Have you ever woken up more exhausted than you went to sleep? Do you ever stand by your coffee pot with discouragement whispering through your mind? And then you notice that you have a boatload of texts?
That’s how my day started the other day. Honestly? I really just wanted to chuck my phone in the garbage can. I just didn’t have anything left to give to anyone. I felt like I could barely put one foot in front of the other. These people are part of my community though. God has called me to “do life” with them. Not that they’re usually a burden—I love these people! But the way my week had been, this many messages had all the markings of a disaster. Didn’t matter. I unlocked my phone and pulled up iMessage.
Scripture tells us we need community. Our experience does to. But what particular roles does it play when we’re struggling or in those “in between” places? This list isn’t exhaustive, but three things in particular come to mind.
- Community can encourage us. In part, Paul writes to the Colossians to encourage those whom he hasn’t met (Col 2:2). Similarly, he sends Timothy “to strengthen and encourage” the Thessalonians (1 Thess 3:2). Later in that same letter, Paul urges his audience to encourage one another with a correct understanding of Jesus’ return and the resurrection of the dead. This last form of encouragement may actually point to the next role community can play in our lives.
- Community can correct or nuance our understanding of God and how He works in our lives. The Thessalonian believers appear to have had a misunderstanding about death, Jesus’ return, and the resurrection. We don’t know precisely what the problem was. Had they not been taught about these issues? Had they misunderstood some teaching? Had they fallen prey to false teachers? The text doesn’t tell us. What it does say is that the believers are to encourage one another with truth about the resurrection.
“Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thess 4:18)
Here we see that the community of believers is called to encourage one another with words that reflect a proper understanding of who God is and how He works among His people. In the case of the Thessalonians this understanding would give them hope in the face of grief. (See 1 Thess 4:13–18.)
- Finally, community includes people who equip us. After describing the believer’s identity in Christ in Ephesians 1–3, Paul teases out the implications of that identity for our everyday lives. In particular we are “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph 4:1). But how does this happen?
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. ( Eph 4:11–14)
When we try to go it alone, no matter our circumstances, we cut ourselves off from those who can equip us to grow in maturity and unity. Indeed, the very idea of “unity” presupposes that we are living in community.
In these verses we have seen three different contributions of community, but we also see two different types of community. The first is probably what we expect: a group of people who meet together and share their lives in person. The second takes place in writing: Paul still seeks to contribute to the lives of those who are at a distance. He does this by letters and by sending others when he can’t go himself.
These two different types of community are pretty familiar: we attend services and maybe even small groups. But we are blessed with even easier communication: texting, phone calls, video chats, and even social media. While relationships mediated by technology have their own dynamics and challenges, they also give us opportunities to be creative.
Speaking of technology and creativity, iMessage turned out to be a gift. Our loving Father used those people in my community to send messages of encouragement. One lady knew some of what I’ve been dealing with this week. She let me know that she was praying for me and offered words of love and encouragement. Another one was moved to share a verse with me and let me know she was praying for endurance. She doesn’t know all the details, but her words—and God’s words—were a balm. A third checked in, offering to reschedule an appointment we had. I’m looking forward to getting together with her, but she offered the gift of space to do what I needed to do to take care of my family. As I read these texts, God lightened the heaviness inside. Emails from people who didn’t even know how much I was struggling poured in throughout the day. God used my community to remind me of who He is and how He works. Their presence, even mediated by technology, is helping me to face whatever today and the rest of my week hold.
How about you? How is community contributing to your walk? Are you acting as part of a community that is encouraging and equipping others? That’s key. While my focus here has been on how I’ve been blessed, community isn’t just about what we get out of it. It’s about how we journey together. My friends may be pouring into me today, but I try in my own small ways to pour into them too.
Community can get messy. It can challenge us to step out of our comfort zones. But it’s where God has called us to be. I’m hoping you’ll join me there.
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