In Christian circles we tend to toss around the phrase “biblical community” pretty frequently, but we don’t always think about what it truly means, let alone communicate it well to new believers. “Biblical community” likely means different things to different people, but at its core, it’s living together with fellow Christians in a way that exhibits the qualities the Bible calls us to have.
Much of the New Testament is made up of letters written by Paul to members of the early church, encouraging them and challenging them to live in a way that reflects Jesus. Their lives were very communal back then, so it was especially important for them to be able to work out differences, encourage one another, hold each other accountable and maintain strong relationships. The strength of their community not only affected themselves; they were also the representation of Christ to the rest of the world. Their ability to be a strong, cohesive unit was crucial to their witness and spreading the Gospel. And they were in the minority, often despised and persecuted. They had to support one another; they had no one else.
The context of Paul’s letters gives them unique insight into the practice of biblical community.
Characteristics of Biblical Community
There are several recurring themes Paul encourages readers to have as brothers and sisters in Christ:
Luke describes some of the early Christians in Acts 2 as having “all things in common,” and that they “were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” These individuals didn’t hoard their possessions in an attempt to provide for themselves. They provided for each other instead. Romans 12:13 also encourages believers to “contribute to the needs of the saints.” Scripture of course challenges us to be generous to those in need, but it also calls us to be generous with one another.
The Bible calls us to have empathy for one another — to feel what others feel. We are called to “weep with those who weep” and “rejoice with those who rejoice” in Romans 12. We are also called to “bear one another’s burdens” in Galatians 6, and to have “compassionate hearts” in Colossians 3. Part of loving people well is walking alongside them even when hard times come, praying with them and providing support every step of the way. Empathy also means we seek to understand others’ points of view. We put aside our own perspective to enter into theirs, listening before we speak and pursuing compassion for their experiences, even if they don’t match our own.
Scripture also talks a lot about humility. It’s easy to get caught up in what we think is right or what someone else should be doing without examining the sin in our own hearts. You may have heard references to the passage in Luke in which Jesus condemns the hypocrisy of pride: “41 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” To live in biblical community, we cannot have an attitude of pride toward one another. God calls us to have a “humble mind” in 1 Peter 3, and he also notes humility as a quality we should put on as God’s holy and beloved people in Colossians 3. Throughout Scripture we can see that God abhors pride. It drives a wedge between God and us; we start believing we know better than God, which is a dangerous place to be. When we try to do things on our own or according to our own set of rules or expectations, things begin to go sideways quickly. But having a right view of ourselves in light of who God is will cultivate humility in our hearts and help us love each other well.
As Christians we are called to live in unity. That doesn’t mean we’ll always get along or share every individual opinion, but we are called to stand firm together as believers. We share the same core beliefs and the same goal of spreading the Gospel. We are to work together and live in harmony wherever possible. The members of the early church must have squabbled and disagreed as much as we do in today’s world, because Paul’s letters in particular talk a lot about living in harmony. Romans 12 says to “live in harmony with one another” and “if possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” He goes on to say in Romans 15, “ May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This verse also implies that as sinful people, it’s not an easy task. We have to ask God for guidance and the help of his Holy Spirit to live in harmony with fellow believers. Perhaps that means letting go of an inconsequential argument or conceding a preference. As long as it doesn’t violate the core beliefs we hold as Christians, we can work together to live in harmony.
Part of living in harmony is forgiving one another. As Christ forgave us, we are called to forgive one another. That includes our enemies, as Scripture says, but that also includes our fellow Christians. Sometimes, that can be even more difficult. We will all sin against one another at some point. The most important thing is to humbly ask forgiveness when we wrong someone, and forgive others when they wrong us. Colossians 3 says we should be bearing with one another and, “if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
In biblical community, there also must be a sense of accountability. This is unique to biblical community, because we are all held to the same shared beliefs, and we all represent the same God. As believers we are not asked to hold nonbelievers accountable to Christian standards, but at times, we do have to confront our fellow believers. If someone wrongs us, Scripture says we should confront one another in private rather than publicly admonishing each other (James 5:16). Accountability might also look like confronting someone (with whom you have a close relationship) for a continued sin pattern, even if it does not directly affect you personally. Galatians 6 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” It’s important to remember the specifics of these words: when we hold someone accountable, we have to do so with humility and compassion, remembering that we, too, are sinners. Accountability also means holding ourselves accountable by confessing our sins to one another.
Hospitality and inclusivity
Many times in Scripture, we are called to be hospitable to others and welcome people in, particularly fellow believers. Inclusivity and hospitality go hand-in-hand with unity. We may disagree at times, and we may come from different backgrounds, but we have to remember our common bond as brothers and sisters in Christ. This means valuing one another’s experiences, even if they vary from our own. This hospitality should also extend to people outside the family of God. We are called to welcome strangers, not because of their own merit, but because of who we are as children of God. We show love and grace to others because of the love and grace He showed us first. Hebrews 13 reminds us of this when Paul writes, “let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
Above all, biblical community centers around love. The Word says love binds all of these other qualities together “in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14). Love is a commitment to one other that means we choose to serve each other with qualities like patience and kindness. We are not rude or envious of one another. We do not insist on our own way. We are not easily angered and we do not keep records of wrongs. (1 Cor. 13) If we trust in the Holy Spirit to guide us, we can show this kind of love to each other in biblical community.
One of the ways we live this out as a church family at Abundant Life is through GROUPS. These small communities of people move through life side-by-side, on mission for Christ together. Some GROUPS are topical in nature and others are based on stage of life; some are on-site on Sunday mornings and some are off-site during the week. No matter how you choose to get involved, plugging in with a GROUP is a great way to go deeper in your faith and connect with other believers.
If you’d like to learn more about what biblical community looks like or how Abundant Life puts this value into practice, please email Pastor Mark McGaughey at [email protected] We’d love to talk to you more about how we do biblical community at Abundant Life Church and how you can get involved.