Tag Archive | community

Gospel Friendships

In the army there is a thing called a “battle buddy,” or at least at Basic Combat Training, there is. A “battle buddy” is someone that is always around you; someone you’re always helping and receiving help from.

At Basic Training you do everything with your battle buddy, and if you don’t you get in trouble. You do pushups together, you make sure your uniform is right, you… do everything together. My first battle body could do like 170 pushups in two minutes, he was a beast. He did MMA previously. However, there was still stuff he needed help with. And there was certainly a lot he could teach me.

We all need a “battle buddy.” They drill this into new recruits heads because you can’t fight a war on your own. You have to have people cover your back. You have to have people around to help you. And this is no less the case when it comes to our lives. We have an enemy that is out to get us. We need gospel friendships to help us in the fight.

There are a lot of things that we can rally around. People can become friends because they like Pokémon or for any number of reasons. We could become friends because…

There is something that makes us friends that goes beyond hanging out and beyond Pokémon. So, what makes us friends ultimately?

The Gospel Makes Us Friends

Paul [with Timothy] writes “to all the saints in Christ Jesus…” (Phil. 1:1). Paul is writing to “the saints” and they are the ones who are his friends. The gospel makes us saints and gives us friendships that Pokémon, sports, and where we live cannot. What does it mean to be saints?

Saint means “holy one.” So how can you be a saint, a holy one, set apart from sin? Are you holy by yourself? No! We are sinful by ourselves. Left to ourselves, we are stuck in sin. We do not receive grace from God; we receive punishment. We do not receive peace from God; we receive war and wrath. Look at the verse, it says “saints in Christ Jesus.” It doesn’t say, “We’re saints in ourselves.”

We are made saints, holy, and receive peace with God through placing our faith in Jesus. Jesus was holy and never did anything wrong and yet He died in our place. The gospel is the “great exchange”: Jesus takes our sin upon Himself and dies the death we deserved and He gives us His righteousness and we get eternal life as we don’t deserve, and this all comes through faith in Jesus. That’s the gospel. And the gospel unites us. It makes us friends. Paul wrote to “the saints.”

Saints, those who believe in the gospel and treasure Jesus Christ, have something beyond this world that unites them.

Christ befriends us and because Christ befriends us we are all friends through Him. We, through Christ’s work, have God as our Father. We’re family! We all have the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit connects us.

The gospel makes us friends.

And notice who Paul wrote to: people at Philippi; a lot of different people. Some of whom were not considered “cool.” Maybe Paul was a book nerd, we know he read and wrote a lot; or maybe he was into sports, he does talk quite a bit about them. Whatever the case, there were people in Philippi that he would not naturally get along with. There were Gentiles in Philippi and Paul was a Jew.[1]

But, it was the gospel that made them friends. It is the gospel that makes us friends. So, let’s be friends because of the gospel. Jesus has shown us love and reached down to us so let’s show each other love, no matter how hard it may seem.

So, we’ve talked about what makes us friends so now let’s talk about characteristics of gospel friendships.

Gospel Friends Are…

Thankful (Phil. 1:3-4)

Paul thanks God for his friends. That is, Paul does not take his friends for granted. He appreciates them. And we see he thanks not just them for being his friends but he knows whom it is that gave them to him, God; and so Paul thanks God for his friends.

So, we as gospel friends should be thankful for each other. We should thank God for each other. And through that, we see that we should also appreciate each other. We shouldn’t take each other for granted.

Partners (Phi. 1:5)

We see here that Paul is not just thankful for his friends but thankful for them because they are partners together. And not just partners for anything, but “partners in the gospel.” So, a huge characteristic of gospel friendships is that they care about the gospel and the gospel going forward. They don’t just have a partnership or friendship formed around Pokémon or whatever but formed around the gospel.

Later on, Paul talks about “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (v. 27).[2] Gospel friends are intentional and even “strive” together for the advance of the gospel. Our friendships are not to be shallow. They are to be about the life changing and eternal truth of the gospel.

Encouraging (Phil. 1:6)

Gospel friends have a healthy and encouraging outlook with each other that’s grounded in the gospel. Gospel friends realize that the world is fallen and we will hurt each other and sometimes friends will sadly talk behind your back but gospel friends realize that God is working on His saints. So gospel friends are realistic but hopeful.

So gospel friends don’t give up on each other… they encourage.

Faithful (Phil. 1:7)

Paul’s friends were with him and for him even through his imprisonment.

Jesus, our Savior and also our ultimate example, is reliable. He is with us through thick and thin. All other friends will finally fail but Jesus never does. However, we are called to be like Jesus. We want to be a reliable friend even when it is hard for us or unpopular.

It was popular for the Philippians to be friends with Paul and help him. It was actually likely dangerous, but they remained faithful friends. Let’s also remain reliable and faithful friends. Let’s love like Jesus loves. And be there for others, like Jesus is there for us.

Affectionate (Phil. 1:8)

Paul said, “I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” This verse is quite amazing. In what way does Paul “yearn,” in what way is Paul affectionate? Does his affection or love change depending on how cool, fun, or nice his friends are? No!

It says “with the affection of Christ.” What is the “the affection of Christ” and was it easily killed? Jesus’ affection took Him to the cross and He died before His affection did. He died because His affection would not. #truelove

That’s the kind of love and affection that we are called to. We are to love like Jesus. We are to die before our love does. Let’s love like that!

Caring (Phil. 1:9-11)

As friends, we are to care for each other and want what’s best for each other.

What can be hard, however, is actually knowing how to best care for each other. Paul helps us here. He shows us what it really means to care. It means that we don’t merely care about external issues. It is actually not even about being concerned with our friend’s physical wellbeing. It goes beyond that.

Being gospel friends means caring about each other’s spiritual well-being… That’s what we see in these verses. That is what is most important.


We’ve seen that the gospel makes us friends and we’ve seen some characteristics of what it means to be gospel friends. Now, let’s purpose to live as gospel friends by the power of the Holy Spirit in light of the gospel.

Gospel Friendship in Philippians

1:5 “partnership in the gospel”
1:7 “partakers with me of grace”
1:14-19 “through your prayers’
1:27 “striving side by side for the faith”
2:22 “served with me in the gospel”
2:25 “my brother, and fellow worker, and fellow soldier”
3:17 “join in imitating me”
4:3 “labored side by side with me”
4:15 “partnership with me in giving and receiving”


[1] “Paul’s friends were made up of a pretty diverse group of individuals—a former slave, a doctor, both Jews and Gentiles, etc.” (Adam Holland, Friendship Redeemed: How the Gospel Changes Friendships to Something Greater, 70-71).

[2] “The heart of true fellowship… is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision… Christian fellowship, then, is self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. There may be overtones of warmth and intimacy, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of what is of transcendent importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment” (D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, 16).Go

Technology: Connected and Out of Touch

How surreal, I am sitting in a Starbucks and there is an older couple sitting across from me. By all appearances they do not know each other. Their “date,” from what I can tell from spying, consists of looking at their cell phone (maybe the new iPhone 6s), touching it, and occasionally showing each other something on their phone; no doubt a new high score on “angry birds” or some other profound thing like a YouTube video of a monkey.

This is surreal for two reasons: 1) When this couple got together and started dating they could never have imagined the technology that would be available in the palm of their hand. Maybe this partly explains why they are so captivated by their phone and not by the actual person setting beside them. 2) When this couple got together, maybe thirty years ago, they could not have imagined wanting to hold some device in their hand rather than their loved ones’ hand.

Yet how things change. Affections fade and technology grows. And perhaps there is a correlation between the two distancing polls. If we hold a device in our hand instead of our loved ones’ hand, if we have “facetime” instead of real face time, if we have “facebook” and not time with real faces, if we have tweets and not conversations there will necessarily be a distancing effect from technology. And it will likely be that as technology advances so will be the chasm between relationships. However, if we start to put the work in on our relationships that any computer programmer puts in on technology then we may be able to keep pace with the discordant dissidents of technology. But this will require the intentionality and work ethic of those that are bringing us these great advances in technology.

In all of this realize that I am by no means saying that technology and advances in technology are bad, they are not in and of themselves (For instance, things like Skype can help relationships). Yet we must be very conscious in our use of technology. We must consider, am I playing “Tomb Raider” (or whatever it is called) when I should be looking deeply into my loved ones’ eyes? Am I “iTexting” when I should be talking to the person beside me? When I turn on my phone do I turn off my head? Does the “feed” on Facebook or Twitter feed my soul and intellect or does it leave me malnourished and hungry for something of substance like a book? Does being connected to the internet connect me to the world or allow me to be safely removed from it? 

I have found these questions surprisingly relevant and present but often unheeded in my own life. I have noticed on more than a few occasions when my family is visiting that we will set around in the living room with more than one person on a technological device. We’ll be “hanging out” yet the majority of the people in the room are on a computer or some such thing. This form of “hanging out” is much different then I remember growing up, and I’m only twenty-eight! My kids will have to be especially careful in their use of technology.


Introduction. Community or community groups (or however it is worked out for you in your local context) are very important to the life and health of the  Church. Community is a critical part of sanctification and growth for a believer and is thus a crucial aspect of our lives. Community groups are simply a tool to encourage biblical and spiritual interaction with each other.

What does “Community” mean? First, it is important to understand what is meant by fellowship or community. Often we think of a fellowship meal: “food, fun, and fellowship.” We even have fellowship halls. So, if asked, “What is fellowship?” We think, Ok, the fellowship hall is by the kitchen and when we use it we are always eating so I guess fellowship is eating, yes, that’s my answer; fellowship is eating.

Community/fellowship (Gk. koinonia) in the New Testament was often used as a general Greek word and was used of a business partnership in which two or more people shared a business and this word was also at times used of a marriage. Koinonia is a common union, interest, participation, and co-operation, it is being together, united. We see many similar ideas through different biblical word pictures. I think of family, body (1 Cor.12:12-27Eph.1:22-23), and “brother/sister” references for instance.

Created for Community. Where do we get the idea that we are created for community? First, we see it in that we are created in the image of the triune God. God is relational and so are we. Second, man walked with God in the Garden. Third, we also see that it was not good that man should dwell alone. We need each other.

Community Crashed. Where do we see the crash of community? In the Fall. First, man was kicked out of the Garden and separated from God because of sin. Second, there is marital disharmony. Third, Cain kills Abel. And the problem only precipitates with the tower of Babel. Community when not united in Christ but some other cause will only lead to chaos. This is demonstrated throughout history. 

Community Recreated through Christ. So how do we have this union or community? We have it in Christ (Rom. 6:4611Gal. 2:20Eph. 2:4-6Col. 2:203:3)! We have union with God and each other. What was destroyed in the Fall is remade and being remade through Christ. So, we see that koinonia in Scripture means we have intimacy with Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:9), God the Father (1 Jn. 1:3), God the Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14), and each other (2 Cor. 8:41 Jn. 1:7).

Our union one to another is much deeper than merely eating together. It is more intimate and real, it is truly eternal. Further, it is not merely we that are together, we are together with God in Christ. “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11).

Two other powerful texts:

That He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And He came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Eph. 2:15-22).

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that You [pl.] may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved [that is, the church], I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your [pl.] conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you [pl.] as evildoers, they may see your [pl.] good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Pet. 2:9-12).

Can you imagine the scene in some of the early churches?

Imagine a converted (and “unclean”) Samaritan woman standing next to an ex-Pharisee. Now imagine that this Pharisee is being taught by a non-Jew. And then walks in the once notorious crew: Neroious the Egyptian and ex-demon-possessed man, Phillirono the Jewish ex-drunk and tax collector, Markus a Roman Centurion that use to exploit his power to have his way with women, Allatu a Babylonian woman and witch, and Simon the Leper. Yet, all these, in Christ, are made new and united! That’s what Scripture says! And that is actually what we see in the Church! 

Our union with Christ gives us a realistic expectation for fellowship. We know that we are at the same time saints and sinners. We therefore don’t expect perfection, we expect people’s lives to be a little messy. We expect to be patient with each other and help each other out. We all need grace. And we have all received it in Christ.

When we remember where our community comes from it protects against the error of thinking that fellowship is simply socializing, i.e. food, fun, and football. It also protects us from thinking that in our community groups we will experience heaven on earth. As we understand more and more where our community comes from, we will have more community. 

So our communion is much more significant than just eating together, though that can and should be an outworking of our union with Christ as it was in the Early Church. In the book of Acts we see that people from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:5) received the word and were added to the Church (v. 41) and they (the very large and very diverse group) devoted themselves not just to teaching and prayers but also to fellowship and the breaking of bread (v. 42). Also, significantly, one of the qualifications of a pastor/elder is that he be hospitable (Titus 1:8).

Community is Commanded. Community is not just something that has become trendy with the recent popularity of community groups. Community has been around since the world has been around. However, Christians are not just called to any type of community. Christians are called to Christ exalting community (cf. Ps. 133:1; Jn. 17:23; Rom. 12:4, 16; 1 Cor. 1:10; 12:12-13; Gal. 3:26-28; Eph. 2:14; 4:3, 16; Col. 3:13-14; 1 Pet. 3:8). So community groups, or the way that community is worked out in your context, is not just a nice option; it is vital and life giving. God want us all to be in community.  

What is a Community Group? A community group is a small group of often diverse people that intentionally share life together in order to encourage each other. Community groups are a pragmatic way that the modern Church has sought to fulfill the various “one another” passages. Remember, the book of Hebrews says to consider, that is, intentionally think about, how to stir each other up to love and good works (Heb. 10:24). Community groups are, as the name would indicate, a good place to practice all the exhortations to community and they are a very good way to stir up each other for good works.

It is through the church that we are “equipped for the work of the ministry” and “built up into Him who is the head.” It is in Christ through connection with the church that individuals within the church our nourished and grow together (Col. 2:19). Perseverance is a community endeavor. We need to be provoked to good works.

On and an aside, it may be helpful to remember the example of Jesus. If anyone did not need fellowship with others it was Jesus. Yet, He spent almost all His time with His followers. He prayed with them, ate with them, walked with them, taught them, and went through life with them.

There are also many “one another” passages that can only be carried out in a small familiar setting. Here is a sampling of the “one another” passages. Think about each of them and about the benefit community groups are to practice all the various aspects of life together.

We are to honor one another (Rom. 13:7). We are to accept one another (Rom. 15:7). We are to bear with one another (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:13). We are to forgive one another (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13). We are to pray for and confess sins to one another (James 5:16). We are to cheer and challenge one another (Heb. 3:13; 10:24-25). We are to admonish and confront one another (Rom. 15:14; Col. 3:16; Gal. 6:1-6). We are to warn one another (1 Thess. 5:14). We are to teach one another (Col. 3:16). We are to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). We are to share possessions (Acts 4:32). We are to submit to one another (Eph. 5:21). We are to not gossip, slander, or be fake with one another (Gal. 5:15; Rom. 12:9). These “one anothers” most easily take place in community groups, so please be involved in a Christian community/community group.

Elements of a Community Group. In Acts 2:42 we see a glimpse of what fellowship was like for the Early Church. It says they continually devoted themselves to teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer. There are at least seven important elements for community groups.

1) Bible Study: The Early Church was continually devoted to teaching and we also want the Word of God to be central in all we do as a church. It is the Word of God that makes us competent and equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

2) Prayer: We want our ministry to be saturated in prayer and this is just what we see in Acts. They devoted themselves to prayer (2:42).

3) Hospitality: As we have seen, one of the qualifications for an Elder is that he be hospitable. This points us to its importance. We also remember that the early church also broke bread together. That is, they ate together. This likely includes both regular meals and the Lord’s Supper.

4) Confession and Repentance: This is a sensitive subject and must be done with much wisdom and tact. However, we know from James that we are to confess our sins one to another (5:16) and Galatians chapter six tells us to bear one another’s burdens (6:1-5). There is likely no better place for these things to happen than through community groups.

5) Service: The service that we are to do is varied. We are to do good to all people and especially those in the church. We are to make disciples of all nations. Yet, we are to do those things in community. Yes, we need to do them on large scale as the whole church but it is also helpful to focus on service at a smaller more intimate level.

6) Worship: We as the church must desire and seek for our involvement in community groups to lead individuals to better love the LORD their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. 

7) Mission: We want to intentionally stir each other up to love and good works (Heb. 10:24) by being together and devoting ourselves to Scripture and prayer (Acts 2:42) so that the result is mission to the surrounding world (v. 43-47). The purpose of community groups is not so we can create a “Christian ghetto.” We need community so that we won’t be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13) but we also need community so we can be on mission together. 

D.A. Carson says, 

The heart of true fellowship… is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision… Christian fellowship, then, is self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. There may be overtones of warmth and intimacy, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of what is of transcendent importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment.[1]

Mission of Community Groups. The mission of community groups is to encourage each other to Christ-like living for the sake of God’s Name among all the nations, to provide intentional outlets for all the “one another passages” in Scripture, to use as a catalyst to reach the lost people around us through intentional relational witness, and to promote more intimate Christian relationships.

Community Group Logistics. The church should desire diverse community groups. That is, we want people to come together in relationship that outside of Christ would likely never partner together for anything. This is for many reasons. Diversity better pictures the Kingdom of God; in heaven there will be people form every tribe, tongue, and nation. If there is diversity in age than what Paul commends in Titus 2 can be put into practice; older men teaching younger men, and older women teaching younger women.

Imagine the scene that I described above again. And remember that the world will know that we are disciples by our love for each other (Jn. 13:35). Our love will show all the more when we are not all the same; when the only thing that could possibly unite us is Christ. 

Conclusion. Although, we do not exactly see community groups in Scripture I believe that biblical community is vital to the health of individual Christians and to the corporate life of the church. Thus, I strongly encourage people to be connected to a church and to be involved in a community of believers whether in a community group/small group/cell group or some other intimate gathering. Community groups may not be exactly biblical but they are designed to do biblical, God given, things. I, thus, implore you to be connected to a Christian community/community group. I say this not merely because I think you should, not merely for my own spiritual health, not merely for your own spiritual health, but because I believe that God teaches in Scripture that it is important.


[1] D. A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, 16.

Messy Church

I was reading in Mark 5 today, where Jesus frees a demon-possessed man, and I got thinking about the early church. The early church must have been one messed up church, one messy church, literally dirt on the floors… No really, imagine all the different types of people and all the different types of problems. Ex-demon-possessed-people for instance probably brought with them their unique challenges. Tax collectors were not real popular with people in that day. Then you have Jews and Gentiles fighting, I’m sure, over all types of stuff.

No, they didn’t fight over the color of the carpet. They didn’t have any! But if they had carpet, they would have fought over that too. I guess, what I am trying to tell myself is, they didn’t have it all together. I may think that my church or the Church universal is in shambles at times but the church throughout history has always appeared that way in many areas. I guess that is part of the beauty and wonder of the church.

God said that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church and it is surely by His power that it has not been overcome. Like Paul says from 1 Corinthians, not many of us were super special by worldly standards. God so often chooses to use a rag-tag bunch, which I am very glad about, because He chooses to use people like me. He also chooses to use messy churches even though they, like the early church, are sometimes both literally and metaphorically messy.

It encourages me to remember that the Church then, as the Church now, will always face both external and internal challenges but will likewise always have Jesus the same Lord ultimately in control. It encourages me that though the church may be messy (and yes in both ways) it is doing ministry. It also reminds me that ministry is not just a church service—a meeting of people to hear a message—it is a group, a gathering, made up of individuals, and individuals with problems.

There are problems to fix, lives to be less messy, floors to mop (yes, we want the church to be presentable), but this is ministry. This is the church, a church that in a lot of ways reflects the biblical early church. Yes, a struggling church, but for a purpose, a grave and glorious purpose.

To sum it all up, I am encouraged by the church, the good and the bad, the messy and the clean. We have life (by the grace of almighty God!), and life is messy. There is a funny verse in Proverbs that says, where no oxen are the turf is clean but there is much increase from the help of an ox. The “turf” is certainly not always clean at church but there, I believe, is a lot being done by Christ’s body, and I praise God for it!

God calls us to be faithful, though we often are few. We must remember the amazing privilege it is to serve the King! Christ is redeeming His bride! Soon His Church shall presented spotless! 

Press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!

~Philippians 3:14

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