do your best to come to me soon. for demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to thessalonica. crescens has gone to galatia, titus to dalmatia. luke alone is with me. get mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. tychicus i have sent to ephesus. when you come, bring the cloak that i left with carpus at troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. at my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. may it not be charged against them! but the Lord stood by me and strengthened me…[2 timothy 4:9–17a]
scripture is full of passages, stories, and commands that show the benefits and need for community and even warn against isolation. we are called to bear each others burdens, love one another, encourage each other, and so on. so clearly community is a designed gift from the Lord – a good thing.
bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. [galatians 6:2]
by this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. [1 john 3:16]
and they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. and awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. and all who believed were together and had all things in common. and they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. and day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. and the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. [acts 2:42–47]
with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. [ephesians 4:2–3]
and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near. [hebrews 10:24–25]
let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. [philippians 2:4]
whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. [proverbs 18:1]
but there are clear times when believers are not surrounded by community as we normally might be. to some extent, we’ve all experienced that in varying degrees over the last five months of the global pandemic. i think about our missionaries in the philippines that live on an island absent of other believers, risking their lives if they talk about Jesus at all. in this passage, paul says he has been abandoned or sent out just about everyone around him. he points to the Lord being the one that is with him even in the midst of (perceived) aloneness. the presence of God is paul’s (and our) hope and sustenance no matter what.
so then am i supposed to abandon all other sources of community except God? just me and my bible? no church, no lot family, no accountability? no support? clearly not since scripture commands us to pursue community.
am i truly forsaken if i am a missionary on an island where i am the only believer? am i supposed to find my value and meaning from the community around me and apart from that community i have nothing? again, clearly not since paul points to the Lord as his support and strength when alone.
so how can sole reliance on the Lord and need for community coexist? the missing link, i think, is the purpose of community. community exists to point us to Christ as our hope. community drives us towards the presence of God because it demonstrates the very character of God to us. it is the place we are able to point others to Jesus. but when community becomes the thing we can’t live without, the end goal, then it has become an idol. at the same time, when we say we can find no benefit from community then we declare ourselves self-righteous.
the question to wrestle with is, “do i pursue community that pushes me towards God’s presence?” if the answer, for whatever reason, is no, i encourage you to evaluate why, and bring that before the Lord, lay it down, repent, and be reminded of his mercy towards you. thank God for community that points you to Jesus as your hope – knowing that he stands with you and strengthens you.
~ keith kozlowski