles for keeping the Lord’s Day holy (for myself as well!):

  • Remember, the Lord’s Day is a blessing and a grace. We do not want to neglect that which God has blessed us. “Men honour God when they come to worship hungry and expectant, conscious of need and looking to God to meet them and supply it.”[4]
  • We must prepare our hearts for the Lord’s Day. Pray that the Holy Spirit would move in powerful ways, for the pastor, for the whole service. Pray for and examine your own life and confess sin. We prepare for so many things, should we not prepare to meet the LORD God in worship?! As J. I. Packer says, “An aimless, careless, casual, routine habit of church-going is neither rational nor reverent.”[5]
  • Public worship is central on the Lord’s Day. We must do what it takes to make it central. Go to bed early, wake up early, have clothes laid out and ready to go, etc. We make plans for other important things… we must also plan to make worship gathering central. It should be a priority (Heb. 10:25).
  • Does your normal Lord’s Day use of time feel like Monday? Does it rob you of joy? How can you restructure your day to be refreshed in the Lord? At my house, for example, we often have a simple meal cooking in the crockpot so we have one less thing to distract us from worship.
  • In regard to what is acceptable to do on the Lord’s Day, I think it is helpful to ask if it is necessary, is it an act of mercy, does it celebrate the Lord’s Day, and truly revive your soul?
  • Though, the Lord’s Day is very important and very helpful we must avoid the pitfalls of legalism. I, for instance, have in the past had to miss church because of work. We should not make these decisions lightly. Individuals have to work out their particular convictions on their own based on Scripture.

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[1] From class notes from Dr. Donald Whitney’s class “Personal Spiritual Disciplines.”

[2] In answering this question, J.I. Packer’s book, A Quest for Godlinesshas been a great help. He explores the puritan’s view of this question.

[3] See: http://biblicalspirituality.org/speaking/handout-downloads/

[4] J.I. Packer, The Quest for Godliness, 252.

[5] Ibid., 253.

A Biblical Basis for Social Media?

The genesis of social media was in Genesis. No we don’t see Snapchat or MySpace but we do see the raw material. That is, theologically.

Humanity is made in the image of the triune, relational, three in one God. So we have an innate need for connectivity. We’re hardwired for it. It’s in our internal processing. We are social (media) beings.

We also see that humanity is to subdue the earth. This results in technological advances, even within the book of Genesis (you could consider the naming of the animals “technology”).[1] Of course, Facebook and the invention of the book hadn’t happened.  But advances were being made.

Humanity is made in the image of the triune, relational, three in one God. So we have an innate need for connectivity. We’re hardwired for it. It’s in our internal processing. We are social (media) beings.

So we see that the desire to be connected and the desire for technological advances is not inherently bad.  A case could be made to say connectivity and technological advances are “very good.” At the very least being connected and using advances is not bad in itself. However we also see something else really important that we must consider from the beginning of Genesis.

The Fall. The Fall didn’t do away with our need to be connected or to make advances and subdue the earth but it did corrupt it.

So what do these observations from Genesis have to do with social media?

It means that there are elements about social media that are good and there are elements about social media that are not good. It means that social media is not wholly good or wholly bad. It means that we must be careful consumers. We must be proactive and evaluative, not inactive and absorptive.

I plan to post more on this subject later but here are some other relevant posts:

“Unrestricted Consumption of Electric Candy Bars”

“The Megalomania of Mass Media”

“Technology: Connected and Out of Touch”

“Delights, Deceits, and Dangers of the Digital Age”

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[1] There were a lot of significant advances that we see in the beginning of Genesis. “Gardening and naming in Genesis 2, farming and clothes making in Genesis 3, city building and harp and pipe playing in Genesis 4, shipbuilding in Genesis 6, altar building in Genesis 8, fruit growing and wine making in Genesis 9, brick baking in Genesis 11, tent making in Genesis 12” (Steve Turner, Popcultured, 43).

The Megalomania of Mass Media

Through Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook (and remember MySpace?) we have a world essentially created in our image. It’s nice. But it also feeds our narcissistic souls.[i] We like what we want and we want what we like; and if you, a certain political agenda, a religious view, or a video, a picture, or an advertisement (the most difficult thing to avoid in our cyber-haven) gets in my way I have the right, without reproach, to scroll on by.

Media brings a form of megalomania but it can also be a monster to meaning. It destroys meaning by stripping it of its context and by placing weighty things into too close a proximity to funny dog videos. When posts about politics, pantiliners, and poodles all show up in our (raging and undirected directed) “stream” then we might be taking in not a stream but a torrent of incoherent information.

It seems that social media has great potential to create an anti-intellectual ivory tower. That is, it distances us from people and what is really going on and allows us to make unsubstantiated comments that haven’t truly been contemplated. If we don’t take in the protein and exercise of hard thought we’re going to be weak. If we feed on what’s frail and fruitless, we will be frail and fruitless.

Tweets and feeds won’t feed us. And we cannot understand politics in sixty-second-sound-bits. Racial reconciliation isn’t and can’t be reconciled, let alone understood, when we merely rely on social media; instead of deep, patient, embodied, social change.

Violence and vengeance, bullying and bad behavior, won’t be solved by ads alone; even if the words are backed by a famous actor, artist, or athlete (that ironically likely undercuts the very thing they’re supposedly trying to communicate).

Further, social media may fool us, but it won’t fill us. We may enjoy Instagram but we weren’t there, we aren’t now, or we didn’t receive enough “stars” (or whatever) to fill out our significance.

The “word” “tweet” is fitting for Twitter because although I myself have a Twitter the whole thing is not congruent. When sentences and phrases are sheared of their context they have about as much meaning as a bird tweeting. So when we “tweet” we may be performing a type of onomatopoeia (an onomatopoeia is a word that phonetically imitates, resembles, or suggests the source of the sound that it describes). That is to say, to tweet is to not say anything; or, at least, anything that is human in an extended rational sense.

As humans we can hear more than “tweet, tweet, tweet.” We can take in and bask in beautiful poetry or follow powerful prose. We can be “intoxicated” in beautiful ways literarily, but not so much if we stick w/ texting & tweeting.

Thankfully Chopin and Beethoven’s media wasn’t a kazoo and a triangle, that media would have greatly hindered them. Could it be that our media is hurting and hindering us? Maybe sometimes we need to even focus on a medium. Maybe even pick up a pencil and paper, put away distractions, and put something powerful and substantial down. Something outside of us, beyond us, and not about us. Maybe it’s time to read a book and get off Facebook.

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[i] In the picture above by Caravaggio (1571-1610), Narcissus gazes at his own reflection and in a similar way we gaze into our computers, phones, and tablets. We narcissistically gaze at our profiles and our worlds that we have created in our image. Could we meet the same fate as Narcissus? Could we drown in a stream of information and technology? 

The Church is a Place for Outcasts

The church is a gathering of the redeemed. We are made holy. We were not innately holy. The church is a place where those who know they are sick come to the Great Physician (cf. Lk. 5:31). The church is a monopoly of outcasts. It is filled with struggling ex-thieves, ex-drunkards, ex-adulterers, and ex-revilers (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11).

The church is (or should be!) a welcoming place for all because we have all been welcomed at Jesus’ own expense. Colossians radically says that in the church “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11). Who am I, who are you, to say or act any differently?! 

True that it may be, the fact that the church is a place for outcasts is not easy. It brings with it, as you can imagine and know, a whole host of problems. So, what can sustain us through the difficulties? Where do we see the type of compassion we need to welcome the outcasts—the people that are not like us and do not think and smell like us—into the church?

What example do we have of compassion? What biblical model can we think of? None other than Jesus Himself! Jesus had abundant riches in heaven yet He left heaven for us and became poor that through His poverty we might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9). In Philippians, we are told to look not only to our own interests, but also the interests of others (2:4). Why should we do this? Because Jesus, who is God, humbled Himself and took the form of a servant to die for us (vv. 6-8). Our attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus’ (v. 5).

We know from the Gospels that Jesus had compassion on people.[i] He was even criticized by the religious leaders of the day because of the type of people that He reached out to and helped (cf. Matt. 9:9-13; 11:19; 21:31-32; Mk. 2:15-17; Lk. 3:12-14; 5:29-32; 7:36-50; 15; 19:1-10 for example). He ate with tax collectors even though they would cheat and steal from people (Matthew, who wrote the Gospel of Matthew, was previously a tax collector [Matt. 9:9-13]!). He talked to Gentiles who were basically unacceptable foreigners to many people. Jesus ministered to prostitutes and the friends that were closest to Him were not the religious elite but humble smelly fishermen. If we are to minister compassionately, we must imitate Jesus.

He reached out and literally touched lepers (Matt. 8:2-4; Mark 1:40-44; Lk. 5:12-16). Lepers were people with a severe skin disease. They had to call out “unclean, unclean” when they saw people (cf. Lev. 13:45-46), and Jesus touched them! When Jesus walked up to, let alone talked to and touched, the leper, His followers, to say nothing of the religious leaders, would have been shocked, scandalized.[ii] Yet, what is Jesus’ response? Did He turn away? Did He tell the leper to stay back? No. Jesus was filled with compassion (Mark 1:41).[iii]  He cared for the outcast. He loved the unlovely even when it was the unpopular thing. Loathsome leprosy is not beyond Jesus’ loving touch.

Think of the biggest outcasts in today’s society—whether to you its addicts, illegal immigrants, poor people, unattractive people, those who have AIDS, so-called “white trash,” or whoever you think of—they are not outcasts to Jesus. He loves them. He reaches for them. No one is past His reach. No one is too sick for Him.

The most significant lesson from the cleansing of the leper story is that even outsiders can experience God’s healing grace. The church is called by this example to reach out to those on the fringes of society. Leprosy in its time was seen as reflecting the presence of sin, so reaching out to sinners is pictured here… Jesus came to save people from sin, any sin, no matter how serious. So the ministry of compassion he reveals here should be matched by the church’s efforts with those that most of society have given up on.[iv]

It is the very essence of Christianity to touch the untouchable, to love the unlovable, to forgive the unforgivable. Jesus did and so must we.

So, are you reaching? If we define lepers as those who are isolated, unwanted, the outcasts of society then who are the “lepers” who live around you today? Who are the “lepers” in your sphere of influence?

As we seek to minister compassionately, we must remember the gospel. We must understand that “none is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10 and see following), and this includes you, me, and the addict. All have sinned and are declared righteous by God’s grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:23). In fact, the Bible says we were all once vile sinners, a.k.a. addicts, but we have been washed, made holy, and declared righteous in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11).

The ground is level at the foot of the cross. We may not have the same addiction, i.e. sin problem, but we all have the sin problem. No, all sin does not look the same and does not have the same consequences (cf. 1 Cor. 6:18; Prov. 5:7-14) but it is all sin against a holy God. May we realize that we ourselves are sinners, even “the chief of sinners,” and say with Paul, “by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). May we not be like the prideful Pharisee that puts himself over others (Lk. 18:11 cf. 13-14).

The loving and reaching grace of our humble and exalted Lord should create new Kingdom communities that transform. Even now the Lord is recreating (of course, there is an “already/not yet” aspect to it).[v]

It is my prayer that we, as the church, would be more and more laid low by the profound reaching grace of God. God pulled us out of the slew of our sin. He pulled us out of death. We were helpless, lifeless. He saved us. May we understand and be humbled by Jesus’ saving work on our behalf and may we reach out as He did; in selfless humble love. We are not better or more righteous than others. We are saved. Saved by grace. We are outcasts that have been gathered for the wedding feast. We have even been given wedding garments. On our own, all of us, would be cast out on our own. Yet, through Christ we are all welcomed. 

When we understand this, when the humbling grace of God courses through the veins of the church, it has a healthy symbiotic effect. It creates welcoming and upbuilding communities.

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[i] Eric L. Johnson has similarly pointed out that “scriptural teaching leads us to infer that God is especially committed to those who have psychological damage and desirous of improving their well-being (Mt 9:11-13; 11:19; 18:6; Lk 6:20; 1 Cor 1:26-28; 2 Cor 4:7; Jas 2:5)” (Foundations of Soul Care, 473).

[ii]  “Jesus’ gesture made clear that he was not concerned with others’ taboos and dramatically demonstrated that God’s love extends to even the most outcast of society” (Craig L. Blomberg, Matthew in The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (Nashville: Boardman Press, 1992), 139).

[iii] B.B. Warfield points out that compassion is the attribute that is most often used to describe Jesus in the Gospels (The Person and Work of Christ [Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1950], 96-97).

[iv] Darrell L. Bock, Luke in The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996), 165.

[v] “Shame… fosters an avoidance of self-examination and the assumption of responsibility, fear of others and of ‘being exposed,’ defensiveness and aggressive anger; it keeps people from reaching out to others… The revelation of God’s grace and mercy, his love for sinners and the broken and hurting, can therefore be profoundly encouraging and hope-giving. Direct experiences of God’s grace in the gospel can lead to reconfiguration of one’s self-representations, and one’s view of others and the world, and can facilitate a growing honesty and openness with God, oneself, and others, and so can help Christians become more willing to take risks with others” (Eric L. Johnson, “How God is Good for the Soul” in SBJT 7/4 [Winter 2003]: 33). He goes on, “People who are especially burdened by their guilt and shame can become especially transformed by God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness. In fact, the greater the sense of shame, the greater can be the eventual sense of gratitude and affection to God” (Luke 7:47)” (Ibid.).

CommUnity

CommUnity

Introduction. Community or community groups (or however it is worked out for you in your local context) are very important to the life and health of the  Church. Community is a critical part of sanctification and growth for a believer and is thus a crucial aspect of our lives. Community groups are simply a tool to encourage biblical and spiritual interaction with each other.

What does “Community” mean? First, it is important to understand what is meant by fellowship or community. Often we think of a fellowship meal: “food, fun, and fellowship.” We even have fellowship halls. So, if asked, “What is fellowship?” We think, Ok, the fellowship hall is by the kitchen and when we use it we are always eating so I guess fellowship is eating, yes, that’s my answer; fellowship is eating.

Community/fellowship (Gk. koinonia) in the New Testament was often used as a general Greek word and was used of a business partnership in which two or more people shared a business and this word was also at times used of a marriage. Koinonia is a common union, interest, participation, and co-operation, it is being together, united. We see many similar ideas through different biblical word pictures. I think of family, body (1 Cor.12:12-27Eph.1:22-23), and “brother/sister” references for instance.

Created for Community. Where do we get the idea that we are created for community? First, we see it in that we are created in the image of the triune God. God is relational and so are we. Second, man walked with God in the Garden. Third, we also see that it was not good that man should dwell alone. We need each other.

Community Crashed. Where do we see the crash of community? In the Fall. First, man was kicked out of the Garden and separated from God because of sin. Second, there is marital disharmony. Third, Cain kills Abel. And the problem only precipitates with the tower of Babel. Community when not united in Christ but some other cause will only lead to chaos. This is demonstrated throughout history. 

Community Recreated through Christ. So how do we have this union or community? We have it in Christ (Rom. 6:4611Gal. 2:20Eph. 2:4-6Col. 2:203:3)! We have union with God and each other. What was destroyed in the Fall is remade and being remade through Christ. So, we see that koinonia in Scripture means we have intimacy with Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:9), God the Father (1 Jn. 1:3), God the Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14), and each other (2 Cor. 8:41 Jn. 1:7).

Our union one to another is much deeper than merely eating together. It is more intimate and real, it is truly eternal. Further, it is not merely we that are together, we are together with God in Christ. “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11).

Two more powerful texts:

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. And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit ~ Eph. 2:15-22)

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that You [pl.] may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved [that is, the church], I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your [pl.] conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you [pl.] as evildoers, they may see your [pl.] good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. ~1 Pet. 2:9-12

Can you imagine the scene in some of the early churches? Imagine a converted (and “unclean”) Samaritan woman standing next to an ex-Pharisee. Now imagine that this Pharisee is being taught by a non-Jew. And then walk in the once notorious crew: Neroious the Egyptian and ex-demon-possessed man, Phillirono the Jewish ex-drunk and tax collector, Markus a Roman Centurion that use to exploit his power to have his way with women, Allatu a Babylonian woman and witch, and Simon the Leper. Yet, all these, in Christ, are made new and united! That’s what Scripture says! And that is actually what we see in the Church! 

Our union with Christ gives us a realistic expectation for fellowship. We know that we are at the same time saints and sinners. We therefore don’t expect perfection, we expect people’s lives to be a little messy. We expect to be patient with each other and help each other out. We all need grace. And we have all received it in Christ.

When we remember where our community comes from it protects against the error of thinking that fellowship is simply socializing, i.e. food, fun, and football. It also protects us from thinking that in our community groups we will experience heaven on earth. As we understand more and more where our community comes from, we will have more community. 

So our communion is much more significant than just eating together, though that can and should be an outworking of our union with Christ as it was in the Early Church. In the book of Acts we see that people from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:5) received the word and were added to the Church (v. 41) and they (the very large and very diverse group) devoted themselves not just to teaching and prayers but also to fellowship and the breaking of bread (v. 42). Also, significantly, one of the qualifications of a pastor/elder is that he be hospitable (Titus 1:8).

Community is Commanded. Community is not just something that has become trendy with the recent popularity of community groups. Community has been around since the world has been around. However, Christians are not just called to any type of community. Christians are called to Christ exalting community (cf. Ps. 133:1; Jn. 17:23; Rom. 12:4, 16; 1 Cor. 1:10; 12:12-13; Gal. 3:26-28; Eph. 2:14; 4:3, 16; Col. 3:13-14; 1 Pet. 3:8). So community groups, or the way that community is worked out in your context, is not just a nice option; it is vital and life giving. God want us all to be in community.  

What is a Community Group? A community group is a small group of often diverse people that intentionally share life together in order to encourage each other. Community groups are a pragmatic way that the modern Church has sought to fulfill the various “one another” passages. Remember, the book of Hebrews says to consider, that is, think about, how to stir each other up to love and good works (Heb. 10:24). Community groups are, as the name would indicate, a good place to practice all the exhortations to community and they are a very good way to stir up each other for good works.

It is through the church that we are “equipped for the work of the ministry” and “built up into Him who is the head.” It is in Christ through connection with the church that individuals within the church our nourished and grow together (Col. 2:19). Perseverance is a community endeavor. We need to be provoked to good works.

On and an aside, it may be helpful to remember the example of Jesus. If anyone did not need fellowship with others it was Jesus. Yet, He spent almost all His time with His followers. He prayed with them, ate with them, walked with them, taught them, and went through life with them.

There are also many “one another” passages that can only be carried out in a small familiar setting. Here is a sampling of the “one another” passages. Think about each of them and about the benefit community groups are to practice all the various aspects of life together.

We are to honor one another (Rom. 13:7). We are to accept one another (Rom. 15:7). We are to bear with one another (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:13). We are to forgive one another (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13). We are to pray for and confess sins to one another (James 5:16). We are to cheer and challenge one another (Heb. 3:13; 10:24-25). We are to admonish and confront one another (Rom. 15:14; Col. 3:16; Gal. 6:1-6). We are to warn one another (1 Thess. 5:14). We are to teach one another (Col. 3:16). We are to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). We are to share possessions (Acts 4:32). We are to submit to one another (Eph. 5:21). We are to not gossip, slander, or be fake with one another (Gal. 5:15; Rom. 12:9). These “one anothers” most easily take place in community groups, please be involved in a Christian community/community group.

Elements of a Community Group. In Acts 2:42 we see a glimpse of what fellowship was like for the Early Church. It says they continually devoted themselves to teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. There are at least six important elements of each community group.

1) Bible Study: The Early Church was continually devoted to teaching and we also want the Word of God to be central in all we do as a church. It is the Word of God that makes us competent and equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

2) Prayer: We want our ministry to be saturated in prayer and this is just what we see in Acts. They devoted themselves to prayer (2:42).

3) Hospitality: As we have seen, one of the qualifications for an Elder is that he be hospitable. This points us to its importance. We also remember that the early church also broke bread together. That is, they ate together. This likely includes both regular meals and the Lord’s Supper.

4) Confession and Repentance: This is a sensitive subject and must be done with much wisdom and tact. However, we know from James that we are to confess our sins one to another (5:16) and Galatians chapter six tells us to bear one another’s burdens (6:1-5). There is likely no better place for these things to happen than through community groups.

5) Service: The service that we are to do is varied. We are to do good to all people and especially those in the church. We are to make disciples of all nations. Yet, we are to do those things in community. Yes, we need to do them on large scale as the whole church but it is also helpful to focus on service at a smaller more intimate level.

6) Worship: We as the church must desire and seek for our involvement in community groups to lead individuals to better love the LORD their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. 

7) Mission: We want to intentionally stir each other up to love and good works (Heb. 10:24) by being together and devoting ourselves to Scripture and prayer (Acts 2:42) so that the result is mission to the surrounding world (v. 43-47). The purpose of community groups is not so we can create a “Christian ghetto.” We need community so that we won’t be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13) but we also need community so we can be on mission together. 

D.A. Carson says, 

“The heart of true fellowship… is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision… Christian fellowship, then, is self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. There may be overtones of warmth and intimacy, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of what is of transcendent importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment.”[1]

Mission of Community Groups. The mission of community groups is to encourage each other to Christ-like living for the sake of God’s Name among all the nations, to provide intentional outlets for all the “one another passages” in Scripture, to use as a catalyst to reach the lost people around us through intentional relational witness, and to promote more intimate Christian relationships.

Community Group Logistics. The Church should desire diverse community groups. That is, we want people to come together in relationship that outside of Christ would likely never partner together for anything. This is for many reasons. Diversity better pictures the Kingdom of God; in heaven there will be people form every tribe, tongue, and nation. If there is diversity in age than what Paul commends in Titus 2 can be put into practice; older men teaching younger men, and older women teaching younger women.

Imagine the scene that I described above again. And remember that the world will know that we are disciples by our love for each other (Jn. 13:35). Our love will show all the more when we are not all the same. When the only thing that could possibly unite us is Christ. 

Conclusion. Although, we do not exactly see community groups in Scripture I believe that biblical community is vital to the health of individual Christians and to the corporate life of the church. Thus I strongly encourage people to be connected to a church and to be involved in a community of believers whether in a community group/small group/cell group or some other intimate gathering. Community groups may not be exactly biblical but they are designed to do biblical, God given, things. I, thus, implore you to be connected to a Christian community/community group. I say this not merely because I think you should, not merely for my own spiritual health, not merely for your own spiritual health, but because I believe that God teaches in Scripture that it is important.

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[1] D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, 16.

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