When I was growing up, time with friends was a luxury— an encouraged luxury, but a luxury nonetheless. I don’t think my experience is unique. Most of us grew up hearing things like:
“You can play next door when you finish your homework.”
“You can go if your room is clean.”
“You have a test tomorrow, so you should be in bed early.”
It makes sense. Kids want to have fun, and while I’m sure our parents also wanted us to have fun, they were also burdened with the task of teaching us responsibility, self-discipline, and wise stewardship of our time and education. Playing (“hanging out”, once you hit puberty) with friends was an extra thing, an activity of secondary importance compared to our real responsibilities.
Unfortunately, this mindset is problematic as a Christian. It’s not problematic because our responsibilities are less important, but because Scripture actually communicates that our friendships, our community, is quite an important responsibility in and of itself.
So how should we view community the way that God intends for us to? Let’s see how Scripture answers these questions:
Who comprises our community?
“And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.’ And he answered them, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.'” – Mark 3:31-35
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body –Jews or Greeks, slaves or free– and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” – 1 Corinthians 12:12-13
When we are reconciled with God through the blood of Jesus Christ, we are welcomed into a new family and made a member of Christ’s body. Other Christians are our community because they have also been welcomed into this family, and are different members of the same body!
What is community?
This is most assuredly not an exhaustive list, but here are some essential elements/purposes of community:
Before Jesus is arrested, He offers up a prayer to the Father on our behalf. Part of this prayer is for our unity: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17: 22-23). The unity of believers communicates to a watching world the love of God in Christ.
- Building up in Christ
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” (Ephesians 4:11-13). Until we have perfect unity of faith and perfect knowledge of Jesus, we need other Christians in our lives.
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” (Galatians 6:1). We have the privilege and the responsibility of helping our brothers and sisters fight sin.
- Praying for Each Other & Defending Each Other
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of god, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil…. praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:10-11, 18). Walking with God is hard! We need to be praying for each other.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). Spending time with other Christians presents opportunities to bring people in and demonstrate the love of Christ to them.
- Enjoyment of Jesus & Each Other
“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.” (Acts 2:46). God is glorified when we enjoy what He has given us- including each other.
What isn’t community?
Clearly, Scripture has a lot to say about what community is, so it doesn’t take too much work to figure out what community isn’t, but I do think it’s important to emphasize that community isn’t just friends hanging out. It isn’t an escape from more unpleasant activities or a treatment for your stress. If we begin to think of community in those terms, it’s easy to cut it out when we perceive that other responsibilities are more worthy of our time and attention.
Community is Not a Luxury
Community is not a luxury; it is a necessity. Be encouraged! You have the freedom to prioritize body-of-Christ friendships. You have the freedom to make things like going to church, going to your small group/Bible study, and having regular accountability time immovable rocks in your schedule.
It is clear in Scripture that being a part of a Christian community is not a recommendation, it’s a requirement; so if you’re not connected to a body of believers, make that happen as soon as possible. Get involved and invested in a local church; get connected to a small group if possible. If you are a college student, in addition to being a part of a local church, get involved in a small group with a ministry that is reaching your campus with the gospel. Because involvement in community is part of God’s design for your growth, in community you will find a wealth of joy pointing you to the wealth of love in Christ.
-Kelsey Gould, University of Illinois Cru Staff