Pursuing Community

This past fall I read Broken Down House, by Paul Tripp, and enjoyed it immensely. It is Tripp, after all; if The Crossing is your church, then surely Paul Tripp is on your list of “Top 10 Go-To Guys” for helping you define what faith looks like when lived out in the day-to-day. He certainly is for me.

The overarching message of this book is how we can live out our faith in a broken-down world in such a way that we are a part of the redemptive, restorative work that God is doing all around us. Frankly, this brokenness of every aspect of life, the way in which sin makes everything difficult, is often discouraging to me. So it appeals to me that I can pursue being a part of the solution, even as I recognize that as a sinner, I am also part of the problem.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in a practical read on how to pursue life joyfully and productively in the midst of your – and everyone else’s – sin and brokenness. In particular, though, I wanted to share some thoughts from one chapter called “Pursuing Community,” because I think the message Dave Cover preached this past Sunday dovetails beautifully with what Tripp had to say in Broken Down House, about the fact that we are all called to community.

Early in this chapter Tripp describes how, in direct opposition to the idea of living in community, our culture upholds the ideals of individualism, self-reliance and independence:

We all prize our right to privacy and guard our personal lives. By the time we are seven or eight years old we have learned how to put on a public persona – the version of “me” that we want people to know and love – and how to protect the details of our lives that we would rather not be publicly seen. To some degree, of course, this is healthy and normal, and helps form us as individuals. But so much of society – from popular culture to the working of the Internet, to the very design of our suburbs – encourages something beyond individualism. It encourages isolation and privatism, which one dictionary defines as “being noncommittal to or uninvolved with anything other than one’s own immediate interests and lifestyle.”

The word “privatism” struck me. I looked it up in another dictionary and it said, “the pursuit of one’s personal interests, welfare or ideals to the exclusion of broader social issues or relationships.”

If I were to define privatism, it might go like this: “a life led in exact opposition to how the Bible calls us to live.”

Obviously, independence and self-sufficiency can be good qualities in many situations – I wish my three-year-old were a little more independent when it came to dressing himself! – but a life of privatism is one that elevates one’s own needs over everyone else around them, when Jesus calls us to a life of self-sacrifice and community (Matthew 10:39, 16:24-25, 22:39 ). A life of privatism also isolates us from others in a way that keeps us from being known on a deeper than surface level.

This is Tripp’s point, of course, and one of the reasons we are called to be in community with fellow believers. One of the things Dave impressed on those of us sitting in the auditorium last Sunday is that, while our personal relationship with Christ is obviously important, it is not ALL that we are being called to – but that we must see ourselves in the larger context, as one of the elect whom “the Lord added to their number day by day (Acts 2:46-47).”

Tripp agrees:

Under the influence of Western culture, Christianity tends to take on a uniquely individualistic cast, a “Jesus and me” kind of faith. We talk much about a “personal relationship with Jesus.” And it is certainly true that we are brought, by God’s grace, into personal communion with Christ. But Christianity is equally a faith that is meant to be anchored in community.

Why? Or maybe, for some of us, the question is how? What does a faith anchored in community, particularly in today’s highly individualized culture, look like?

For me, faith lived out in the context of a larger community has this key ingredient: authentic friendships lived transparently in front of one another.

I have several very close girlfriends. Some of us stay home with our kids. A couple of us babysit; others don’t. A few hold down jobs outside of the home. Rarely a week goes by when I don’t spend a few hours with at least a couple of these friends. However, I also have one sister in Christ who lives not five minutes from me, and yet our friendship right now looks more like pen pals, so poorly do our schedules sync with each other.

Clearly, it’s not the amount of time we spend with each other that makes these relationships so valuable, and yet they are just that – valuable, treasured, a vital part of what I consider my community. The reason? These friends of mine know me, inside and out. In addition to sharing the occasional cup of coffee, glass of wine or great recipe, we share our struggles of faith. These women know the sins I battle, the fears that grip me. They challenge me when they see me going down the wrong path, and they exhort me when they see me struggling. And I try to do the same for them.

We share our sin and struggles with each other because we also share a common love – for Jesus – and a common problem – wicked, sinful, deceitful hearts.

We all have deceitful hearts according to the Bible (Jeremiah 17:9), whether we acknowledge this truth or not, and it makes it very, very difficult to see ourselves clearly. Tripp calls it the difference between looking into the perfect mirror of the Word of God, and looking into a carnival fun-house mirror. When we rely on ourselves or the culture to tell us what we see, it’s much like looking in a distorted mirror of our own making, and the portrayal is far from reality. We need others – a community of others – to help us see ourselves accurately.

Tripp points to Hebrews 3:12-13 as biblical proof that the Bible calls us to community for the purposes of helping each other walk in faith.

See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

In other words, we can’t see ourselves rightly, so we need others in our lives regularly – the writer of Hebrews says daily – to help keep our vision clear. We need to be willing to see ourselves reflected in God’s Word to even begin to understand who we really are, and we also need faithful fellow travelers helping us back onto the narrow path of righteousness when we begin to veer off…and don’t even realize it yet.

Authentic friendships with other Christians pursuing godliness creates a community that Tripp defines as intentionally intrusive, Christ-centered, grace-driven, and redemptive. He does a better job of fleshing these things out (again, I say read the book!), but briefly, these are friends you have invited to intrude into your life, to ask hard questions and help keep you accountable; friends who share a love for Jesus and want to live their lives by what He says; friendships that are more about encouragement and exhortation than rebuke and admonishment; and relationships that grow and refine each other through the work of the Holy Spirit within each of you, recognizing that God’s redemptive work in all of us is a lifelong process.

Again, I think Tripp says it best when he writes that we will only know ourselves accurately when we know ourselves in biblical community. Over the last several years, I’ve discovered that my walk with God really is a community project.

And so is yours.

So I ask you: Do you have a community that you really live in? If not, do you want to get started? Ask yourself one question: “Who have I explicitly given permission to say hard, unsettling things to me?” Begin today to identify those people in your life whom you can trust to help you live in this broken world, despite your own sin and brokenness, in increasingly-redemptive ways.

God has called us all into community as part of the Body of Christ for many, many purposes, one of which is to help each other live just a little more faithfully each day.

Hebrews 10:24-25
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

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