- Eldon Peterson
Direction & Community
A few years ago, my wife asked me to workout with her at a gym that had rows of exercise equipment. I signed up and joined her but it didn’t take long before I lost motivation to work out by myself on these machines. A short time later I canceled my membership.
Sometime later, she once again encouraged me to join her; this time we signed up at a gym that offered classes. I found that these classes provided me with two necessary elements that allowed me to stay committed to working out: direction and community. Direction given through the trainer provided me with the instruction that I needed and community, found in my relationships with classmates, encouraged me to continue. Direction and community are not only helpful in working out but in our spiritual lives as well.
The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, not only offers us directions in how to know God, but it also speaks about our critical need for community. The Bible begins with God declaring, “It is not good for man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) From hereon the biblical story is about how God has made having a relationship with Him and one another possible. The Bible ends with God’s invitation for us to come and enter into this relationship, “The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17)
Some will reason, “Thanks, but I’m doing fine on my own!” But, as I found in my workouts, both experience and scripture tells me that we do better together. Solomon says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)
These truths are self-evident. If we teach our children to not swim alone or hike alone, why do we think that our walks with God are best done alone? If you tell me that you don’t need Christian fellowship, that fellowship with God is all you need, I will not argue with you even though I believe your reasoning is false. I will however tell you that the church needs you. It matters not if you need us, we need you! Therefore, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Paul likens the church to a body saying that there are no unimportant parts of the body. “God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be... All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:18, 27) Christ’s body, the church, will be strongest when believers are in fellowship. While I may be able to do much on my own I can do much more when I am walking with others. Why? Since each one of us has a different role it is only when all parts are joined together that Christ’s church will be complete.
While the New Testament writers use a variety of images to describe the nature of the church – body, bride, temple, flock – the most frequent is the family, particularly the fraternal aspect of the family, brethren. Being a lone-ranger Christian is not only ill advised, it’s unbiblical. Solomon asked, “When you walk alone who will lift you up should you fall?” We might also ask who will encourage and correct you?” Just as the trainer directs me to do my workouts correctly, I need your support and encouragement of a community to bring me encouragement. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”
The follower of God needs both instruction from the Bible and encouragement from the community of believers found in the church. Certainly, I can be a Christian apart from being in relationship with other believers, but like I found with my workouts, it will be difficult to sustain joy without the encouragement of others.