One of the most mysterious aspects of the Christian faith is the Trinity. We worship one God. We are monotheists, and at the same time we profess that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all God. This is a mystery. We profess it, but we will never fully comprehend it. Instead of trying to explain this phenomenon by offering inadequate illustrations (e.g. water, ice, vapor, etc.), we should seek to learn from how God reveals himself. God does not need our explanation, but we need his revelation. There are many things we can learn from the doctrine of the Trinity, but perhaps one of the most important is that God dwells in community. God reveals what perfect community is. He reveals the importance of community. We were designed to live in community.
In America, the individual is prized above all else. We think in terms of our individual rights and individual identity, whereas many ancient cultures thought in terms of what is best for the community. This focus on individuality is a threat to the church. The church is in danger of becoming a community of individuals which is no community at all. We may still gather on the first day of the week, but we often do this as a group of individuals and not as a group who is willing to submit to one another. The development of a community takes work. It is something that doesn’t just happen. It takes maturity, purpose, and leadership.
How do people overcome this pull to see everything through the lens of individuality? The answer is found in the Bible. The church needs to return to sacrifice, submission, and table fellowship which foster community. These three things are at the heart of the gospel.
The apostle Paul gets to the heart of the gospel in Philippians 2:3-8, an important passage on sacrifice and submission.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:3-8)
The essence of Jesus’ mission is others. He is willing to do things he would rather not do because he is acting out of love. Sacrifice is not easy. It is a discipline. Paul describes what Jesus did as “becoming obedient.” Sacrifice must be at the heart of a thriving community. The sacrifice of Jesus is something all Christians are called to imitate (1 Pet. 2:21-24).
When Jesus came to this earth, he “emptied himself.” This has nothing to do with his divinity. Jesus was both fully human and fully divine while he walked the earth. This refers to his attitude and demeanor. He was God, but he became a servant. He submitted himself to his parents. He submitted himself to others. The first became the last because this is how he wants all Christians to live. Christians must be willing to submit to one another (Eph. 5:21).
Sacrifice and submission are essential, but they are not enough. Table fellowship is essential in the formation of lasting relationships within a community.
“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44-47)
In order to develop a healthy community, churches must regularly eat together. This was an important aspect of Jesus’ ministry. He was constantly having meals with anyone who would eat with him. He ate with sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, Pharisees, and many more. Jesus revealed himself to his disciples in the breaking of bread (Luke 24:13-35). Friendships are formed and strengthened while sharing a meal together. Enemies let down their defenses when show them hospitality.
Individuality continues to reign supreme, but there is good news. Christians are called to be different. Churches can make a real difference in the world when members don’t focus on what makes them different, but instead unite around what we agree upon. The motto of the church is not “Have it your way!” When we return to sacrifice, submission, and table fellowship we will begin to offer the world something unique that they cannot get anywhere else. When we return to the gospel and imitate the life of Jesus, then we will be the light we are supposed to be.
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