Text: Ephesians 2:11-22 | Listen to Message
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wisely cautioned, “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community” (Life Together).
It’s one thing to love the idea of community in the abstract; it’s another thing to enjoy real community with real people who have real problems. Theoretical community is easy; but real community always involves things like risk, patience, misunderstandings, sacrifice, hurt, repentance, forgiveness, and grace.
In the midst of our selfishly individualistic culture, a diverse community of selfless, grace-saturated love would be a very attractive alternative. Surely this is what Jesus envisioned when he said love for one another would be the defining characteristic of his followers. So why doesn’t the Church act like that? Why is community – even Christian community – so hard?
The simplest answer is sin. Sin wrecked the very first community way back in the Garden of Eden, and it’s been doing the same ever since. Pride, selfishness, judgment, and slander destroy community. But so do seemingly lesser sins like busyness, indifference, and unresolved shame. So Christians (and Christian leaders) jump from church to church, or from church to no church at all, often coddling the cancer of resentment instead of pursuing love.
More often than not, community is simply dissolving in the acid of self. And that toxic egocentricity is expressed a number of different ways, like, “I’m done with you people, because . . . ”
- “I’m offended that I didn’t get my way in the decision-making process.”
- “I’m outraged that you dared correct me about my public pattern of sin.”
- “I didn’t get the affirmation and applause I feel like I deserved.”
- “I’m too busy with more important things.”
- “I’ve found bigger and better opportunities for me.”
- “I want to associate with people who aren’t so far beneath me.”
- “I’d be humiliated if you got to know the real me.”
- “I’ve been hurt before, and I don’t want to be hurt again.”
- “It’s just not worth my time and energy to try to resolve this conflict.”
So how do we enjoy real community with real people who have real problems that annoy, frustrate, and hurt us? How do we kill the cancer of selfishness before it kills the community we were redeemed for?
Gospel community isn’t complicated, but it isn’t easy, either. Bonhoeffer was right: Stop searching for some perfect ideal that doesn’t exist and just start loving the people around you.
At the risk of oversimplification, community automatically happens when you practice three very basic things on repeat:
1. Spend time with people.
There is no substitute for shared time together. If you constantly choose to prioritize other things, and you’re too busy for the people in your local church, then you won’t have community because people won’t even know you. Community always starts with an intentionality to put people in your schedule.
2. Act like family.
You were not saved for a one-on-one, private relationship with God; you were saved into a family. God is our Father and other believers are our brothers and sisters. The people God’s put around us are not our enemies; they’re our siblings. It’s time we walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel and act like this is true.
3. Choose grace.
The local church is brought together by grace, for grace. Recipients of grace are givers of grace. Over and over again, the way forward in community is the way of grace. Let grace free you from the exhausting busyness of your own performance. Let grace free you from the shame of your past. Let grace free you from your thin-skinned pride that’s so easily offended. Let grace free you from your judgmental spirit that’s always finding fault in others. Let grace free you from your stubborn refusal to repent and make amends. Let grace free you to love generously, sacrificially, and unconditionally.
Repeat. Get up again tomorrow and schedule time with people, act like family, and choose grace. Do it again next week. Then next month. Then next year. This is how you do community that brings glory to God, that is attractive to non-Christians, and that helps you become the person-in-relationship that God has designed you to be.