What is Christian Community?

Sometimes I think I’ve got the Christian life backwards. As I read the Bible I see many places where my practices are more culturally shaped than biblically shaped. Nowhere is this more true than in my beliefs about Christian community.

In a book called, Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community, the authors, Tim Chester and Steve Timmis say the following:

“The prevailing view of life today is that of an individual standing on his or her own, heroically juggling various responsibilities—family, friendships, career, leisure, chores, decisions, and money…An alternative model is to view our various activities and responsibilities as spokes of a wheel. At the center or hub is not me as an individual but us as members of the Christian community.”

Their description resonates with me. I have often felt like that lone individual attempting to juggle all of life’s roles and responsibilities. But as I read Scripture, I see that community is at the heart of the Christian life.

What is Christian community?

In Acts 2:42-47, we learn that Christian is at least three things: spiritual, sacrificial, and spreading.

Christian Community Is Spiritual

Verse 42 says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Devoted means “constantly diligent”, so these verses describe a way of life and not a passing season.

Then the verse lists four elements of Christian community: the apostles’ teaching (the word of God), fellowship (koinonia) the breaking of bread (the Lord’s Supper), and the prayers. What do these elements have in common? They are all spiritual. Beware of counterfeit communities. There is no substitute for Christian community because no other community is bound together by the Holy Spirit.

Christian Community is Sacrificial

In verses 44-45 we see Christians caring for each other in tangible, physical ways. “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.”

That word “common” is related to the word “fellowship” in verse 42. It means there is a practical dimension to spiritual community. Having all things in common does not do away with private property, but it means Christians had an attitude that their possessions were meant not just for themselves but for the good of others.

Not only were the early believers generous, they were sacrificial. They gave and gave and when they ran out, they sold their possessions and belongings to give more. Do we give at all? And if we do give, do we give sacrificially? Do we give until we feel it, until it makes us uncomfortable?

Christian Community is Spreading

The final verses of this passage show that Christian community is contagious. “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 Christians had favor with all the people. Outsiders saw the way they loved and served one another and agreed with their way of life if not their religion. But some did believe. “The Lord added to their number” demonstrates that God used Christians in community to draw people into a relationship with Himself.

Yet notice who was doing the adding. God converts people. Although God uses Christians in community as His instrument, ultimately, only the Lord can transform a persons heart from unbelief to belief. This should give Christians both humility and boldness to tell others about Jesus.

The Gospel

So how are you doing with Christian community? Do you feel guilty for not living out the biblical idea of community? Do you feel pride because you think you’re doing pretty well? Both guilt and pride are misplaced when it comes to Christian community. Both stances are fundamentally self-centered. But Christian community does not depend on what you do but on what Christ has already done.

On the cross Christ was cut off from community so you wouldn’t have to be. Who was with Jesus at His death? His apostles abandoned Him. The women who remained to watch were powerless to stop the murder. He had no one.

But Jesus was cut off from an even more important relationship. From eternity, Christ had only known a perfect union with His heavenly Father. But on the cross, the Father treated the Son like one of us, a sinner. For the first time the Son cried out to His Father and the answer was not favor but wrath.

Why? Jesus Christ paid the ultimate price so that when He ascended the Holy Spirit could descend. Now, through faith in Jesus, we receive the Holy Spirit and we are bound together in a supernatural union. Through His death Christ has already given us the gift of Christian community. The only question is, “Will you accept it?”

Below is a sermon I did at my home church, Redeemer, on Acts 2:42-47.

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