What Does Life in Community Look Like?
It’s always helpful to be aware of how our culture influences the way we view things. For better or for worse, our culture shapes us far more than we often realize. And one of the characteristic of our culture in America is that it’s highly individualistic. As Americans, we’re all about pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We like to lean on our own abilities, be defined by our own choices, and be regarded as our own person. We are a nation of proud individuals.
And individualism isn’t entirely bad; there are some positive aspects to it. But we have a way of taking it way too far and smuggling that extreme form of individualism into Christianity. However, living as a Christian isn’t just about enjoying a “personal relationship with Jesus,” as we like to say. It’s also about living as a part of the Christian community.
Just think about Acts 2. Peter has just delivered his famous sermon at Pentecost, where thousands of people embrace Jesus, and we see the church come into being. And then, verses 42-47 describe how they lived: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 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. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
The main thing I’d like us to observe from this text is that Christians are called to live in community with each other. Church should be more than a once-a-week meeting of loosely associated people who live in relative isolation from one another.
As we look at Acts 2, we see that these people weren’t just attending a meeting every Sunday and calling it church. Verse 42 describes how one of the things they devoted themselves to was “the fellowship.” That word refers to a closely connected, interdependent group—a group that shared life together.
And in verse 44, it states that “all who believed were together and had all things in common.” Isn’t that neat? They simply “were together.” They were a unit; they were an entity; you didn’t often find one without finding the others. They were living in community with each other, and we’re called to do the same.
And living in community with each other doesn’t mean setting up a commune or attempting some weird social experiment. If I had to describe it concisely, I would say that living in community is about pursuing three things: close relationships, meaningful conversations, and deep-rooted commitment.
First, we want to pursue close relationships—relationships characterized by love, trust, authenticity, and regular time together. And not just time officially dedicated to so-called “spiritual activities” but time where we do regular things together—things like birthdays and play dates and meals together. The goal is to overlap life as much as we can.
We’ve already said we can’t live together, and we usually can’t work at the same workplace together, but just ask yourself, “What other ways can we spend time with each other? What other rhythms of life can we share?”
On any given week in a healthy church—a church that’s living in community—two or three of the guys might get together to play disc golf, a few of the moms might get together for a play date, others might meet at a coffee shop for a book study, one of the families might host a cookout, and two other men might meet to talk through some specific issues in their lives and pray together.
All of these interactions are natural and yet purposeful. We’re building close relationships.
Another thing we want to focus on is having meaningful conversations. And I’m not just talking about discussing theology, although that has its place. I’m talking about discussing life, specifically our lives. And this includes both sharing our struggles and addressing other people in their struggles.
Colossians 3:16 tells us, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.” Ephesians 4:15 says that it’s by “speaking the truth in love” to each other that we grow up to be more like Christ. James 5:16 tell us, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
So basically, we’re not minding our own business. We’re actually deeply involved in each other’s business—in an appropriate, humble, and respectful way of course.
And if all of this sounds kind of scary to you, keep in mind that it’s not like we’re talking about these personal things with strangers or even surface-level associates we see once a week on Sundays. If we’re pursuing those close relationships we talked about, those relationships will facilitate these conversations. We’ll be more comfortable with each other and gradually be able to open up more and more about what’s really going on in our lives.
And it works the other way too. If we have close relationships, we’ll be able to see things in other people’s lives that need to be addressed. Obviously, we don’t want to be nitpicky, but that’s just a reality. The closer you get to people, the more you see the “real” them, which includes areas where they need to grow. And perhaps you’ll have the opportunity to lovingly and humbly help them see some of those areas themselves. That’s what the Bible tells us to do within the community of believers.
Finally, the third element of living in community with each other is demonstrating deep-rooted commitment.
One of the things that strikes me the most in Acts 2 is how committed they were to each other in very practical ways. They didn’t just talk the talk of community. They put their money where their mouth was. Look at verse 44: “And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.”
Basically, those in the community who had extra things were selling those things and giving the money to those who didn’t have as much. They were practicing radical generosity. There were demonstrated deep-rooted commitment to each other.
In many ways, the church is like a spiritual family. And this is one of the ways the church acts like a family—by showing the kind of commitment to each other that typically only a family would show.
For example, one of the people in our church is going through a really difficult time with their living situation right now. A few weeks ago, their apartment was infested with bed bugs, which, as you may be aware, are terribly difficult to eliminate. And to make matters worse, around that same time, this person was laid off of work because the company they were working for had to downsize.
So there they were, without a job and an apartment that was almost unlivable because of the bed bugs. And they didn’t have any biological family living in the area either. But they did have a family—they had a spiritual family, a church.
And one of the families in our church has demonstrated deep-rooted commitment by opening up their house for this person to live with them for a season. We also worked together a week or so ago to discard all of the bed-bug infested furniture from this person’s apartment and even found someone who was getting rid of a bunch of lightly-used furniture. So we loaded all of that furniture up and put it in storage until this person is able to get another apartment.
That’s the kind of stuff that family does for each other. And that’s what it look like to live in community: close relationships, meaningful conversations, and deep-rooted commitment.