No Man is an Island-Part 1

A few weeks ago, I noted that biblical Christianity often is at odds with central values within our American culture. To expand on that a bit, I thought it might be instructive to look at one example in more detail.

It stands without question that the notions of individualism and self-reliance are foundational to the American mindset. For example, most of us dislike other people knowing about or getting into the deeper issues of our lives. Nor do we relish the idea of depending on or being indebted in some way to others if we can help it. And who among us really wants our lives tied down by the needs of other people? We approvingly point to those who are “willing to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.” To sum up, we often have an attitude that we all should mind our own business and take care of ourselves.

Now, all of that would be fine except for one thing…it’s not what God desires for our lives to look like at all. In fact, the Bible paints a much different picture of how we’re meant to live than the perspective I just outlined. Over and over again, it communicates the idea that you and I are intended to live alongside and be dependent on one another. In other words, we’re meant for genuine community.

We actually don’t have to go too far in the Bible to catch the idea that that God desires us to live in meaningful connection with one another. In the second chapter of Genesis, the Bible tells us that God forms Adam out of the dust of the earth and breaths life into him. But notice what God says soon after that:

Gen. 2:18: The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

The chapter then goes on to relate how Adam sees and names all the animals that God has made, but none of them are able to fill the role of what God calls a “suitable helper.” And so you might remember what happens next. God creates Eve, another human being, to be Adam’s wife. And finally Adam’s need—a need not to be alone, a need for community—is met.

Another place that we find the Bible affirming how important it is for us to move past the idea that we’re supposed to live life on our own is this memorable passage from Ecclesiastes 4:

9 Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:
10 If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
12 Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Note the simple, but convincing biblical arithmetic: two are better than one; a cord of three strands is not easily broken.

And finally, while there are many other ways the Bible conveys our need to live in substantial community with other people, I’ll be content with drawing attention to just one more. The following are all biblical commands—addressed to Christians no less—that are found in the New Testament:

• Love one another
• Be devoted to one another in brotherly love
• Honor one another
• Accept one another as Christ accepted you
• Instruct one another
• Greet one another
• Serve one another
• Carry each other’s burdens
• Bear with one another
• Be kind and compassionate to one another
• Submit to one another
• Forgive one another
• Teach and admonish one another
• Encourage one another
• Spur one another on toward love and good deeds
• Live in harmony with one another
• Offer hospitality to one another
• Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another

Taking stock of that list, one doesn’t exactly need a great deal of interpretive skill to grasp the idea that God is opposed to you and I living isolated from and uninvolved with other Christians. Instead, our lives are supposed to be connected with others who trust Christ in all kinds of meaningful ways.

The old saying rings profoundly true when compared with the biblical vision: no man is an island. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that those words originate from one John Donne—one of the finer English poets who ever put pen to paper and a committed follower of Christ.

The bottom line: if we take the Scriptures seriously, we simply can’t be content with the cultural inertia toward individualistic self-sufficiency. We’re called to live interdependently with one another as fellow members of Christ’s body.

In part two we’ll touch on the some of the reasons God has commanded us to live in genuine Christian community.

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