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Westminster Presbyterian: Four steps to a thriving community

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When Paul wrote the epistle to the Ephesians, he was speaking to a group of Jews and Gentiles in Ephesus who needed to come together. Although they were worlds apart in how they acted, they really weren’t that much different in the selfish ways they lived their lives. These two groups found Christ and came together as one community of people. Jesus said “love your neighbor” but sometimes it is not easy. The Jews expected the Gentiles to take on Jewish traditions, the Gentiles expected Jews to stop their Jewish traditions. Paul wrote this letter and said, listen, it’s really simple — one God, one faith, one baptism in the Christian community. And how does that community function?

According to Paul, here are four simple steps to a thriving community and yet very few of us get it right.

First. Don’t lie. Hey this is one of the big 10. It really shouldn’t be that hard but it seems to be so very hard. How many times do we find ourselves in a rabbit hole of untruths because one small lie was told? A community of people has the responsibility of being truthful with one another without tearing each other down.

Second. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Paul is not saying don’t get angry. He knows we will get angry. It’s only human. Have you ever been in an argument with a spouse? Partner? Someone you’re dating or even just a friend?

The argument can go on for days. There is avoidance. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger because half the time you aren’t smart enough to remember why you’re even angry and it’s useless arguing after that. You are never that “right” that it should affect your relationships in community. Paul was a very intelligent man.

Third. Work ethic. God has given us some very good examples of this in creation.

Have you ever watched a TV show that shows and explains the pack of wolves? The weakest and the oldest wolves lead the pack and the strongest wolves bring up the rear when traveling. Does that make sense? Well, as a matter of fact, it does. Not one wolf is going to get lost with this system. The strongest wolf is still protecting every other wolf. Everyone works to fulfill the community’s maximum potential. That weak wolf does not just get to lie around doing nothing all day just because they are weak. They have a pack to lead! In order for a community to thrive everyone must do what they can for the community. We do not do something just because we can do it faster and stronger than anyone else. Always remember the community when doing for the community. Paul is talking about the community working at its maximum potential here, not the individual.

Fourth. There are always those people in a community who like to tear others down in order to make themselves look better. Well, Paul is having none of that. Be imitators of God. Love like Christ. That’s a tall order. And that is not to the individual. So many times we who inhabit the western hemisphere have a habit of individualizing things in the Bible that should not be individualized. This order is to the community as a whole. Walk in love as Christ loved us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

How do we know what our community needs and to what degree they need it? We listen to them. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who lived during the reign of Hitler in Nazi Germany and was hanged by the Nazis, wrote some research and it was put together into a book called "Life Together: A Classic Exploration of Christian Community." It was an experiment with seminary students. It was lovely how these students lived together in harmony and community, listening to the needs of one another. Bonhoeffer took what he learned from this community experiment and applied it to his prison life. Everyone looked to him to “lead” the prisoner community. He was the prison pastor. He lifted up the community in the worst of circumstances. Even in a prison hell, the community gave comfort to one another. It allowed for an unbearable life to be a little bearable.

Being in community is rewarding when it’s done right. Whether it be church, friend groups or even your work community, these four principles will help to strengthen your community.

Kimberly Patch is a graduate (Master of Divinity) of Northeastern Seminary. She lives in Auburn with her husband and children. She is a social justice advocate and president of the board of directors of the new Auburn Hunger Task Force, which is working to provide free meals to the Auburn community.


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