By Vince Antonucci
My friend Kyle is a pastor of a church community that broadcasts on TV. He has also written several books. What this means is he gets a lot of letters. Tons of people share their problems with him and seek his guidance.
On occasion, I’ve asked him for advice from one Pastor to another. “What chapter should I be sure to include in my book?” “What topic would you suggest for a sermon series?” Kyle has the same answer every time, “Loneliness. More than anything else, people are struggling with loneliness.” It reminds me of a quote from Albert Schweitzer, “We are all dying of loneliness.”
The irony is that we are created in the image of a triune God who has never been lonely.
Community Created In God’s Image
God has eternally existed in the perfect community. He is one God who exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Three individuals who live in such a tight-knit, loving community they live as one God sharing one life.
God has never been lonely, and he created us in his image. We were meant to live in a perfect community, with God and others, so we would never be lonely.
God has always been about creating, and God loves to create community. The community is God’s grand design. A community is deeply grounded in His nature; it flows from who God is. Because He is the community, he creates community. A community is God’s gift of himself to his creation.
When we live isolated, lonely lives we are missing out on living in God’s image. That’s why God continues creating community. And that’s part of the reason He sent Jesus.
Community Called To Follow Jesus
Jesus came to earth and lived his first 30 years in relative obscurity as a carpenter in a small town. But around age 30, Jesus began his public ministry and revealing who he is. So, what would you expect Jesus to do at the beginning of his ministry? Maybe preach a sermon, or heal some people, or do some miracles? None of the above.
Jesus began his ministry by creating community. He selected twelve people to live in community with him. He ended up spending most of his time with these twelve friends, which probably came as a surprise to some people. They probably thought, “C’mon Jesus. There are more sick people to heal. Thousands more who need to hear your message. Why spend so much time with your twelve buddies?”
Jesus had existed for all eternity in a community. He certainly wasn’t going to do any different now. It would have betrayed His nature. And besides, since he came to save us from our loneliness, he had to model what He intended for life to be like for us.
Fast forward to the night before the crucifixion. Jesus was praying. No surprise. If I was going to endure the events that unfolded that next day, I’d also spend time praying. What was the focus of his prayers? He was praying for the community. He was also praying that his followers would develop real and authentic community after he was gone.
Community Called To Love Others
“I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your Name – the Name You gave Me – so that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:11).
“My prayer is not for them alone. I also pray for those who will believe in Me through the message, that all may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in You so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. I have given them the glory that you gave Me, that they may be one as We are one. I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me” (John 17:20-23).
Ultimately, Jesus prays for followers to develop community. It would become the greatest sign to an unbelieving world, that Jesus truly is the Savior. Why would that be such a great sign to unbelievers? It would be a great sign because even unbelievers were created in the image of God and born with an innate desire to be in a community. If they could only capture a glimpse of people living out what they have always longed for, it would draw them in like a magnet.
The next day Jesus is crucified. Three days later he rises from the dead. Over the next 40 days, Jesus appears to hundreds of people who verify His resurrection. But he spends most of His time, as you might expect, with his followers. In that time of community, Jesus does some final teaching. Then he ascends to Heaven, leaving believers to await the Holy Spirit who would come from Heaven to live inside of them, and then start the church. Then it happens.
Community Empowered By The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit comes down, moves in, starts empowering, directing, and guiding them. And then, the first church communities ever are created. What do you think their priorities would be? Maybe taking an offering, staining some glass, applying for tax-exempt status from the government? Those are good guesses, but what they do is create community.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer. Everyone becomes filled with awe. The disciples started creating many wonders and miraculous signs. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as they had a need. Every day they continued to meet in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added more to their number daily from the saved. (Check out Acts 2:42-47.)
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power, the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need” (Acts 4:32-35)
Why did they do this? Why was it their biggest priority? It’s especially relevant because more than anything else, Jesus taught them what it looked like to live in the image of a triune God. They had no choice. Consequently, they had to create community.
Are you battling loneliness?
Jesus came to make things right, to save us from our loneliness, to help create community between God and people and between people and people. He put the church in place to create community. Unfortunately, too often we’ve lost community again. Too many people in too many of our cities are living lonely lives.
God wants you to pursue and cultivate community. Ultimately, He wants you to live out his image, and bring it to others. If you lack it, how could you find community in your church? What steps would you need to take? When will you take those steps?
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