“…they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (2 Cor. 8:5).
Devotion to God manifests itself in devotion to God’s people – aka, a local church community.
One thing I have found to be true in American churches is that we often love the idea of community more than we love actual community. And the reason is that we live in a fantasy world where community isn’t costly. Devotion to God manifests in devotion to people, and devotion always requires sacrifice.
Below is a list of 8 sacrifices that biblical community always requires:
1) A sacrifice of money – the context for these Macedonian churches was that they “gave themselves” to God and His people WITH extravagantly generous financial sacrifices. Jesus says that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. If we aren’t giving our money to a spiritual community, we aren’t giving our heart either.
2) A sacrifice of time – High School and College are nothing like real life. Community did not require (much) sacrifice in those days because you naturally saw your friends every day. Marriage, children, and careers drastically change that. If your ‘best friend’ is a college buddy from 1984 who since moved to Mumbai, then you’ve been out of community since 1984. It’s time to invest in community with a sacrifice of time.
3) A sacrifice of preferences – Friends are not the sort of thing you can ‘pencil in’, because friends are not ‘things’ at all. They are people with their own wills and schedules and preferences. If you’re the sort of person who says, “I’d love to hang out on May 16, 2019 from 11:45 to 12:30,” good luck with that. Friendship requires us to flex our preferred schedules and activities.
4) A sacrifice of independence – The Proverbs inform us that wise people don’t make decisions in isolation; they invite others to speak in to life’s biggest decisions, such as: Will I take this job or that one? Will I live here or there? How should I educate my children? Where should I go to church? Whom should I marry? If you make all these decisions without weighing carefully the advice of pastors and peers, you are not in community. This is not to say that our decisions should depend on other people, but neither should our decisions be independent. Community requires a healthy interdependence of decision-making. The sacrifice is opening ourselves up to counsel we sometimes don't want to hear.
5) A sacrifice of security – Every new level of intimacy requires a new level of sacrifice. Think about the first time you told a spouse or a friend ‘everything’. You felt vulnerable, not secure, at least at first. But if the person was trustworthy, you soon felt joy. The joy of intimacy always requires the sacrifice of security.
6) A sacrifice of peace – The closer you are to other people, the more conflict you will have. This is why I often fight with my wife, but I’ve never fought with someone who lives in Norway. If you never fight with your spouse, your friends, or your church family, then your relationships are unhealthy and distant. Deep relationships require a sacrifice of superficial peace, but the outcome is a deeper peace and spiritual health.
7) A sacrifice of ambition – The opposite of personal ambition is sacrificial service. Ambition exalts one’s self, but service exalts others. A necessary part of community is service. Do you serve your friends and community with sweat and tears? Our closest friends are those with whom we share a common mission.
8) A sacrifice of comfort – In every community there are difficult people, and it would be comfortable to never have to deal with them. But did you know that one of God’s greatest instruments for sanctification is difficult people? Look at the Scripture: How did God purify the deception out of Jacob? By forcing him to work for a deceiver named Laban. God used difficult people to sanctify Joseph, Moses, David, and many others. Rather than avoiding difficult people, we should embrace what God’s teaching us through them in the context of community.
There's no such thing as community without cost, but the good news is that there's also no such thing as deep and lasting joy without community.