Do you remember graduating from high school? For many of you, the video cameras were rolling, family was in attendance, and friends were there to congratulate you. With the level of pomp and circumstance that you enjoyed, the uninitiated might have thought you had found a cure for a disease. Instead, you had merely completed the basic academic expectations of all twelfth-graders across the United States. And yet, there was affirmation, encouragement, and celebration. This was likely not the first time you experienced such joy, and, it is hoped, it was not the last.
Imagine how such major life events (graduations, weddings, birth announcements, and so on) would be different without anyone to share them with you. They would still occur but would ring hollow and feel incomplete. Yet this is what it is like for many Christians as they navigate the Christian life with very few meaningful relationships. This does not necessarily mean they don’t attend a local church, read Christian books, or even have a commendable discipline of time in God’s Word and prayer. However, they largely do so without the ongoing relationships that God has for them in their local church.
From the beginning of time, God has created man to live in community with others. From Adam’s being provided a helper suitable for him, to Moses’ being given the partnership of Aaron, to Jesus’ choosing twelve disciples to live with and learn from Him during His earthly ministry, the movement has always been from the one to the many. Unfortunately, today’s Western mind prizes autonomy and values privacy, and this has greatly affected how many Christians think about their relationship with other Christians. They tragically misunderstand that the Christian life is personal but not private. Instead, Christians are drawn out of themselves and into a family of new siblings, all of whom have the same Father. They learn each other’s names, take on each other’s burdens, learn from each other’s lives, and encourage each other to excel still more for “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).
As a log burns hotter in a pile of other wood, the Christian knows greater joy in the tight community of the local church.
But don’t misunderstand. This sharing in community is not simply the path to obedience. This is the route to joy. Paul says to rejoice in Christ—the object of our joy. However, that fount supplies a river of joy that runs through the New Testament community. There is the joy of having others to imitate and emulate in the Christian life (Phil. 3:17). There is joy because of others’ expressing concern for you (4:10). There is joy in knowing that God has given others to console us in our affliction, not in sympathy but in empathy (2 Cor. 1:4). There is joy in knowing how your love for the Lord and obedience to His Word encourage others to do the same (1 Thess. 1:8–9). There is joy in knowing that you are a part of “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9).
Let me be clear. This is not an appeal to enter a personality contest in your local church or to watch others who are dispositionally happy people live out their Christianity in front of you. I am talking about something much more significant and rooted in the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ and His promised return (1 Thess. 1:10). The gospel is the source and fuel for our joy. As a log burns hotter in a pile of other wood, the Christian knows greater joy in the tight community of the local church. This joy comes through the mountain highs of rejoicing with those who rejoice and the valley lows of weeping with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). How? By seeing how God’s hand sustains His people, how His Word is proven true, and how the Holy Spirit turns people away from their own self-interests to the care and compassion of others in their local church family.
What about you? When you put down this issue of Tabletalk, where will you begin? What will you ask of our great God and King? I recommend that one place to start is to take one more step in the direction of your local church. Pick up the phone. Schedule a conversation. Loiter after the service on Sunday. Arrive early to a midweek Bible study. Begin to ask others what has encouraged them this past week. Ask others how you can pray for them in their walk with Christ. In all of this, appetizers of joy will slowly be introduced and the evidences of God’s grace will be seen.
Every Christian has one final graduation awaiting them. When your day comes, may the day be attended by your family in Christ who declare with confidence songs such as “It Is Well with My Soul,” which declares, “Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight.” On that day, everyone will know true joy.
Rev. Eric Bancroft is pastor of Grace Church in Miami.