How many of you know your neighbors, say 2-3 houses on either side of you? For 22 years we lived on a cul-de-sac of thirteen houses and knew probably ten of the families at any given time. There were times when we helped those nearest us as they had needs, and they helped us. We fed their cat; they fed our dog. Gary mowed their front yard when they were too busy. We watched out for strange people and cars when they were on vacation. I took the wife to the doctor after she had foot surgery and food when she had a baby.
As I thought about community this week, I thought about these people. Here’s a movie clip about a similar street, but the people on this street are a bit uneasy about some new neighbors, whom they haven’t bothered to meet. Pay particular attention as the teenage neighbor describes the situation.
Clip of The Burbs
You may have seen this movie, The Burbs, long ago. I was intrigued by the various neighbors. There’s the teenage kid who is simply entertained by people-watching. He detaches himself from the others but watches everything. You heard him describe Tom Hanks’ character, he says that he doesn’t want to believe there is anything amiss with the new neighbors because that would mean that he would have to deal with the issue. Tom’s buddy loves to believe the worst and delights in casting suspicion on everything the neighbors do; he’s a true gossip. The Bruce Dern character sees himself in some kind of war and is ready to attack if necessary.
Too often our church communities look like The Burbs. Instead of being a community of support and care, facing conflicts and problems head on, we gossip, we pretend that nothing is going on, we delight in creating suspicion or we attack one another. Sometimes, like this teenager, we participate for our own benefit rather than looking for ways to serve others.
That’s not what true community is about. To use our running theme, true community is like this group of runners, called the Road Runners, who bond together to make it through the race. Such teams form to share their expertise, to train together, to cheer each other on when the going gets hard, and to hold one another accountable to stay the course and finish the race. The church should look more like this than The Burbs community!
The Christian race can be tough, ladies. We will be hurt; we will face disappointment; we will veer off course. Without the community of believers encouraging us, loving us, and challenging us, we will likely never make it to the finish line.
That is why we believe in small groups here at Northwest and right here in this Bible study. We get our expertise in running the race from God’s word so that is at the heart of our training. Our multi-generational groups enjoy the presence of experienced runners who can encourage the rest of us on. Although each of us has a unique race, we run together through life as we live out the presence of Jesus in the community of faith; we are to be his hands and feet and voice to those in the race with us; we are the presence of Jesus in one another’s lives.
Look at Jn. 14:15-20. Jesus spoke these words to the disciples on the eve of his death.
If you love me, you will obey my commandments. Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever –the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you. I will not abandon you as orphans, I will come to you. In a little while the world will not see me any longer, but you will see me; because I live, you will live too. You will know at that time that I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you.
Jesus promised the indwelling of his Spirit to his followers. The Holy Spirit is the presence of Jesus in us. If Jesus truly lives within each of us who believes in him, that means that we take Jesus with us wherever we go. When you go to work each morning, Jesus is in your workplace not only because he is present everywhere, but because he is tangibly there in you. When you interact with your child’s friends, Jesus is in you; when you come to your small group each week, Jesus is present in a real way in you. That means that he can live out his life through you into the lives of the other members of your group! And you will find his presence in them. That is what true community is about.
Look at Gal. 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
We live out Jesus’ life because he lives in us. That means--
Look at John 13:34-35:
I give you a new commandment – to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another.
Jesus stressed a new community for those who follow him, a community built on love for one another, measured by his own love for us.
How is it possible to love as Jesus did? It is only possible because Jesus lives within us and does it through us. Thus, we can live out his presence
Look at 2 Tim. 1:7:
For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.
That Spirit is the Holy Spirit, the presence of Jesus within us. It is the power and love of Jesus that we live out, not our own power or our own love.
So what does it look like to love the church community as Jesus loved us? That kind of love is detailed in the “one another” commands of the New Testament. Let’s look at them. Although I am not going to read the verses because of time, we’ll list the gist of each command.
The first “one another” after the command to love one another is in Rom. 12:10, where we are told to--
The word honor in the Greek means to value something for what it is worth. At what price did Jesus value us? As his children, he priced us at the cost of his own death. So we are to honor those in our church community who drive us crazy, whose worth to the church we may question, who aren’t even living out their faith very well. We value them as Jesus does.
We also live out Jesus’ love in community as we --
Paul uses the word build metaphorically in both Rom. 14:9 and 1 Thess. 5:11. Instead of erecting a building, we are to build up one another spiritually. We saw examples of this in our lesson: Paul built up the believers in the truth so they could live it out; he built them up when he recognized the service they had given, when he encouraged them in their faith, and even when he rebuked them!
Living out Jesus’ love also means that we
In Galatians 5:13 Paul says that although we are free in Christ, that freedom is restricted by loving others enough to serve them by giving up our rights. You studied this in your homework. We serve each other by making sure our actions don’t put a stumbling clock in the lives of others. For example, if I know that you are trying to get out of debt, I don’t try to convince you to go shopping with me to help me pick out something new!
We are also called to--
This literally means to pick up and carry a weight for someone else. We do this when we pray for the other women in our groups, when we give to those who have need, when we weep with those who weep.
Our next command to live out the presence of Jesus in community is to--
Bear with means to endure or to forbear. We studied this concept last fall in Abigail, who had to forbear with a difficult husband. If you remember, forbearance involves the idea of not retaliating, of not returning what the other person deserves. The New American Standard translates Eph. 4:2 as “showing tolerance for one another”. The Bible in Basic English says “putting up with one another.” That’s a hard one!
In living out the presence of Jesus, Ephs. 4:25 tells us to--
In our homework we looked at speaking truth to those whose theology is confused; however, this particular command in Ephesians deals more with being truthful about someone’s life, confronting sin when necessary as we saw Paul do. This is part of what it means to love someone. As mothers, we don’t love our children well if we let them run wild or if we allow them to have everything they want. We are to love other believers in the same way, so much so that we speak truth when necessary so they become mature.
The next “one another” includes several ideas:
Kindness, forgiveness, compassion—being in the midst of a community that exhibits those qualities would look so different from the world. That kind of community would bring Jesus into one another’s lives without question and speak to the world of his love.
In Eph. 5:21, we are called to
Those of you who have studied the marriage passages are probably familiar with this verse. But it doesn’t merely deal with marriage but with all relationships in the community of the church. We are to listen to one another and give up our right to win, so to speak, because we are motivated by reverence for Christ.
I think that moves us right into our next verse, Philippians 2:3:
This command precedes the verses describing Jesus’ humbling himself in death. He gave up all of the rights and privileges of being God in heaven for our sakes. We are to give up our preferences for the sake of others in that same way, to be the presence of Jesus in their lives.
According to Col. 3:16, we are also to--
The Greek word exhort can mean instruction, warning, or admonition. It literally means placing something in someone’s mind. So this is a broad instruction telling us to talk to one another about truth, about God, about what is right and about danger that looms before us if we stray from God’s best for us.
Similarly, 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says to
This is a different word from the word exhort in the previous command. This one means to comfort and strengthen by means of consolation. It can also include admonition but seems to focus more than the previous word on the comfort we give one another.
The next one says in a different way what we have seen already:
Over and over God tells us to be more concerned about everyone else than about ourselves. We are to pursue what is the best thing for other people and for the group instead of only looking after ourselves.
In James 5:16 we have another “one another” command:
If Jesus is present in us, he is present in others when we gather as believers. There is something positive about confessing to each other. It makes us accountable to the community for our repentance. James also says to pray for one another, which is part of sharing one another’s burdens. Ladies, we have to take seriously our responsibility to pray for one another in our groups. I know that when I ask for prayer, I am counting on those who get the request to pray. I know that you feel the same way. But we have to be as concerned to pray for others as we are that they pray for us. Community is not just about what we get out of it, but it’s about what we give to the other members of that group; it is about the tangible presence of Jesus in us loving them.
The next command in living out Jesus’ love is in 1 Pet. 4:9:
The word for hospitality suggests being a friend to a stranger. But in this case it says to do this for one another. As we show hospitality to other believers, we show the love of Jesus to them. We become his hands giving food and clothing and shelter to those who need it.
The final one another is in 1 Peter 4:10 which says to--
In this context we are to serve one another using our spiritual gifts.
The word serve literally means to serve as a slave. Our gifts are not for our own benefit but for the benefit of the whole community of faith. The community needs each of us to shoulder our part of the load so that God’s work is done.
All of this seems overwhelming to me as we go through it. The reality is that it’s not done with a checklist. Instead, we must focus on living out Jesus’ presence within us loving one another as he loved us. If we live daily in touch with his presence and his power in us, we will hear him telling us how to respond to the community of faith as he would. We are his voice, his hands, and his feet to care for each other. Just as a runner must have a community of runners around her, we are dependent to succeed spiritually with a group surrounding us. We are to give to that group and receive from them the love of Jesus.
I remember the first group with which I ever had this kind of community. We had a great group of diverse women: an older widow, an empty-nester, several women with teenagers, women with school-age children, and some of us with little kids. Together we shared God’s word, we encouraged one another, we heard stories from the older women about how God had been faithful to them, we prayed for one another and cried with one another. We treated each other as Jesus would have treated us if he had been physically present. I walked more closely with Jesus because of the influence and accountability of this group of women in my life.
I hope that is what is happening here in your groups. Do you see yourself as Jesus present with these women? Do you see them as Jesus present with you? Do you give of yourself for them? Are you accountable to each other to get your homework done, to share your life with them? Ask Jesus how to love them as he would, how to give to them as he would, and how to receive from them his message to you.
This year our church theme is “Jesus, we want what you want.” As I have dealt with that, he has impressed me that what he wants for me is to look more like him. As I studied these “one another” commands, he confirmed that over and over. That means that I should live out these one anothers.
Let’s take a minute to consider this list of “one anothers.” Sit silently before God and ask him to impress one of them on your heart, one that you should stay mindful of, one to have at the forefront of your mind. Listen to what he says. You may want to look up the verse itself. We’ll spend a couple of minutes in silence and then I will pray for us all.