EQUIP: Week 3- Cultivating the Community of God
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19)
Week 3: Day 1 – Christ In Community
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13)
Today is day one of the third week of our eight-week equipping experience, and this week we are exploring the second of six priorities for what it means to be the Church, the Church at work. Think of these priorities as strands of DNA, all six are essential, inseparable, and equally important and yet each one uniquely contributes to the identity and function of the Body of Christ.
In the week that follows, we will be specifically looking at our God-given responsibility to conserve and cultivate our relationship with one another as we follow Jesus together. At Bel Air Church, we believe we are designed for Christian community. [i]
In fact, community is one of our core values. We believe Christian community is so much more than just being in proximity with others. As we embody a life of community, our identity in Christ unifies us as we follow Jesus every day, and everywhere, with everyone…together.
“Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer [ii]
We belong to one another. We need one another. We are united to one another. All of this is true and none of this would be true if it were not for Jesus Christ. Life in Christ is life together.
Let’s hold onto this thought as we begin our daily rhythm.
As we seek to be joined together in Christian community, we follow our daily PRAY(er) rhythm (P.R.A.Y.), ‘P’: PAUSING to be still. ‘R’: REFLECTING on Scripture or learnings. ‘A’: ASKING God to help us and others on the journey and ‘Y’: YIELDING to God’s transformative work in our lives, no matter the cost. [iii]
P. R. A. Y.
As I enter prayer now, I pause to be still; to breathe slowly; to recenter my scattered senses upon the presence of God.
Jesus, my Lord, as I say ‘yes’ to your invitation to follow you today, I ask you would fill my heart with your love, open my mind to your purposes, and give me the courage to follow you again, today.
Read & Reflect
”…you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
“…you are no longer strangers and aliens.” Let’s sit with this for a minute. We could have either blown past it or it could have tripped us up. For many Christians, the idea of once being a stranger or an alien never even crosses our minds.
A “stranger” is not part of the family. An “alien” is not part of the community. Yet, Paul reminds us, we too were once “strangers and aliens.” What happened? What changed? How are we now “members of the household of God?”
In one word, Jesus.
“Christ brought us together through his death on the cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders. He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father.” (Ephesians 2:16-18)
Jesus is our righteousness. Jesus ends the hostility. Jesus is our peace. It’s through Jesus that we embrace one another as brothers and sisters. When we were once “strangers and aliens” we are now Christians bonded together in community because of Christ. Jesus changes everything.
According to the Apostle Paul, one primary purpose of Jesus’ work on the cross was for us to be united together in Christian community.
Journal and/or self-reflect:
- What are some images I associate with the words “stranger” and “alien”?
- How does it feel for me to identify myself with these terms?
- How does this passage change my view of myself and others?
- Why, according to Paul in Ephesians 2:16-22, does the blood of Christ make unity possible between strangers and aliens, outsiders and insiders?
- What are some practical ways in which I can be a peacemaker with those in my life group and the larger church community?
As we read Scripture, especially Paul’s letters to New Testament churches, we’ll often hear him address the community as “brothers and sisters” or “Beloved.” It is such a common phrase that we can easily take it for granted. Yet, we can never overemphasize the significance of both.
It’s not what we are as Christians, our spirituality or our faithfulness that is foundational for our community. What determines our relationship as siblings is whose we are in Christ. One is a brother or a sister to another only through Jesus Christ. We are siblings with one another because of what Jesus did for me and to me; you are my sister or my brother through what Jesus has done for you. Our relationship with one another is rooted solely in what Christ has done for both of us.
“I have community with others and I shall continue to have it only through Jesus Christ. The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer [iv]
Christian community is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we are invited to participate. Let’s yield to this invitation today.
As I return to the invitation to follow Jesus every day, and everywhere, with everyone, Holy Spirit, open my heart to yield to your call to participate in your family today. I recognize I am not entitled to be called your child or your Beloved because of my own righteousness or through anything I have done. You, Jesus are my righteousness and my reconciliation.
I ask that you renew my heart, my eyes, and my understanding to see my brothers and sisters as your “Beloved” and vital companions on my discipleship journey. I yield to your call to unite myself with those I once considered “strange and alien” just as you have united me with you. As one who is deeply loved by you, I yield my life to you once again. Today marks a new day in a lifelong journey of following you with my sisters and brothers. Amen.
Over this next week, we will memorize Ephesians 2:19 (NRSV) together. This passage will help frame the ongoing conversation throughout the week. To begin our practice, let’s write or text the following verses verbatim in a journal, notecard, on a post-it note, or make a note in your smart device:
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”
Over the following week, we will develop the spiritual practice or habit of ‘spiritual friendship’ that is core to a life of following Jesus.
After Jesus invited his disciples into vulnerable friendship with himself, he commissioned them in pairs (Luke 10:1-8). Faithful, courageous and vulnerable friendship lies at the very heart of the gospel. Following Jesus happens best together, two by two.
While we are most certainly responsible for our own growth in discipleship, we do not mature into the people God wants us to be without the gifts that real spiritual friendship provides. Moral support, spiritual encouragement, accountability and Christian care are absolutely essential for our faith to be kept strong and grow.
But, where do we find them? In the stress and craziness of our hectic lives, we seldom carve out time and space to share ourselves with one another. Even our life group can get so consumed with discovering what Scripture has to say that we forget to discover what God is doing in the person right next to us.
This lack of spiritual friendship is an example that this kind of friendship doesn’t just fall into our laps. It has to be intentional. It requires intentional prayer and faithful action.
As we seek to develop spiritual friendships, let’s each enter into intentional prayer asking God to develop in us a desire to know and be known by one another.