I’ll never forget my first day of tenth grade. I was starting at a new school after moving from another state. It was a day of loneliness and disconnection for me as I walked the halls alone, sat at lunch alone, and rode the bus sitting in a seat by myself. It hurts to be disconnected and outside of community.
Many of us in the church live like this every day. We’d think that this sort of disconnection wouldn’t happen in church, but it does. We try to have fellowship in the church. We have potlucks, picnics, and parties with fellow Christians. But have you ever felt frustrated by a lack of genuine interaction with fellow Christians? Do you feel like there could be something more?
How can we have Christian community as God intends it? How can we have fellowship where genuine connection really takes place?
Early Christians also knew about problems with genuine community and real fellowship. The Apostle Paul wrote in
Paul writes in
It’s not a surprise to most of us that even Christians get caught in sin. For instance, a single young man might find himself addicted to pornography. A recently divorced young mother might turn to alcohol to numb the pain. A lonely middle-aged woman might find herself stuck in the pattern of gossip.
Paul says that in true Christian community the spiritually mature will gently restore those who are caught in sin. To restore means brining something back to its intended condition. The Greek word used for restore is also used for setting a broken bone or joint or mending fishing nets. A person who is restored is freed from their sin. The sin is stopped, and the person is led back to healthy patterns of living.
This restoration is to be done gently. You don’t haphazardly set a broken bone or untangle a knotted fishing net. In the same way, you don’t deal roughly with a person’s broken life.
Paul adds a word of warning. The one restoring must watch out for temptation. When we are restoring someone from sin, we must take care not to enter into the sin ourselves. How would a person working in restoration be tempted? We may be tempted to think of sin as normal, or we may feel resentment for past wrongs rise in ourselves when helping else someone forgive.
Lassie is a good example of how we should restore people from sin. Lassie was the name of Collie on the black and white TV show Lassie that was produced in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Lassie was always watching out for people caught in trouble, and the little boy on the show, Timmy, was always getting into trouble. In one episode, Timmy gets trapped in a mine and Lassie brings help. In another episode, Timmy thinks he is eating huckleberries but he actually eating poisonous nightshade berries. He passes out, and Lassie comes to the rescue. We must be ready to rescue people from sin as Lassie was always ready to rescue Timmy.
We should also be careful to restore people as gently as Lassie does. She didn’t bite Timmy after rescuing him for the 100th time. She joyfully protected him and was never rough with Timmy.
We’ve seen one way that we can live in true Christian community. In Christian community, we restore each other from sin. In
Just as Christians aren’t immune from sin, neither are Christians immune from burdens. The burden described in
It is God’s will that our fellow believers would help us shoulder the burdens. We help another with a burden when we help someone in debt set up a personal budget. We participate in burden carrying when we pray with someone feeling far from God or offer babysitting to a tired couple.
As we carry each other’s burdens, we fulfill Christ’s law of love. This law of love is spelled out by Jesus in
Since Christ loves us, we are to love others by carrying their burdens.
In the process of burden carrying, we must be careful not to think that we are too important to help someone. We can be tempted not to bear the burdens of others because we think we are above it. We might think we’re too busy or that others will take care of it. As Paul says in
We need to carry each other’s burdens like a llama. Llamas are pack animals. They are especially suited for carrying burdens. People have used them to carry burdens in the Andes Mountains of South America for the last 4000 years. They can carry as much as 200 pounds for 12 hours a day. We need to be like a llama and help carry the oppressive burdens of others.
We’ve now seen two ways in which we can build genuine Christian community. We restore people from sin like Lassie, and we carry each other’s oppressive burdens like a llama. In
In the midst of burden carrying and restoring from sin, we can begin to feel pretty good about ourselves as we look at others. When we compare ourselves to others, we are using them for our benefit. We don’t evaluate our spirituality by comparing our sins to those of others. We don’t compare our burdens to those of other people.
We must find satisfaction by evaluating ourselves according to God’s standards. We compare ourselves to God’s word. We ask ourselves whether we are following God’s will for our lives.
This practice of refusing to use others for comparison makes sense since we are responsible to answer to God for ourselves and not for others. The word for “load” here is different from the “burden” described in
A leech only uses others for its own benefit. A leech is a bloodsucking worm that can be found in ponds and lakes. As the leech sticks to a person, it gorges itself on their blood until it has had its fill and then falls off. A leech only uses others for its own benefit. As we use others for our own benefit through comparison, we treat each other as a leech would. In Christian community, we refuse to use others for our own benefit like a leech.
So, now we’ve seen a picture of genuine Christian community as God intends it. In Christian community, we restore each other from sin like Lassie, we help each other with burdens like a llama, and we refuse to use others for our own benefit like a leech.
Mark Debowski is Associate Teaching Pastor at Center Point Community Church in Naples, FL.