Relationships Within the Church: Encouragement, Freedom, and Humility
By Katelyn Milligan
Have you ever noticed that when a natural disaster strikes a previously individualistic community, people in the community come together to help those suffering and in need? Even people outside that community travel long distances to extend a helping hand. In times like that, people seem to understand the importance of community. However, once the hype of the disaster tapers, so does the “togetherness” of the community, and the people return to their individualistic behaviors. Thankfully, this is not how God designed biblical community for the Christian!
God exists in a loving and eternal community between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One of the ways that He created people to bear His image is to live in community. We are not meant to go through life alone. Community is a sweet gift that brings much joy and strength to the believer! And greater still, community—biblical community—shines with the Gospel and gives Jesus glory! The world also attempts to have a community of sorts, but it is distinctly different from biblical community and falls short of true joy and strength for the soul. Let’s explore the great joy of biblical community through three qualities: strengthening and encouraging, confession, and serving.
Strength in Encouragement
There is so much strength in encouragement! When life beats you down, trials rage, and persecution is present, we can be distracted from truth. The encouraging words of a dear friend can add perspective and provide hope. Those in Christ are commanded to encourage one another daily, as long as it’s called, “Today,” so that no one may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:13). God, in His kindness, calls all believers to encourage each other in hopes that we won’t stray from Him or believe lies. Encouragement isn’t a foreign concept to those outside of Christ either. The world eats up encouragement! “You’re so pretty. I love your hair.” “You are so smart. You can do anything you set your mind to.” “You deserve the best.” The world cheers on anything that bolsters self-image and self-esteem. However, this isn’t the same encouragement commanded from believers in Hebrews 3:13.
Christian encouragement points others to Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, Life Together, said it this way: “God has put his Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him” (pg. 22-23). We need encouragement from God’s Word so we aren’t deceived by sin, and fellow believers help provide that encouragement. While the world provides encouragement that points to one’s inner self, Biblical community provides encouragement that points to Christ and His Word—the only encouragement that actually gives courage and strengthens the soul.
Freedom in Confession
Confession is a difficult command. So much is at stake: will the person who hears your confession condemn you, make fun of you, or perceive you differently? It takes great vulnerability to confess sin to another, but James 5:16 commands believers to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” And Proverbs 28:13 reveals that “whoever conceals his sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” In addition, when a believer confesses sin to God, “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). A believer can confess sin to other believers knowing that healing prayer and mercy should be present.
Confession exists among those outside of Christ as well. The difference is that people feel the weight of their sin and want to tell someone about it solely to get it off their chest or to feel like they have a clear conscience. Yet, the fear of condemnation and rejection is often so burdensome that many choose silence, letting the disease of sin sink deep within their bones. The world provides fear of confession, which leaves the soul riddled with condemnation, while the gospel of Jesus provides freedom and forgiveness through confession within the sweet realm of biblical community.
Humility in Service
Imagine being a part of a community where everyone’s needs are met. No one is lacking, because everyone looks out for each other. This was the reality of the community of the early church, and this is the same expectation for believers today (Acts 2, 4). Although we never accomplish community and service perfectly, believers are meant to give of themselves to help one another within the church. While we are free to serve others outside the body, meeting needs as we are able, our primary responsibility is to serve those within our local church. We can help those outside the body—and we often see the Lord draw people to Himself through acts of service performed by believers—but the gospel is proclaimed most clearly when the church loves and cares for its own (Gal. 6:10). Believers sacrificially serve one another, following the greatest example of all—Jesus. He came to serve, not to be served, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28).
Many in the world advocate for serving others as well; after all, it’s the humanitarian thing to do. The difference is that many serve in order to feel good about themselves and often look for something in return. Mankind serves in order to make a name for itself, while biblical community serves to mirror the humility and compassion of Christ.
Distinction in Community
What ultimately sets biblical community apart from all other communities is Christ. He is the foundation for biblical community! Bonhoeffer explains, “not what man is in himself as a Christian, his spirituality and piety, constitutes the basis of our community…Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to the both of us” (pg. 25). When people come to a saving relationship with Christ, all barriers and divisions are abolished (Eph. 2:14). Those in Christ become children of God through faith, for everyone who was baptized into Christ has clothed themselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for we become one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26-28). Just like a body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body (1 Cor. 12:12-13).
It’s on the basis of Christ alone that true biblical community can and does exist! In Christ, a supernatural unity exists among believers which allows true biblical community to form. If anything outside of Christ is the foundation of a community, that community cannot provide eternal strength and encouragement, healing to the soul, or sacrificial service to one another. Those engaged in biblical community have the promise that we will be united not just here on earth but for an eternity together with Christ. What can be sweeter than that?!