There is something special about sharing. What makes sharing special is the people that you are with and the object that you are sharing. For example, sharing an undercooked turkey with good friends will be a bad sharing experience no matter how you slice it and having a meal of prime rib, lobster and baked potato with a bunch of other people in orange jumpsuits on your first day in prison will not be a good sharing experience. So these two things—what you are sharing and who you are sharing with are both very important.
God has given us something good to share with other believers: the new life that Jesus has given to us. Because of our sin, all of us were headed towards destruction, death & eternal separation from God. But God the Son came to earth and became one of us in order to save us. Because he loves us, Jesus willingly went to the cross and give his life in exchange for ours. He took from us all our guilt, death & condemnation and He gave us his forgiveness, acceptance and life. When we believe in Jesus, our salvation is complete. There is nothing that needs to be added by us to make our salvation more complete and there is nothing that can be taken away from our salvation if there are certain steps that we fail to do. We can rest secure in the salvation that Jesus gives us. But we live out our new life in community with others.
We need to share life with other believers because of who we are. We were created by God in His image. We read in Genesis, chapter 1:
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)
Being made in the image of God means that we are like God in some respects. Of course, we are not divine like God is and we are not perfect like God is. But God has put some of his characteristics in us like an artist puts something of herself in her paintings. So there are similarities between us and God like there are similarities between a Father and a Son.
And one characteristic about God that we perhaps do not often consider is that God has always lived in community. God is one God, and yet God has eternally existed in a community of 3 persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And because our Creator lives in community, we also need to live in community.
We also need to live in community because we are human. Jesus is the one perfect human being and yet He intentionally lived in community with 12 other guys. So if the ideal human being lived in community with others, then that tells us that we need it too.
Another way that we are different from God is that we need to be loved, but God does not. Within the three-in-one community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, each Person has been loving the other two with a perfect, self-giving love. God doesn’t need to be loved, but you and I do. And one of the ways in which God gives us the love that we need through other people. Therefore, we need to share life with others so we can receive, and give, love.
When we tend to neglect, forget or deny the importance of living in Christian community, we impoverish ourselves and we impoverish others. But the Bible gives us a picture of what the ideal Christian community looks like in Acts, chapter 2.
41-42 That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptized and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.
43-45 Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.
46-47 They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved. (Acts 2:41-47 The Message)
The key verse here is verse 41: They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.
Living in Christian Community is challenging because there are things that happen when we live in Christian community that we don’t like. For example, living in Christian community is messy because we are forced to deal with other people’s “stuff.” And then our “stuff” becomes part of the mix and things get even messier. Also, there is conflict whenever we live in community. And we tend to make things worse by dealing with conflict in the church like the world does. We either power through conflict so we can get our own way or we deal with conflict by avoiding conflict and withdrawing our presence, affection and support. And both approaches are toxic to community. Another problem is that we tend to treat Christian community like the Church is a provider of spiritual services and we are a consumer of those services. So if we can see that Christian community might be a benefit to us somehow, then we participate. But the moment being in Christian community gets hard, we withdraw. This is problematic because Jesus calls us to follow Him, to be His disciple, and to learn from Him as He teaches us through His Word how to live our New Life in our everyday world. But one cannot be a disciple of Jesus if one is going to be a consumer because consumerism is inherently self-orientated whereas Jesus is calling us to focus on Him instead of ourselves because He is the One who sets us free.
Jesus uses the hard aspects of life in Christian community to help us grow in faith, hope and love. First, Jesus helps us to experience love in community. As people in Christian community pray for us and encourage us, we experience love. What is happening is the Holy Spirit, who is also in them, leads them to treat us differently than the way that the world treats us and differently from what we expect. So we experience genuine care and concern from our sisters and brothers in Christ.
Second, Jesus helps us to experience grace in community. As people let down their guard and share what is going on in their lives, we find out that other people are broken like we are and we have grace and compassion for them. We also realize that they have grace and compassion for themselves. That helps us to learn that Jesus has grace and compassion for us in brokenness.
Third, Jesus helps us to grow in community. Jesus helps us to become more self-less, more loving and better at serving others.
Four, Jesus gives us fulfillment in community. As we pray for others, encourage them, and serve them, God gives us a sense of rewarding fulfillment that we do not expect. And all of the things that Jesus does for us in community, provide us with nourishment, support and new energy for the new heart which Jesus has already given us.
Jesus calls the Christian Church to be salt and light in the world. He calls us to be a unique community in the world that that shines light into the dark places and offers healing and hope. We cannot be salt and light in the world without Jesus. So as we rest in His love and let Him live His life through us, He will help us to live in community with our brothers and sisters in Christ and He will help us to be a community of healing, hope and life that the world needs us to be. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on February 18, 2018 and it is based on Acts 3:42-47.)