I don’t know about you, but I love spending time by myself. I guess you could call me an introvert.
I’m most at ease in the comfort and surroundings of my own home and can go for long periods of time without needing to interact with human beings at all.
Oh, It’s not that I don’t love people. I absolutely do.
But I often find that Romans 7:22, 23 thing going on inside of me when it comes to engaging in community: in my inner being I really want to “do life” with others. But then I “see another law at work within me, waging war against the law of my mind”, reminding me of how much energy it’s going to take, and that I might not meet other people’s expectations, or – even worse – that I might be rejected or get hurt by them.
But, I’ve been commanded by Jesus…
This kind of love for one another is costly. Jesus demonstrated the ultimate act of love by going to the cross for his Church.
It wasn’t just the getting killed that was costly, though. As Pastor Steven J. Cole of Flagstaff Christian Fellowship points out, “the cross was the epitome of humiliation and shame. There was no worse way to die than to be stripped naked, flogged, and then nailed to a splintery cross and hung up to suffer a slow death as a public spectacle.”
Was life for Jesus Exhausting? Yes.
Did He meet everyone’s expectations? No.
Did other people hurt him? Yes.
Was He rejected by other people? Yes (and, let’s remember, by God himself when he became sin for us).
I am told, in the Bible, to walk that same path: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me…for you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” – Matthew 16:24, 1 Peter 2:21
How should that impact me? What difference does that make in my life as I continue to pursue growth in Gospel community?
It makes all the difference in the world.
In all of my human relationships, I will never have to endure the level of pain, weariness, humiliation, shame, exhaustion, mocking, scoffing, suffering, and betrayal that Jesus did.
If I am to come after Jesus, then I need to confront my selfishness and fear of man, and be willing to die to self so that I can truly learn from the Master what true gospel community is all about – loving others in the most self-sacrificing way possible, as He loved the Church.
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Matthew 11:29
Here are two things that Jesus is teaching me about loving and caring, biblically, for one another in The Church:
1. Intentionally Pursue People. The Church is not meant to be just a building full of warm bodies. It is a living, dynamic entity that takes everyone’s active participation in order for it to be all that it is meant to be:
- “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” – 1 Cor. 12:27
- “so in Christ we who are many are one body, and each member belongs to one another.” – Romans 12:5
- “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” – 1 Cor. 12:26
- “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” – Eph. 4:11-13
- “It is not good for the man to be alone.” – Gen. 2:18
- “Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have made a habit, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:25
2. Love and care for one another by sharing the gospel and your very life with each other. This is the practical side of how we “do life on life” with one another in the church. It’s the blueprint for what gospel community looks like, and we need both. Even if we are meeting regularly with one another, it does not mean that we are experiencing community, in the biblical sense, together. Gospel community develops when we share God’s good word with one another, and we transparently and sacrificially share our lives with one another. That means that we are honest and open with one another about our struggles. We share beyond the facts of what’s going on in our lives to reveal the very thoughts and feelings that describe how we’re responding to what’s happening inside of us as we deal with the world, ourselves, God, and others.
- “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” – Eph. 5:19
- “Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.” – Psalm 95:2
- “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” – Col. 3:15
- “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” – 1 Thess. 2:8
- “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ” – Eph. 4:15
- “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” – Eph. 4:25
I still have so much to learn from Jesus! But, I am so thankful that God has called me to the work of teaching and counseling. It is a sanctifying work in my life that forces me out of my introverted world of self and launches me into gospel community – the place where growing in Christ-like love happens. I’m thankful for all of the women in my life who love me as I am but continue to challenge and help me to grow in Christ-like maturity in this area of my life. To God be the glory.
How about you?
Are you intentional about not only attending, but participating in the life of and pursuing the lives in your church, experiencing community, and true discipleship? If yes, who can you help to grow in this area? If not, why not? Who do you know that does this well? Will you reach out to them and ask them to help you grow in this area?
How often do you incorporate The Word into your conversations with other believers? What will you do to intentionally share the message of the gospel with others when you meet together? How transparent are you with others? Do those closest to you really know about your struggles, faults, weaknesses, fears, sins? Do you share with them your deepest thoughts and emotions when you experience suffering? Why or why not? What steps will you take to be more intentional about sacrificially sharing your life (including time, money, possessions) with others in the family of God?
If you’re not sure what the “sharing of your life” portion of gospel community looks like, I highly recommend reading this article by Rick Thomas that speaks to the importance of honesty and transparency within gospel community.
If you struggle with social anxiety, here are a few more things to help you grow in gospel community:
- “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe” (Proverbs 29:25). As you step out in faith to attempt “doing life” with other believers, do you trust God to keep you safe?
- You may never be completely free of the struggle, this side of heaven, but complete freedom from social anxiety is not the goal of the Christian life, growth in Christ-like maturity is. How can accepting that, this side of heaven, sin will still remain, but that growth is still possible help you to embrace the struggle?
- Remember, you can be confident that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (phil. 1:6) Do you believe that God is at work in you to help you grow in your capacity to love and care for others?
- “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” (Heb. 12:2) Where are you keeping your eyes fixed as you deal with social anxiety?
- “And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5) Will you ask for the same?