Solitude vs. Community

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“Community” has become kind of a buzzword over the last year or two. As an introvert, I tend to prefer time alone to a lot of community, but few, if any, introverts want to be complete hermits. Everyone needs some interaction with other people. For Christians in particular, the Bible instructs to do certain things to, for, or with others:

Wash one another’s feet—John 13:14.
Love one another—John 13:3; 15:12, 17; Romans 13:8; I Peter 1:22; I John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11.
In honor preferring one another—Romans 12:10.
Don’t judge one another—Romans 14:13.
Receive one another—Romans 15:7.
Salute one another—Romans 16:16.*
Greet one another—I Cor. 16:20, II Cor. 13:12, I Peter 5:14.
Serve one another—Gal. 5:13.
Don’t provoke one another or envy one another—Gal. 5:26.
Bear one another’s burdens—Gal. 6:2.
Forbear one another in love—Eph. 4:2, Col. 3:13.
Forgive one another—Eph. 4:32, Col. 3:13.
Teach and admonish one another with song—Col. 3:16.
Comfort one another—I Thess. 4:18.
Edify one another—I Thess. 5:11.
Exhort one another— Heb. 3:13; 10:25.
Consider one another to provoke unto love and good works—Heb. 10:24.

I’m told that there are over 50 “one another” passages in the Bible, but these are the ones I found, which would keep me busy for a very long time.

The Bible also tells us we should “Not [forsake] the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but [exhort] one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). The early disciples “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).

So engaging with other people, and especially other believers, is vitally important. Yet any truth can be taken too far.

Our church has been going through Tim Keller’s “Gospel in Life” video series in small groups on Sunday nights. One emphasis in the series has been on the implications of the gospel in every area of life, not just initial salvation; the other emphasis has been on community. My husband and I have had mixed emotions about the study (perhaps another post for another time), but it has convicted me of my tendency to keep too much to myself and the need to be actively involved in the life of others and to be open to their involvement in mine.

But one of Keller’s statements jarred me: “We will not know God, change deeply, nor win the world apart from community.” I take strong exception to that. For me personally, the times I feel I am best getting to know God the most deeply and am most subject to change are times alone with Him and my Bible. Though preaching, church services, and discussions with others may enhance that, it can’t replace or supersede that. Even in listening to preaching, I’ve usually derived more from it those times I’ve been unwell at home and listened to a sermon online while having my Bible program and Word document open for notes. I would not say that time with community is more important or necessary than time alone. Sometimes, frankly, community can be a distraction to growth.

And even though as Christians we can help strengthen each other by praying for each other, reminding each other of what the Bible says, and helping each other in practical ways, there are times we need to be alone with God and times we have to stand alone with Him.

Think of Joseph, separated from family, friends, and any godly influences when he was sold by his brothers into slavery. If he had not known how to walk with God alone, his story would have been much different than the one we have recorded for us.

Jacob, who had plenty of community with four wives and 13 children, in a turning point in his life was “was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.” Another significant event took place in his life when God spoke to him when he was traveling alone.

Daniel had three friends while in exile, but received visions from the Lord while alone and had to face the lion’s den alone.

David communed with God alone several times (here and here, for example), knew great loneliness, and knew how to encourage himself in the Lord.

Though Paul traveled and ministered with companions, at times he had to stand alone.

Jesus, our perfect example in all things, ministered to crowds, attended gatherings, met with the small group of His disciples and the smaller group of Peter, James, and John, yet He also went out alone to pray often and had to stand alone in Gethsemane and through His trial.

Community is a gift from God, but community doesn’t always mean a crowd. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).

Those of us who tend to aloneness need to be reminded that God made us to need, serve, and interact with others, but those who tend to avoid aloneness need to be reminded that sometimes it is a necessity. Either way we are wired, there are times for community and times for solitude. Sometimes God wants to spend time with us alone and wants us to stand alone with Him, and in those times He will give us the grace to do so.

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8 thoughts on “Solitude vs. Community

  1. Barbara, this is so good. Loved your list of “one another” verses and your comment on Mr. Keller’s statement. I could not agree more with you. The time we are closest to the Lord is that valuable time baring our hearts before God in prayer and reading His Word. That emphasis is biblical, and I believe David was a man after God’s heart because of all the time he spent praising God, communicating with Him, learning and listening. This simply doesn’t happen in a group setting like it does one-on-one with the Lord.

  2. Very well said, Barbara. “Either way we are wired, there are times for community and times for solitude.”

    As a fellow introvert, I value my times alone with God the most. But I’m challenged the most while in community. I need both.

  3. Good post, Barbara. I think it’s all about balance. It always seems to come back to that for me. I’m more the extrovert and can get caught up in the community and get too busy for the private time. I need to consciously put away the community at times and make a decision to get alone with God. I do think though, that the statement you quoted can be true in the context that without interacting with a lot with people, we do not have a chance to be challenged and stretched in showing the love of Christ. For me, it is easy to be full of love and kindness when it’s me and God, but the real growing and seeing God move comes from interacting with others when I have to forgive, when I have to set aside coveting what they have, when I have to walk in love when all I want to do is hide, when I have to believe God at His word and practice all that stuff that He speaks to me in my quiet time with Him.

    • That’s very true, Susanne and Lisa. It does seem that in community is when all those things we’ve read about are put to the test. It just seemed like in the context of a whole chapter on community, he was emphasizing it a bit too much, I thought, without any counterbalance.

  4. Hello, Barbara. Keller is simply wrong (this is not a first :)).

    In a sense he has a point, if we don’t obey these commands we be spiritually stunted. But his statement is that of a myopic prosperous big church pastor who doesn’t see believers who are severely limited in “community” due to health, geography, or other limitations, and even due to severe persecution.

    My list of the “one anothers” — http://mindrenewers.com/2011/07/16/the-one-anothers-for-believers/.

    A pastor I know did a sermon series on these (including, if I remember correctly, some verses which had the concept without the specific words “one another”) and wrote about it: http://gbclander.org/category/from-the-pulpit/one-another-from-the-pulpit/. I can’t vouch for the whole series, but what I read was good.

  5. Honestly, I find going to church very distracting at this point in my life. I can definitely relate to what you are saying. However, I do think we need community (as do you, I know), even when it doesn’t quite work the way we want.

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