In my last post I addressed the importance of community in general and the role that we as believers are called to play in strengthening our communities. Here we will look more specifically at the importance of community within the church. We are called to be salt and light in our culture and one way we do that is by demonstrating a community which is far greater than that which the world around us possesses. I know that isn’t the experience of many of us in the church but it is clearly the call of scripture. Every time we partake of communion (koinonia in Greek, which means participation or fellowship) we are declaring our common union and fellowship with Jesus and our brothers and sisters in Christ. I believe we need to not only announce it, we need to live it.
Ephesian 4 is one place where we see the purpose ad benefit of our common union. Here we see the fruit of community within the church illustrated.
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. Ephesians 4:11-16 (NKJV)
While I believe in the present day need for the five-fold ministry giftings of verse 11 I am aware not everyone does, which is fine. We can simply think if it as leadership in the church. The passage is about the purpose of leaders in equipping the saints and preparing them to minister. We also have the exhortation to speak the truth in love. These are important points. However, while providing the passage for context, I want to focus on one verse, 16.
This verse is about community and growth in the body. When we break it down a bit we first, we see “the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies.” We then see, “according to the effective working by which every part does its share.” Finally, the result, “causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”
Bodies cannot function without joints. While that is obvious, I don’t know how often we reflect on what a joint is and does. A joint is a relationship between parts. Some joints are simple hinge joints like our knee or elbow. Others like the ankle are a little more complex and one that is often injured is the shoulder. Most of us are familiar with the term ‘rotator cuff injury’ because it is quite common. The reason it is easily injured is that the shoulder joint is a complex number of parts coming together.
Going back to Paul, his point is that the body of Christ is held together and grows by the relationships within it, community. The more the parts the greater the opportunity for injury and the greater capacity to move through a varied range of motion. Taking this analogy into church life, the greater the number of people the greater the opportunity for both offences and effective growth.
As per my note on different joints, some relationships are more complex than others, but all are needed. Joints supply something, they accomplish work. When that is done effectively in the human body it enables effective functioning, in the body of Christ it causes growth.
We can relate this to a home group, bible study or church service. I will use a Sunday morning service to illustrate how joints should function. The sermon and worship are important on any given Sunday morning, yet the focus for Paul is not on the music or sermon. His focus is on whether they lead to the members connecting, being joints, and building one another up. The interaction at the entrance, outside the bathroom, at the back of the sanctuary, are all opportunities for the body to experience community. Leadership should facilitate this and many other opportunities. If they don’t we come in on a Sunday, stand and sit on cue and leave without these interactions. In that case we are not part of a community, we are part of an organization or system.
Given that most of us are not leaders in the body of Christ our role is to make connections, find the other parts of our joint when we have the opportunity so that the body will grow. To paraphrase a famous line from Martin Luther King Junior, “Be the best part of a joint in the world and the world will beat a path to your door.” I have often thought that King came up with his idea from Proverbs.
29 Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men. Proverbs 22:29 (NKJV)
Whenever we encounter another member of the body of Christ, we have the opportunity to be part of a joint, to join with them in strengthening the body by encouraging them, praying for one another, helping one another focus on Jesus and many other similar things. We can be a healthy joint.
As a concluding thought, the idea of a solitary Christian is an oxymoron. We were created for community and to strengthen one another. As Paul put it,
13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13 (NKJV)
If we aren’t presently taking the opportunities to embrace our function as part of a joint let’s find some other parts we can connect and join with to see His body grow in a healthy way. We are called to do what we can with what we have where are, demonstrating koinonia, Christian community!