Are you lonely even in a crowd? Even though we have smart phones, world-wide internet access and various social media platforms where we can interact and communicate with people, loneliness among Americans seems to get worse not better. What we’ve discovered is a social media “friend” doesn’t guarantee friendship. The General Social Survey found that the number of Americans with no close friends has tripled since 1985. “Zero” is the most common number of confidants, reported by almost a quarter of those surveyed. Likewise, the average number of people Americans feel they can talk to about “important matters” has fallen from three to two. Beyond that, we as Americans are not only lacking true friends but we lack community.
Sure, communities exist. At least in name. In fact, there are a diversity of communities formed by common bonds. There are communities based on neighborhoods, affinities, occupations and special interests to name a few. So, what is a community? Even though we often use the word community in connection to a particular neighborhood where we live or work, the physical location and the associated homes and businesses do not necessarily form a community. Instead, according to the dictionary, a community is a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. As Helen Keller alluded to in her statement, “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much,” genuine community brings synergy and vitality to a group of people who love one another and have common aspirations. Let me go back to the question I started with. I’ll ask the question in a slightly different way this time. Do you feel lonely even though you are part of a community?
In order to have true friendships that go to the level of fellowship and feel like we are part of a genuine community, we must belong, we must be mutually invested in the friendship or community and we must have a desire for the friendship or community to succeed. This desire must be coupled with contributing to its success. There is one such community in the Bible that should inspire us. This particular community is the first local church on record. It is described by Luke in the New Testament book of Acts.
AC 2:41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
What can we glean from this community? In other words, what are the important characteristics of this community?
- Devoted to God and spiritual growth (Bible study, relationships, worship and prayer)
- Experiencing the power of God at work
- Generously giving
- Selflessly meeting needs
- Regularly participating in corporate worship and prayer
- Investing in relationships at the level of fellowship (partner/companion)
- Abiding interdependence among the people
- Attitude of praise and thanksgiving
- Impacting and having favor among the larger surrounding community
- Experiencing spiritual awakening (salvations) in the larger surrounding community
How about you? How would you describe your relationships with friends and your church community? Could your relationships and church community be described using the characteristics listed above? Let’s be straight. All in all, there are people we call friends but are mere acquaintances. There are also communities that we join but we don’t really contribute to its success. So then, as it depends on you, are you making the necessary effort to help your friendships and local church community thrive and succeed? Now. Now. Stop pointing fingers. Remember, as it depends on you!
Okay, maybe you don’t know how to get started. Here is a good list that will help you cultivate the characteristics listed above.
1) Love one another
JN 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
2) Care for one another
1 CO 12:25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
3) Bear one another’s burdens
GA 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.
4) Forgive one another
EPH 4:31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
5) Seek to do good to one another
1 TH 5:14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.
Let me ask you again. Are you lonely? Well there is good news. You don’t have to be. Jesus laid the groundwork for our fellowship with Him and His bride, the local church. In the bonds of Christ, you can develop genuine friendships and belong to the community of all communities, the local church. Well maybe it’s time to put away your electronic devices and participate in the mutual interdependence of a small group and a local church community. Just maybe?
A Work in Progress,