Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel. - Vs 27
I don't think I ever really noticed how many of Paul's admonitions in his letters were not for the individual believers, but for the body – the community of believers. Somehow, in Western Christianity, we have turned all of this into a solo-sport. It is all about my walk, my relationship with Christ, my quiet time, my sanctification. And while there is not doubt that there is an individualized aspect to spiritual growth, God intended it to take place in the context of community. I cannot and should not to grow alone or in isolation. I should not attempt to live my life in Christ alone.
In fact, my disconnectedness and individualism can actually harm or prevent the kind of community God intended and Paul encourages. Listen to what Paul says. "Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ." This is a team endeavor. It is our living out our lives together, in community, that truly reveals the power of the gospel among us and the to the world around us. The fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5 are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fruitfulness, gentleness, and self control. Every one of these is meant to be lived out in community. How else will we know if we have them? I can't exhibit love if there is no one to love. I can't show kindness without having someone to receive it. I can't practice self-control if there is no one to put it to the test. All of these fruits are for the benefit of others, not me.
Paul is concerned about their mutual or shared conduct. It is the body of Christ for which he is concerned. He wants them to stand firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel. He knows that our ability to love one another in the power of the Spirit is what will attract a lost and dying world to the gospel. It is the unity we exhibit, in spite of all our differences and flaws, that marks us as Children of God. "Spirit formation is a very public, corporate exercise. Unlike diet or and exercise program, God's program for getting us into spiritual shape requires our working out alongside others" (Darrell Bock, New Testament Community and Spiritual Formation). Community. It's an over-used, misunderstood word today. I live in a "community," but I barely know my neighbors. I can join a "community" group, (small group) and never really get to know the other members beyond a shallow, surface lever. I can become part of a "community" of believers and live out my life in isolation and hiddenness, refusing to open up, reach out, join in, lift up, and grow up together. Instead, we tend to cover up, and attempt to live out our faith refusing to let anyone really get to know the real us. But that's NOT biblical community. What Paul describes is so much more and so much more fulfilling. It is doing life together with other believers – sharing, caring, failing, falling, loving, lifting, rejoicing, crying, and growing more like Christ together.
Father, may I really learn to love true, blblical community. Forgive me for my stubborn isolation and independence. For wanting to live my Christian life on my own and for me alone. Thank You for the body – Your body. May I learn to love it and see myself as an integral part of it. Amen