In the Midst of a Loneliness Epidemic, We Must Seek Christian Community
By Ed Jarrett, Crosswalk.com
How many people are in your life that you would consider as close friends? According to a recent survey, in the United States this number has declined dramatically in the past thirty years. In 1990, 27% of adults reported having three or fewer friends, while 33% had ten or more. In 2021 those numbers had changed to 49% and 13%. Another source identifies this as an epidemic of loneliness. And this problem is especially acute among men, who, on average, have fewer close friends than women.
This decline in friendships has many potential causes, including the recent pandemic, that are beyond the scope of this article. But I would like to look at what the Scripture tells us about friendships and the need to be living in a community of like-minded believers, and what we might do to foster that kind of nurturing environment.
But First, a Confession
Lest anyone think that I am any kind of expert on making and developing friends, I think it is important to point out that I am among those with very few friends that I would call close. And this has been true all my life. I am at the extreme introvert end of the introvert/extrovert scale, and am very comfortable being alone. I actually welcomed the social distancing introduced by the COVID pandemic because it gave me more of an excuse to hang out with just my wife, who also happens to be my best friend.
Yet even though there is a big part of me that would be content to hide out in my basement or the mountains for the rest of my life, I do understand all too well the danger inherent in that. God has not called me to be a lone ranger. Instead, I am expected to be an intimate part of a community of believers, both for my own benefit and that of the overall body of believers. So, what I write here is as much out of my own desire to experience this as it is to share with others.
Made to Be in Community
According to the second chapter of Genesis, God created Adam and put him into the garden of God. It was a perfect environment with a fulfilling occupation. But something was missing; Adam was alone. And God saw that as not good. So, he paraded a series of animals before Adam for him to name, looking for a companion. But none was found. So, God made Eve and brought her to Adam. Problem solved. He was no longer alone. And it was good.
Whether or not you understand this to be a literal account is not important to the truth that it gives us. It is not good for us to live in isolation from other people. Two chapters later, after Cain killed his brother, he was driven out from home and family to become a restless wanderer, an outcast. And being cast out as a lonely wanderer was almost more than Cain could bear.
Being connected to other people is important for our well-being. But even more important is the connection we should have together as believers in the Lord Jesus.
Members of One Body
In John 17:20-23, Jesus prayed that we would be one, just as he and the Father are one – that we would be brought to complete unity. Experiencing the unity of the Trinity is beyond our ability. But Jesus’ words do illustrate his desire for us. That as his disciples, we would be united in heart, mind, and purpose, with one Spirit and one love.
The church, in its earliest days, seemed to experience this unity. In Acts 2:42, we are told that “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” They devoted themselves to koinonia, the Greek word translated as “fellowship” in this passage. Koinonia describes a close association between people, often based on what is common between them. They were drawn together because of their common faith in the Lord Jesus.
The twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians is an extensive illustration of the church as a body – a body that is made up of many members, each equipped by the Holy Spirit to serve the body, and each essential for the proper functioning of the body.
The Personal Benefit of Belonging
A question that many may ask is, “What’s in it for me?” And it is a valid question. What value is there for me in being a part of an active community of believers? Assuming you have the desire to be growing in your faith, there is much value in finding a community of believers where you can sink down roots and grow.
In Colossians 2:2, Paul expressed his goal for the churches that he worked among. He wanted them to be “united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ.” For Paul, being united in love within the body is essential if you want to be able to fully understand the mystery of God. It is through the church that “the manifold wisdom of God” is revealed (Eph. 3:10). And I can understand that best by being a part of it.
Ecclesiastes 8:9-10 tells us that two are better than one; their work is more productive. And if one falls, there is someone to pick them up. Having other believers in your life can be of great value to you when you become discouraged or are facing doubts. Having close friends who share your faith helps to ensure your success on this journey of faith we are on.
Hebrews 10:25 tells us to “not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.” When we meet together, we have the ability to be an encouragement to those around us, as well as to be encouraged by them. Encouragement can help when I become discouraged, but it also can be a motivation to progress in the faith, growing deeper in my relationship with the Lord and in obedience to him.
While accountability in the workplace is expected and generally accepted, it is much more challenging in peer relationships. But it is an important aspect of living and growing together. If I am accountable to other people, I am much more likely to be doing what I should. Accountability can also include confession when we have fallen short. James 5:15 instructs us to confess our sins so that we can be prayed for and healed. We need not confess our sin to everyone, unless our sin has impacted everyone. But we should have those we can confess to whom we know will love us and pray for us. And, in doing so, bring healing.
The Value to the Community
While being a part of a community of believers is clearly advantageous to me, it is also necessary for the health of the body of believers. God has not called us to be lone-ranger Christians. Instead, he has called us to be an active part of his church. In 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul tells us that we were all baptized into the body of Christ. None of us are independent of the body. And, as the body is beneficial to us, so we are beneficial to it.
1 Corinthians 12:7 tells us that the Spirit has gifted each of us for the common good of the body. Every believer is gifted by the Holy Spirit, and that gifting is for the benefit of the body. If I fail to utilize my gifting within the life of the body, I am handicapping the body.
In Ephesians 4:16, Paul tells us that the body “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” It is only as each of us is faithful to be that part of the body that we have been equipped to be that the body will be able to reach its potential. When I fail to do that, I hurt myself as well as the body that I should be serving.
Choose to Belong
As believers in the Lord Jesus, we are a part of the universal body of Christ. But we should also be gathering with other believers in a local community of faith – a place where we can serve God alongside other believers, as well as encourage and be encouraged during the faith journey we are on.
But that does not just happen. We need to commit ourselves to be a part of a local body. Not just to attend worship services, but to be an active participant in the life of the body. Loving and being loved. Contributing to the health of the body. And allowing the fellowship of the body to enrich your own life.
There are indeed some valid reasons why you may be unable to be active in the life of a local body. But if it is possible, make every effort to find a body where you can belong, grow, and contribute.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/sgolan20
Ed Jarrett is a long-time follower of Jesus and a member of Sylvan Way Baptist Church. He has been a Bible teacher for over 40 years and regularly blogs at A Clay Jar. You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Ed is married, the father of two, and grandfather of three. He is retired and currently enjoys his gardens and backpacking.