Living Now with Eternity in Mind #9: Living as the Community of Jesus

Finally, all of you be like-minded and sympathetic, love one another, and be compassionate and humble, not paying back evil for evil or insult for insult but, on the contrary, giving a blessing, since you were called for this, so that you may inherit a blessing.

For the one who wants to love life
and to see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from speaking deceit,
and let him turn away from evil
and do what is good.
Let him seek peace and pursue it,
because the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous
and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against
those who do what is evil.

1 Peter 3:8—12

What does it mean to be the church these days? And when I say church I don’t mean the building. I don’t mean the Sunday morning worship service. I don’t even mean the programs we run throughout the week. When I say church, I mean the people who claim to follow Jesus. I mean groups of people committed in faith to the person of Jesus. What does it mean to be us these days? How is God calling us to follow him here and now? What does discipleship look like?

I think we’ve depended on a certain set of structures and traditions—ways of thinking about church and ways of doing church—for so long that we’re often unable to distinguish these things from the good news itself and from what it means to be a follower of Jesus. And rather than be discouraged, can we also not see the present as an opportunity? Is it possible that what some churches are experiencing as decreased attendance and other issues is a God-ordained moment to take a closer look at who we are and why we’re here? How is God trying to speak to us? And are we willing to listen?

In our passage, Peter concludes his version of the household code, how Christians in the culture of the Roman Empire were to relate to one another. And rather than simply repeat what the Roman versions say, his version of the household code is subversive—it begins to challenge cultural assumptions. To this point he’s addressed slaves and masters, husbands and wives, and now he turns to the church. By putting his discussion of church relationships into a section with the household code, Peter is suggesting that Living as the community of Jesus means becoming members of a new family.

When we look at the first verse in our passage, Peter is addressing the relationships in the church. He says: Finally, I want all of you to agree with one another. Be understanding. Love one another. Be kind and tender. Be humble. In the ESV it reads this way: So all of you should live together in peace. Try to understand each other. Love each other like brothers and sisters. Be kind and humble.

What kind of community does this sound like to you? What would it be like to be a part of a community like this? Honestly, deep down isn’t this what we want?

He says Love each other like brothers and sisters. And, of course, he’s saying this to people who are being mocked and mistreated by those who are not Christians. He’s saying this to people who might well be experiencing division and difficulties in their families because of their allegiance to Jesus.

It also makes me think of people whose families are not loving places. I think of young people whose homes are places of conflict and confusion. Imagine how much it means to find a place where you are loved for who you are. Think about the many refugees who have found homes and families, safety, security, and community by coming here to Canada. Think of the witness so many churches have had by being at the forefront of this movement.

When churches become places where people are brought into a loving community, they become a source of supportive, caring family relationships. Living as the community of Jesus means becoming members of a new family.

In what way have you experienced church as family? How have you met Jesus through your experience of church family?How can our church grow as a family?What difference does being a family make when it comes to showing love to our neighbours?

I was talking to someone recently whose church has grown significantly over the last year and a half. And it has nothing to do with programs. It has nothing to do with money. It began to grow when people began taking time to get to know one another. They even have a coffee break in the middle of their service. Nowadays people share testimonies, share what’s going on in their hearts, and people are growing in the Lord. Before this began to happen, they had fewer people than we do.

I really like how the ESV puts this part of our passage: Try to understand each other. Isn’t that a big part of becoming a community, of being a family? And how do we try and understand one another? We talk. We listen. We ask questions. We have actual conversations about life. We open up. It seems to me that Peter is talking about people who are in close relationships. I think this was a community where people could be themselves, be honest, talk about their struggles and problems, pray together, break bread together. Admittedly, it can be easier not to do this. Opening up means admitting stuff maybe we’d rather avoid. Fear. Doubt. Sin. Struggling to trust God.

Scholars estimate that most first century NT churches had no more than 50 members. Some may have had 20—30 members in one house church. Now, I’m not saying we don’t want to grow numerically, but by this measure we’re the same size range as a NT house church. So, numbers can’t be a reason why we can’t be a healthy church! We can become a healthier church with who and what we have!

So, what does this have to do with Jesus? Well, I think it has everything to do with Jesus. Because having a relationship with Jesus is supposed to be about becoming more human, more loving, more accepting. And this means being honest about who we are in front of one another. I think it’s in that kind of space that Christ seeks to transform us, to shape us, to continue healing and saving us.

I’ll put it this way: Living as the community of Jesus is how Jesus heals and transforms us.

Growing as disciples and followers of Jesus involves all of life. There’s nothing that Christ cannot redeem. There is no dark corner where his light cannot shine. There is no heart that he cannot heal. And this is why he brings us into community—it is in community that he seeks to do his work in our hearts and lives.

I think most of the people around us who don’t go to church – our neighbours, family members, classmates, friends, co-workers – have genuine spiritual questions and a genuine hunger for meaning. Why don’t most of them want to come to our churches? I know there are probably lots of reasons, but maybe for some it’s because they want a place where we can wrestle and talk openly, be ourselves, and, yes, even be vulnerable. But they think this is a place where they’re more likely to be judged. I think it’s in such a space that the Holy Spirit of God is free to move. I think people are looking for honesty and authenticity. I think they want truth that speaks profoundly to their heart’s deepest longing. And the church should be precisely the space where this can happen.

Why are honesty and authenticity important in a church family? How can we make it clear that this is a place where we can be ourselves before one another and God? Where do we need Jesus to bring deeper spiritual transformation?

Peter also tells the believers in Asia Minor how to respond to people who are not believers: Don’t do wrong to anyone to pay them back for doing wrong to you. Or don’t insult anyone to pay them back for insulting you. But ask God to bless them. Do this because you yourselves were chosen to receive a blessing. 

I don’t know about you, but there’s not a lot of people who insult me or mistreat me or make fun of me because I am a follower of Jesus. We live in a culture that is different from the culture in Peter’s day because ours has a lot of residual Christianity. For the most part, people who aren’t Christians feel able and inclined simply to ignore us. We’re not on their radar. Still, it’s good to ask: what is our attitude towards people who are not believers?

Peter cites some of Psalm 34 to reinforce his point about how believers should respond to those who are not believers. He says: “If you want to enjoy true life and have only good days, then avoid saying anything hurtful, and never let a lie come out of your mouth. Stop doing what is wrong, and do good. Look for peace, and do all you can to help people live peacefully. The Lord watches over those who do what is right, and he listens to their prayers. But he is against those who do evil.”

Part of what I see here is that our individual behaviour and attitudes reflects back on the church. If people see me doing wrong, being unkind, and not helping my neighbours, what will they think of my church?More than that: Ask God to bless them, Peter instructs. Do good, he tells them. Do all you can to help people live peacefully, he says.

This makes me think of the situation the people of Israel found themselves in when they were exiled to Babylon. In Jeremiah 29:7, they are told this: Do good things for the city I sent you to. Pray to the Lord for the city you are living in, because if there is peace in that city, you will have peace also. See that? God calls his people actively to seek the peace and prosperity of their neighbours. Do good things for Barrington. Do good things for Port La Tour. Do good things for Villagedale.

Living as the community of Jesus means seeking to bless our neighbours. Do you know anyone who has been hurt as a part of a church? Do some of these people stay away from church now? How can doing good things for our community help us live out the gospel?What are some things our church can do to bless our neighbours?Living as the community of Jesus means becoming members of a new family. Living as the community of Jesus is how Jesus heals and transforms us. Living as the community of Jesus means seeking to bless our neighbours. We began with the question: What does it mean to be the church these days? We could also ask: Who is God calling us to be?What is your answer to that question?

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