“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer… And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common.” (Acts 2:42-45)
After His ascension from the Jordan where He was baptized by John, signaling the beginning of His ministry on earth, the very first order of Jesus Christ was not to preach or do miracles. It was to gather His community of disciples. Likewise, after the Spirit descended at the Day of Pentecost, His first order of business was not to send His Apostles out, but to gather His community. Why, for both Jesus and the Holy Spirit, was this so critical as to take top priority among all other things that needed to be accomplished?
God has always been glorified through His people, not individuals. The Father did not tell Abraham, Isaac, and Israel by them all the nations would be blessed, but that their seeds would be multiplied in to a people through whom the nations would be blessed. Jesus did not tell Peter he would be the solitary rock, but that he would be the rock of the church the gates of Hell would not prevail against. The Lord did not tell Solomon He would hear from heaven and heal the land if he humbled himself, turned from wickedness, and prayed. That would have to come from His people. His New Covenant, like the Old, was not made with individuals but with a people. In Hebrews 8 God proclaims of this New Covenant: “And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” And lastly, in the Book of Revelation Jesus makes His proclamations not to John, but to His churches: His people, His communities.
Great individuals of the faith are raised up for one purpose: to lead the community of God. In his various teachings concerning the church (1 Cor. 14), Paul makes it clear every gift, every revelation, and every effort is to be for the edification of the body, and not the individual. At the end of the litany of great saints of the faith recognized in Hebrews 11, we find the following statement: “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.” With God, it is never about individuals but about community. Why? Because of what Jesus said in the verse above. God wants to be known by the love His people have for each other. The greatest gift of all, according to Paul, is “love”, and according to the Apostle’s definition of love, “It does not seek its own” (1 Cor 13). God is love, wants to be known by love, sent Jesus to us in the name of love, and wants His people to be known throughout the world not as much for the love they have for the world, important as that is, but the love they have for one another. It is that love among the fellowship that paves the way for the spoken Word.
Over the centuries here in America we have come to define the fellowship of the saints, and the community of God, as a series of defined meetings, or events, held at specific times and specific places. We have become completely programmed by our modern temple worship system to believe “going to church, Bible studies, mission trips, etc,” is what the Bible defines as community. In other words, we have become event-driven rather than lifestyle-driven. We have long ago forsaken anything that faintly resembles the community of disciples Jesus lived with, or the church of Pentecost who “were together, and had all things in common,” for an hour or two on Sundays, another hour or two during the week, or perhaps a week at a mission once a year. In fact, in America you are looked down upon if you do not o own your own home, your own car, and be financially able to live segregated from society. In countries where there is not our curse of affluence, families of three and four generations are forced to live together just to survive. In those countries families are much closer. They learn to love one another in spite of their faults, because they have to. They learn forgiveness and grace because they have to. Learning to live in community is not optional, and so they do and relationships ultimately benefit.
For different reasons, living in community should likewise not be optional for those who claim to know Jesus, but it is. There is no New Covenant model that justifies event driven fellowship. Jesus would have allowed no one to be called His disciple, or even claim to follow Him, who wanted to fit it in during convenient times when it did not interfere with other priorities. He would have found it unconscionable for a disciple to say, “I’ll see you on Sunday morning and Wednesday night because I have work, family, and hobbies to consider.” To such men He would have said, “The birds of the air have nests, and the foxes have holes in the ground, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Yet today we call ourselves disciples and think we have true fellowship, while giving Him a couple of compartmentalized hours of our time a week.
How can the world possibly witness the love Jesus said we are to be known by for one another when it has never been kilned in the fires of real community? And even when we do gather at our events, how is the world supposed to see our fellowship behind the closed doors of our temples, our office buildings, and even our living rooms? Jesus, the “Carpenter”, was never found building one house of worship. Ever the One who set examples of all He taught, Jesus wanted His community to be out on display: “the city set on the hill.”
Days are coming, and soon, when those who don’t gather in community will simply not survive: spiritually or physically. We will be forced, as in third world countries, to learn to live together and love one another as God shakes the foundations of society, and indeed the world. Avoid the rush and begin seeking community now. Pray God would bring you in to a community of like-minded kingdom saints who are ready to forsake temple worship and, as Jesus and His disciples did, become that “city set on the hill…that unhidden lampstand” shining a light into a world about to be beset with darkness. I am, because I have seen it and know it can be done [http://youtu.be/iAiQHIzX1Zo , https://youtu.be/9W_RIlCwNjI}