Over the past several weeks we’ve looked at Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and how it challenges us to seek kingdom character and to live a kingdom life. We saw the need to live lives of meekness and to hunger after righteousness. Jesus called us to be peacemakers and to endure through persecution.
With this picture of what it looks like to live the way Jesus called us to live, it’s important to examine the “how” of living like Christ. Without question the primary means and power to live the life to which Jesus called us is the power of the Holy Spirit. We are His workmanship. It is God who brings the kingdom life and character to our lives.
Question: By what means (prayer, solitude, study, debate, etc.) have you been successful in growing in your kingdom character?
God has given us a primary mechanism through which the Holy Spirit builds us as members of the Church. It is called community. We can’t reach full maturity in Christ on our own. We can only effectively grow in the character of Christ within the context of biblical community.
But every one of us has undoubtedly experienced the hardships and difficulties of living in community. All too often these challenges cause us to pull away from the very environment God has given us to grow. In fact, studies show that the circles of confidants we have as Americans have shrunk dramatically over the past two decades. Instead of having healthy relationships with people where we can discuss important matters, many of us no longer have anyone to turn to in the hard moments of life.
Question: In our highly connected world with email, smartphones, Facebook, and so many other ways to connect, why might we be more starved of community than ever? Do you feel that you are truly connected and part of a community?
Without a doubt the biggest hinderance to community is people. Many of us have grown up with relational disappointment. Whether family, friends, or even fellow Christians, often those who are closest to us have been the ones to hurt us the deepest. So how do we move from this pain-avoiding contempt for community to a help-us-grow kind of celebration of community?
We have to understand what authentic biblical community looks like.
Read Acts 2.42–47.
This is an incredible example of what it looks like to be present with one another in biblical community. This wasn’t just a gathering of people with a common interest, like when a group of fans gathers to watch their favorite sports team. This was a community of people doing life together, caring for one another, eating together, praying for the needs of others, and growing in both maturity and numbers.
Question: What do you think it would mean for you to live in this type of biblical community? Have you seen this type of community at work—whether in your own life or someone else’s? What were the fruits that you saw because of it?
Now we might be tempted to say, “Yeah, but those were different, perhaps simpler, times.” But were they? This was a time defined by a loss of respect for institutions. People were beginning to question the supremacy of Rome. They were put off by the lack of integrity and abuses of religion. There was a push back against the ideas of class supremacy. They were asking questions about whether being born Jewish, or Roman, or whatever, made someone superior to others. And in the context of this upheaval, there was violence and hostility as people grasped for power. Is this really that much different than today?
It was in the context of this unrest that the early church found refuge in community. And more than finding refuge, they became a refuge for those in need, both physically and spiritually. They welcomed the weary, covered them with love, introduced them to the grace of Jesus, and breathed life into their confused souls. They did this through living in authentic biblical community.
There are three key features of authentic biblical community modeled by the early church in Acts 2:
1. Fellowship. In the Greek, this was the word koinonia, which indicates an intimate participation. Community isn’t just about actions, like studying, eating, and praying together. It’s about experiencing and sharing the joy and pain of life together. It is about deep relationship.
2. Partnership. When Christ is at the center of our community and growing together in grace is the goal of our community, a partnership is formed to actively share the good news of Christ and to grow others in their walk with Christ. We joyfully partner together to spread the Gospel and make Disciples.
Read Philippians 1.3–11.
3. Sharing. When we’re intimately participating in community with those who have significant needs, our love for them will drive us to radically give so that we can meet their needs. The Acts 2 community understood that the resources God had entrusted them with were not theirs to hold on to, but resources to bless others in their community.
Question: How do these three features compare to your experience of biblical community? Which of the three do you see the most in your community? Which of the three do you long for? What are some practical steps you can take to improve your experience of fellowship, partnership, or sharing?
When we engage in an Acts 2 kind of community, we are strengthened, encouraged, and grown to possess the kingdom character that Jesus calls us to, and to live the kingdom life that will attract others to Him.