Jesus died to give us a place in his community. Christian community is not a nice addition to our salvation. It is a central aspect of our salvation, and we should treat it as such.
1) Jesus bought our place in his community through his humility and suffering.
Jesus went through incredible, sacrificial lengths to establish his new family. In his book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “I am a brother to another person through what Jesus Christ did for me and to me; the other person has become a brother to me through what Jesus Christ did for him.” Bonhoeffer also makes the point that Christian community only exists because of the grace and mercy we receive through Jesus. The only reason Christian community exists at all is because of what Jesus did for us.
Sometimes when I’m sitting in church or in a small group Bible study, I am struck by the fact that the only reason I am there, or anyone else is there, is because Jesus suffered and died in our place. Without the humility, blood, sweat, and tears of Christ, Christian community would not exist. I never would have met many of my dearest friends if Christ had not suffered and died to bring me into his family.
2) The blessing of Christian community should not be taken for granted.
On the first page of Life Together, Bonhoeffer says that the privilege of living in Christian community should not be taken for granted. He later clarifies this when he writes, “It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing.”
I often think about Christians in other countries where persecution is very real. They risk imprisonment, being shunned by family, and even death to meet and worship together. Those are the Christians who know what Christ has given them. They understand the value of what he bought for them.
3) We should prioritize Christian community in our schedules.
In America, I am not convinced that most Christians understand the incredible treasure and blessing we have in our ability to do life together with other Christians without any real fear of persecution. I don’t see people making many sacrifices to be engaged in Christian relationships and community. Instead, for a lot of people, I see Christian community take a backseat to work, vacations, retirement, soccer practice, cheer tournaments, and “some much needed rest”. We regularly take breaks from our small group Bible studies even though it is the only established, consistent place that Christian community can happens. Parents who prioritize soccer and careers over Christian community and never engage in the act of Christian hospitality toward their Christian brothers and sisters wonder why their kids don’t see a need for church communities when they graduate high school. As long as we have this attitude toward Christian community, we need to stop scratching our heads wondering why thousands (yes, thousands) of churches in America close up shop every year.
Christian community must be a priority in every Christian’s life. Being a part of God’s family is a part of the package deal of our salvation. The story of the Bible is a story of God raising up a people for himself and creating a new family, and our salvation is us being grafted in to that family. Involvement in Christian community is not a nice but unnecessary addition to our salvation; it is very much a part of our salvation and should be prioritized in the way we spend our time.
4) If we view Christian community as a chore, are we really on the narrow, hard path Jesus has called us to?
Jesus suffered and died to place us in his family, and we have the honor of following in his steps of dying to self in the service of God and others. This honorable call is a difficult path. Jesus says that the gate is narrow and path is difficult that leads to life. Yet the gate to destruction is wide and the path is easy.
Difficulties in life force us to be humble and turn to one another for love, encouragement, and support while ease in life causes us to believe the myth that a life of self-reliance is good and natural. If we were really doing the hard work of throwing off everything that hinders our pursuit of God, and if we were really pursuing the abundant life as we make our way through the narrow gate and stumble down the difficult path, and if we did the hard work of taking up our crosses daily and laying everything on the line for Jesus because of the happiness we find in him, then why would Christian community ever be a chore and nothing other than a joyful blessing?