Community is good for us. After all, people were designed to live together. Community is a place where we can move and grow together. People have attachment to places and things, but the interactions with other people are what make the places special. It is the people who give us things that make everything special.
I. WHAT MAKES THE CHURCH COMMUNITY SPECIAL?
You can find community anywhere people regularly get together: You will find a community in coffee shops if you show up every day at the same time. You can go to a Pilates class and find a community. You can find a community in school, centered around your shared experiences in class.
Arguments and disagreements with others in your community will happen. In most communities, relationships are broken when disagreements happen—no matter how the conflict was resolved. This is because even when the issue is resolved, the heart is not transformed.
Change can happen. In the coffee shop, you can be changed—typically, to be more wired and caffeinated. In the Pilates class, you are changed to be more physically fit and flexible. In school, your mind is elevated and your perspectives are changed. Yet, there is no element of transformation.
The church community is different. The church is a forum where you can interact and commune with others—those who think like you as well as those who think differently. The church is designed so that both you and the person who disagrees with you will grow into a better understanding of God. You help them learn, they help you learn, and together you help each other live out God’s ideal in this world. Paul describes it best: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:1–6, emphasis added).
In modern language, we could say, “Hey, be humble, gentle, and patient. People think differently than you do. Have patience with them, and remember we all serve the same God. We’re on the same team.”
In the community of God, there are arguments and issues. Arguments happen because people are sinful. Paul makes it clear the church is not different because it is not a perfect community. It is different in the way it handles the arguments and results of human sin. The church community is designed to be a space in which you can disagree with others around you and still be accepted as someone representing the image of God.
II. THE CORE OF HUMAN IDENTITY
The image of God is the core of human identity. In Genesis, during the creation of human beings, God says He will make humanity in His image, as a reflection of God. The beauty of the image of God is that it is a transformative concept.
The idea is captured by the phrase, “The apple of my eye.” Think about a relationship: You are on a date with your significant other. The moon is bright, the night air is crisp, and you are overwhelmed with emotion. You look into the eyes of your significant other and you passionately say, “You’re the apple of my eye.” You are saying that you love your significant other more than anything else you see. He or she is the most precious thing in the world.
It comes from the Bible. Deuteronomy 32:10 describes God choosing the nation of Israel, and reveals His view of humanity: “In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye.” The phrase “apple of my eye” can be translated better. In essence it should read, “You are the little man or woman of my eye.”
Have you ever looked into someone’s eyes? If you look closely, you see a small reflection of yourself in their pupil. The reflection is faint, but it is clear you can see a form or image of yourself. When God looks at us, He sees a reflection of Himself. We have value and worth because of our relation to Him. Thus, when we look at other people we should see God’s reflection in them. Because these people reflect God, we have a duty to treat them as reflections of God.
This is what separates God’s people from any other community. God’s people look at those around them and see reflections of Him. God’s people have a responsibility to treat these people as if they were interacting with God Himself.
Jesus tells us this. John 13:35 tells us people will recognize we are different by our love for each other. The only way we will love each other is if we begin to recognize that our value is not in what we do: My value is not in my beliefs, and my neighbor’s value is not in how polite or rude he or she is to me. Your value, my value, and the neighbor’s value come from being made in the image of God.
Someone reading this is thinking, “But the church doesn’t act like that!” There come times in life when you will be disappointed and mistreated by God’s people. Questions of ordination and compliance in the church have caused arguments that cause some to feel wronged by the church. While I don’t know the eventual outcome to these conflicts, I do know how God wants His people and the corporate church to respond.
III. GOD’S PLAN FOR THIS COMMUNITY
Ephesians 4:17–24, 29–32 describes God’s desired response to others with whom we are in conflict. It also describes the need for our own regenerative transformation through continual contact with God.
What is different about God’s church is that we, as a corporate body and as individuals, acknowledge we are part of the problem. Yet we are looking to become part of the solution. We recognize that we have not treated one another with the love, respect, and dignity that we should have. We recognize that we have not seen the image of God in one another. We recognize that we have harbored hatred and anger toward one another and those outside the church. In this, we ask for forgiveness. Further, we commit to being a church that allows God to transform our hearts so we can be a community that looks for God’s image in other people.
Prescott Khair is a pastor in the Bowling Green and Glasgow Seventh-day Adventist Churches in Kentucky, USA.