Humans are social beings. We are not meant to be alone (and we know it).
Our lives depend on others from beginning to end. We are designed to flourish in community.
But human relationships are the cause of some of our deepest problems. Living peacefully with one another is often a perplexing, painful and costly project. Although we still find that it’s not good to be alone, it’s complicated, difficult and sometimes dangerous to be together.
God’s answer for our social and community needs is the Church. The work of Christ on earth cannot be thought of apart from the Church. He’s the one who said, “I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18).
Those who are deeply concerned about transformation must apply their thoughts and concerns to the Church. The Church (as God’s new community) is not merely an organization but an organism. In some ontologically organic way, each believer (upon faith in Christ) is immersed into a living community or body of believers to form God’s new society.
Each local Church is made up of people who have experienced and are experiencing ontological transformation — though outwardly perishing, yet inwardly being renewed day by day — with a shared teleological vision — “we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).
Should these communities (local Churches) be exemplars of the kind of ideal toward which human flourishing happens at its best? Sound a little too idealistic?
This side of God’s new world (Revelation 21:1-5), there will not be any utopian experience of community. Each Church member has to “work hard to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). This is because, as believers, our ontological change is not subtraction of the flesh but addition of the Spirit. Therefore we are told to “walk by the Spirit” if we desire to “not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
In some way, the Spirit breaks the power/mastery of sin over us. Yet the conflict remains— “For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other” (Galatians 5.16-17).
In Galatians 5:15-16, there is an interesting connection between community life or relationships (at their worse) and walking by the Spirit as the solution. “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not…”
A direct connection is made in these verses between protecting relationships from destruction (bite, devour, destroy: metaphors from the animal kingdom) and the role of the Holy Spirit. To avoid destructive relationship, we must,
- v.16 – walk by the Spirit;
- v.18 – be led by the Spirit;
- v.25a – live by the Spirit;
- v. 25b – keep in step with the Spirit
Galatians 5:16 says, “so I say”, (or ςέ “but I say”). Here is my advice.” Or, “Here is the remedy for the situation described in v. 15.” (Phillips). To protect Christian community (relationships) from destruction, each member must “live or walk by the Spirit.”
What kind of community is possible (or should be expected) when believers are immersed by one Spirit into life together?
Individual and community life of this kind (from Christian marriages, to families, to local Churches) among those who are walking by the Spirit (being filled by the Spirit) will be distinguished by pervasive practice of the fruit of the Spirit
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” Against these qualities no law is needed” (Galatians 5:22-23).
Imagine relationships or communities where these qualities are evident. Never forget that each one of these qualities is also a command in the NT. This reminds us that we are not passive recipients of the activity of God in our lives or in our communities. Unworthy recipients? Yes. But not passive recipients (see: Philippians 2:12-13).