There are a lot of creative people in this world, coming up with some amazing creations. But everything that people create has a purpose – a function. Nobody designs something for no purpose. We might laugh at the design and function (like many of the “as seen on tv” gadgets) but there is still a function. When an item doesn’t work according to its design we call it dysfunctional, maybe even broken. Some easily recognizable creations and designs: the light bulb, the Hoover Dam, the Colosseum. They were all created with something specific in mind and they have lasted. But there is one enduring creation that has been around before any of these: humanity. How do we function according to our design?
Most Christians know the story of God’s work in creating. In Genesis 1, every time God creates something He looks at it and sees…THAT IT IS GOOD. But there is a problem – in all of God’s creation there is one “not good” that sets the stage for all of humanity. The only “not good” is that man is alone, and the only solution is for God to create a community for man, from man, to which he is connected and may continue to grow the community. The family is the central core to our understanding of community. We are designed to be in relationship with other people!
Quite simply, family is everything. The individual exists and continues to exist only within the context of the community. When you remove the individual from family that person becomes invisible. As such, removal from the family is no small deal. Equally, while the individual remains within the community, he or she participates in the covering of the whole family; covering that could include physical protection, shelter, food, and the like.
Americans pride ourselves on our individuality, our self-sufficiency. “You can’t tell me what to do! I am my own boss, master and commander of my own world, and my actions don’t concern you.” But that’s not how the Bible sees it. From the Bible’s perspective, the actions of one person affect the entire community. That’s why the Apostle Paul tells Christians that if a person blatantly sins and refuses to repent then the church needs to remove that person from the community. One person’s actions and behavior can influence the entire community. We have lost the biblical concept that we are designed for community and function at our best when we are engaged in community with like-minded people.
I enjoy many different games, one of them being bowling. I have my own bowling ball that is drilled for me (left-handers need the holes drilled differently than righties). About 12-13 years ago I was a sophomore in college, and I had finished all of my school work, didn’t have to work at the store that night, and wanted to go bowling. The problem was that I couldn’t find anyone to go with me. So I thought, “Hey, I don’t need anyone – I can go by myself.” So I did. But I quickly learned that it is not as much fun bowling by myself as it is when I’m bowling with friends.
God designed us to enjoy being in community with others! We were created not only to be together but to care for each other. The fall saw human weakness destroy God’s intention. In Genesis, Cain is jealous of his brother Abel and so kills him. When God asks Cain where Abel is Cain responds, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The implied answer to this question is, “Yes!” That’s how God designed us! As community, we are our brother’s keepers. We are supposed to look out for and care for each other. This was God’s intention with community, and now the church picks up where we destroyed God’s original design. The church is the new family and community in which our lives play out. But our design, being created for community, should play out in practical ways.
First, our design should affect how we behave towards each other in the church. Too often we don’t treat each other well. There’s an old expression: familiarity breeds contempt. We become familiar with people and so we let our public niceness go away. It is more common to be polite to strangers than it is to people we are supposed to be in fellowship with. Have you ever entertained guests in your home? If a child of a guest bumps the coffee table and spills something on the carpet, the usual response is probably something like, “Don’t worry about it – it’s ok.” When everyone goes home, your spouse bumps into the coffee table and spills something and you lash out, “Why can’t you to watch where you’re going? You knew it was there! Why weren’t you more careful?” We bring that same mentality into the church. We are supposed to be a new community, a new family. We are supposed to care for each other and support each other, not tear each other down when we feel wronged or, worse yet, when someone falls short of perfection in some way that aggravates you!
In John 13:34-35 Jesus says:
“I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Several years ago when we were pastoring in California, my family was planning a Christmas family vacation in Colorado. My brothers and their wives, my parents, and my wife and I were all going to rendezvous in Colorado and spend the holidays together. The weather had different plans and we all got snowed out of Colorado and ended up having to spend Christmas in Southern California without my family. A family in the church invited us over to spend Christmas day with their family. Another family braved a hectic department store two days before Christmas in order to get us some small gifts so that we would have something to unwrap on Christmas morning. It was nothing fancy, but they wanted us to know that we were loved and cared for. That is how the church is supposed to function – loving and taking care of each other as though we are flesh-and-blood kin. It is this kind of love that Jesus says will identify us as his disciples. We are created for community, and that design should affect how we behave towards brothers and sisters in the church.
Second, our design should affect how we behave towards the world around us. As members of God’s family, this church community, we have a God-given task: to let other people know that they are welcomed into the community! The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:19:
“In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us.”
In other words, we have been blessed to be welcomed into this new family, and God has made it our responsibility to welcome others into this new family as well. We cannot afford to cloister ourselves within our beautiful buildings and pat ourselves on the back that we made it into the kingdom. We have an obligation to bring others into the family as well. And, honestly, if we are loving each other the way we are supposed to be loving each other, we will have a hard time keeping people out! Paul exhorts us in Galatians 6:10:
“As we have opportunity we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.”
We are not built to be isolated loners but to live and thrive in community. Because we are created for community, God calls us to care for one another and to invite the world around us to experience what genuine, Christian community is all about. So take time to reflect and ask yourself two questions. First, how can I grow and improve in loving the people in my church? Second, how can I actively work for the good of all so that others welcomed into this loving Christian community?
God our Father, You have created us for community, to be involved in people’s lives and to bring blessings to people. Show us where we have fallen short. Show us where we have failed to demonstrate love. Forgive us, and lead us to the place where we can love every brother and sister with the love of Jesus. Amen.