But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they came together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, to test Him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.” Matthew 22:34-40
There is a saying “one Christian is no Christian.” This is because Christians do not exist in isolation. To be a Christian is to be part of a community. The two greatest commandments, on which all of the law and the prophets rest, are the commandments to love God and to love our neighbor. We can’t love God and ignore our neighbor, because the two go hand in hand. And we can’t experience love without the presence of “another.” Because to love only oneself is narcissism. It is not love. Love is a choice that is extended from one to another. Even if one says he extends love towards God, there still needs to be the presence of another person, because to love God is to serve others. We do not exist as Christians in isolation.
Love is experienced in two ways. We either are giving it, or we are receiving it. One needs to exist in some “community” in order to do both. That community can be a family, a church community, a group of friends, or anywhere where two or more people exist.
We must love our neighbor. Love is a choice to serve someone else with patience and kindness, even if they don’t deserve it, especially if they don’t deserve it. We also need love from our neighbor. Everyone needs to feel loved by someone else. Not everyone has the same need. There are some that need this more than others. However, no one can survive well in isolation, without receiving love from others.
When Jesus Christ came to earth, He taught His disciples that they needed to exist in community. They weren’t expected to make the journey through life alone. They would be part of a community, where they could learn together, worship together and serve together. And they could serve both within the community (their fellow community members) and they were to serve outside of the community as well (serving complete strangers who were not part of the community).
One of the things that is supposed to occur in a community (not just in a church community, but in any community—family, group of friends, etc.) is that members of the community are both responsible for one another and accountable to one another. If a member of the community is starting to slip away, the rest of the community reins him or her back in. Members are also accountable to one another. They check in with one another.
Responsibility and accountability are also supposed to be foundational to a church community. The church community is supposed to keep itself together by being responsible for all members, to keep members together, to run to serve when one member has been wounded (by grief or loss or illness), and to add to the number of members through evangelism and outreach. The church members should also be accountable to one another, again that example of “safe and expected to be honest,” so that the environment is set where members can “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
At the center of the church community is worship, where members gather together, as one body, to worship the Lord. While most of this section will focus on praying in smaller groups, it is central to each church community to pray as one large group, to come to God as one body to worship and praise Him. This reinforces for the entire community at one time, the purpose and the destination of life—to glorify God and serve one another as we work our way to salvation in the Kingdom of heaven. This message is not always simple to understand nor it is easy to do. However, it is easy to state and necessary to repeat, which is why the community gathers so often for worship.
As Christians, it is nearly impossible to exist without a church community. Because the church community provides instruction, accountability and encouragement to live a God-centered life. It is nearly impossible to do these things alone. If you are not a regular member of a church community, seek to change that. And if you are a regular member of a church community, continually seek to strengthen that relationship with your church community.
Christians do not exist in isolation. They exist in community. They exist in small communities like families and friend group, and they exist in larger communities, churches. Worship is the primary activity of the church community. Prayer should ideally be part of every small community. And service is how we express love in any “community” we belong to.
Lord, thank You for the “communities” to which I belong, my family, my friendships, and my church community. Help me to strengthen my bonds within each community. Help me to serve in each community with love, kindness, patience and consistency. Help me to have eyes to see members of each community that need encouragement. Help others to see when I need encouragement. Help us all to keep our eyes on You, to love You, and to express love for You in service to others. Help me to have eyes to see people who feel isolated and bring them safely into a community. Amen.
Seek constantly to strengthen your bonds with your “communities”—your family, your friendships, and your church community
By Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis