It’s remarkable how often the Bible describes the Christian life as a shared life. We become Christians through a personal commitment to Christ, then immediately bind ourselves in a corporate commitment to Christ’s people. There are so many biblical commands we can fulfill and examples we can imitate only if we are involved in one of these Christian communities we call “church.” The notion we can be friends to Christ but strangers to his church is completely foreign to scripture.
The call to community is a call to familiarity. If we are to love and serve others, we need to know them. In fact, ignorance is a kind of limiter or governor on our love. We can love others in precise and meaningful ways only to the degree that we know them. This is why we must commit to being present for worship services, to engaging in meaningful conversations, to extending hospitality, and to diligently asking that crucial question: How can I pray for you? It is in these ways we come to know others, to learn of their needs, and to understand how to address them in the most appropriate ways.
There is an unexpected benefit to this—our knowledge of others can lead to encouragement from others. Here’s one way this has worked itself out in my experience. Often on a Sunday I’ll find myself looking across the room, especially in those times we “teach and admonish one another” through song (see Colossians 3:16). As we sing a song of confession, I spot a friend who was once utterly convinced of his own righteousness but is now singing of his deep brokenness. It stirs me. I see a woman who has suffered a tremendous loss but is now singing, “It is well with my soul.” It moves me. I see a young man who has so often asked prayer for a besetting sin now singing of his newfound freedom. It’s glorious. I see a child—such a sweet child—who has only recently professed faith making that universal confession, “I once was lost in darkest night, yet thought I knew the way.” What could be more beautiful?
Though I love to worship with other congregations, there is something so stirring about worshipping where I know and am known. I have been with these people for many years, I’ve participated in hundreds of prayer meetings with them, I’ve invited them into my home and been invited into theirs, I’ve taught and been taught by them. I have a growing knowledge of who they are and of what they’ve gone through in life. All of this becomes part of the background, part of the context of our worship together.
Because I know the people, I know the deep significance of the words they sing. Because I know their stories, I know what a tremendous work God has had to do so they can truthfully and joyfully lift their voices in praise. It gets me every time.