Community is one of the basic needs for humanity that we often overlook in a culture of individualism and seclusion. While social media in recent years seems to make us feel more interconnected it may just be deceiving us further in believing we are more connected in community than we really are. Don't get me wrong, I am a fan of social media to an extent and believe that it is a better community forum than no community at all, but it can never live up to the real thing, personal interaction. Community is that network of relationships that is centered around something that you have in common. It could be shared ideas, attitudes, interest, goals or location of residence. So community can be your household, your neighborhood, work place, hobby group, sports team or church. We are actually a part of multiple communities at any given time. I would like to look at why community in the church should be a priority for all believers. Let's take a brief look at Ephesians 2:17-22.
To get the most out of this text we must remember the context of the early church. There is great diversity among the individuals that make up the early church. The diversity includes differences in social classes, ethnic and culture groups, formerly religious and formerly pagan among many other distinctions that made this group that is called together by God so unique. These differences could easily lead to conflict in the church or in any community. God was calling out people from all different backgrounds and cultures, both those "near" and "faraway" to form the church. Many refer to America as a melting pot because of our diversity, however in more recent years we have had diversity without the melting! The church is designed for us to be "melted together." It truly is the grace of God that takes people who are so different and puts them together. Salvation in Christ is the foundation for our community. The common ground is Jesus, it is the gospel. Too often a church will base community on other factors that limit the participants in being a part of the community. This does not permit those that are both "far" and "near" to be gathered together. By "far" and "near" in our text, Paul refers to both the Jewish privilege that had them in the shadow of God's redemptive plan and the Gentiles who were far off. He draws them both together in the church. We often base community on social preferences, traditions, race or other factors that are not the gospel. When our foundation of community is solely based on our salvation we can permit diversity in these lesser areas. Paul encourages the church to not look at believers as "strangers" or "foreigners." We now are brought into close proximity with those who formerly we had no reason for association or community. We now share together in being citizens of the saints and even more intimately are called members of the same household!
Just like any building plan, if we only get to pouring the foundation we have not advanced very far in the project. God reveals His plan in the saving of diverse people in the following verses. Being built together in Christ is the purpose of our community. Remember that the foundation is Christ, He is the chief cornerstone in verse 20. The next verse reads "in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord." Here we begin to see God's plan in redemption and salvation in Christ. Upon the foundation of our salvation He desires to construct a glorious church. He is fitting each of us together who would not fit together otherwise. What is the purpose? This forming of a new, unique community creates an atmosphere where we can grow in holiness and experience God's presence together. Verse 22 reads "in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit." If the church can be a place where both those "near" and "faraway" are welcomed in through salvation in Christ, no matter how diverse or how different, then the Spirit of God does His amazing work of fitting each different piece together to the glory of God and to the growth of holiness in His people. God looks down at what has been constructed and says, now that is a place that I can dwell! The world from the outside looks in with amazement and wonders what could it be that allows people so diverse and so different to unite together in this intimate community called the Church? Then it will be our privilege to point to the salvation in Christ that unites us together as members of the household of God!