(Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com)
“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.