Summary: In isolation the people of Jesus lose their fire and zeal, but in community we are strong. The church is designed by Jesus to be a place where we can be strong and stand firm.
“A Supporting Community”
My mother has a large property and there is a path that leads from the front to the back. It is completely surrounded by trees. At night it is a very scary place. It is absolutely dark, even when the moon is shining. When you go down that path by yourself sometimes you just start running because you give yourself a scare. But if you have a few people with you the feeling is very different. You can do it because you have support. And it isn’t as scary. Unless someone is hiding in the bushes along the way and they jump out and scare you – which used to happen quite often.
We know that applies to aspects of our ordinary life. The same is true for our Christian life.
There are so many people who are trying to walk through their spiritual life on our own – and it isn’t working. You see when you step out of the community you start to lose your fire – it is the same as what happens to coals. When a coal is in a fire it stays warm with the other coals. Take the coal out of the fire and it will burn for a while; but soon it starts to go out. Spiritual fervour easily dies when we are on our own.
Now let’s recognise that sometimes we can be in a situation where we have no choice but to stay away. When a child comes to faith and their parents are not Christians – well that can make it hard to get to church and be part of a faith community. The same is true in relationships where one partner is not a believer. Yet these are more the exception than the rule.
The reality is that we don’t always like the fact that being part of a community means being willing to be accountable. In isolation it is so easy to allow ungodly behaviour to flourish and to become trapped by our addictive behaviour. In community it is so different.
Which is why Jesus invented an antidote to isolation.
The body of Christ
The community of believers
This is Jesus’ invention to help us have support when we are going through dark times. Which is a very different purpose to how the church is often portrayed.
• Often the church is seen as being out of touch and ... dare we say it ... boring.
• The church is a place where all the hypocrites gather to make themselves feel better.
• Sadly the church is seen as a place of scandals where people have often been hurts and abused.
That is what has happened. But that is not how Jesus wanted it to be.
As a supporting community the church is a place of spiritual security.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13-20)
Do you see where the spiritual security is? It comes from focussing on the fact that the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Now I don’t know about you, but I have never seen or heard of a battle where gates were used as ammunition.
Think about WW1. The soldiers are waiting in the trenches for the attack signal. The signal comes ... “charge!”. Then out of the trenches come a group of soldiers carrying a gate on their shoulders. They hoist the gate into the enemy trench yelling, “you better watch out … there is much more where that came from”. It just wouldn’t happen would it.
A gate is not an instrument of attack. It is an instrument of defence. Which means that the church is not some sort of punching bag for Satan; the church is the organisation which goes out and presses against the gates of Hades …
… against Satan’s domain
… against the hopelessness of torment.