Community and One Another
Once upon a time, you had to work pretty hard to become a monk: you had to take solemn vows, you had to set yourself completely apart and live in a monastery, and you had to follow a strict rule of life that dictated almost every waking hour - just as a few broad examples.
But now, you could potentially become a monk quite by accident: as one example, your smartphone can become a portable monastery where you close yourself off from the localized world and live according to your own “rule of life”; a rule of life that, for the most part, lets you choose how often and who you connect with, when you decide that it’s time to connect.
To be clear, I’m grateful for the sorts of technologies that most of us possess. I’m sure that, in many ways, life has never been as efficient or effective or easy as it is right now.
But in a society like ours, which drifts almost effortlessly toward self-worship and individualism, I’m also acutely aware of the temptations that technologies like smartphones and social media parade before our egos; temptations to withdraw from the difficulties of dealing with the people around us, temptations to make life into a program that’s all about us, and temptations to sensationalize real violence being done to real people across the world - all of which go against God’s design for human flourishing, and all of which isolate us in some fashion from one another.
Life would certainly be easier if we spent most of our lives in our own individualistic bubble, but God doesn’t really give us that option. In fact, God continues to insist throughout Scripture, by way of the “one another” commands of the New Testament (Hebrews 10:24-25, Galatians 5:13 Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19-21, and literally dozens of others), that we live out our faith together in community, that we not get in the habit of skipping the gathering of the church, that we not withdraw into a digital monastery.
But why? Why does God insist on our belonging to a community of faith? Especially in a day where we have access to so many resources and technologies that should theoretically make it easy, more or less, to go the walk of faith alone and avoid the headaches and inconveniences that come with community?
Though there are many reasons, here are at least two for your consideration.
You have burdens that you cannot bear alone
The apostle Paul tells us in Galatians 6:2 to, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
There are some loads that are light enough that we can, and indeed must, shoulder them by ourselves (Galatians 6:5); and there are some burdens that are so heavy, overwhelming, and crushing, that by ourselves we have no hope of moving forward under their weight. When such burdens fall upon us and threaten to break our spines, we need the helping hands of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Perhaps your burden comes in the form of a particular temptation that presses you into the jagged and cutting rocks of sin; the community of men and women at Celebrate Recovery will help you bear that burden so that you don’t keep falling, as well as tend to your wounds with the healing balm of the gospel.
Or maybe your burden is a consistent and relentless depression that is strangling the life out of you; the folks in your community group may not have all the answers, but they can come alongside you and make that burden feel a little lighter through the relieving help of conversation, prayer, and presence.
Or perhaps you feel like Frodo Baggins at the end of The Return of the King (spoilers ahead): by the end of his journey to Mordor, the One Ring has proved too great a burden to bear. On the slopes of Mount Doom, his destination within reach, he is too worn down, weary, and empty to take the final steps. But Frodo’s ever faithful friend, Samwise, in a moment of stunning beauty utters these words: “I can’t carry [the Ring] for you, but I can carry you!” And hoisting Frodo onto his shoulders, he carries his bone-tired friend up the ascent. So even if a friend like Samwise can’t carry your burden, they can still carry you - even if it’s just the final steps to get you to your next stop.
Such burden-laden moments are inevitable in this life; therefore, God ushers us into the beauty and hardships of community, not as a mere formality, but as a means of further extending his grace and help toward us. We are in need of brothers and sisters to bear our burdens, and our brothers and sisters are in need of us to help them bear their burdens; community provides the solid foundation for such burden-bearing.
You have God-given gifts to share with others
In the “megachurch age,” it’s become very easy to believe that pastors, preachers, and ministry leaders are the only ones who are truly gifted to help the church grow and flourish. “We’re just the recipients of their services,” we might think to ourselves.
But that’s not what God intended. In fact, quite contrary to such thinking, God has designed the church to function like a body where every member fulfills a vital role, whether it be as the hands or the feet or the eyes or the ears or any other number of parts (1 Corinthians 12:12-30).
But how does that practically play out in the life of the church? The apostle Peter puts it in fairly simple terms: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).
In other words, God has given you a gift (or perhaps even a combination of gifts) that’s meant not only for your benefit, but also for the benefit of others. It could be a gift of serving, or teaching, encouragement, mercy, generosity, leadership, hospitality, and on and on and on; whatever it is, God has blessed you with that gift as a demonstration of his grace toward you, and as a venue to demonstrate his grace toward others through your sharing of that gift; and vice versa. Which, of course, requires you to be in community with others. You cannot experience the joy of sharing and receiving gifts if you don’t have other people to share and receive them with - so in a way, the community of faith is the gift that keeps on giving.
So what’s the problem with technology again?
A final note: though it often does more to hinder our capacity for rich, vibrant, embodied community (take points 4 and 5 in particular from this article as just a couple examples: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/six-ways-your-phone-is-changing-you), technology can still be a helpful servant. For instance, we can send one another encouraging texts, we can keep each other updated on what’s happening in our lives more easily than ever, and we can even video call people from from just about anywhere.
However, I think it’s important to remember that these incredible technological servants are just that: servants. They are not replacements for flesh-and-blood, burden-bearing and gift-sharing community anymore than my ability to FaceTime my wife is a replacement for actually being with her face-to-face. As far as they help us cultivate the soil of community, they’re wonderful; as far as they distract us from the people right in front of us, they’re harmful.
Even the Son of God himself did not exempt himself from the banality and beauty of community. He shared in our skin and space, at a particular time and in a particular place; he dwelt among us, spilling over with grace upon grace, beckoning us to be not only restored to God, but also to one another (John 1:14, Colossians 3:12-13).