“…from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments,
grows with a growth that is from God”…Colossians 2:19b (ESV)
The vision of Fellowship Church is connecting people to real life in Jesus Christ. Recently, I’ve been coming back to that statement with new eyes, asking God to give me a fresh picture of what this looks like “on the ground” in our church, as we stand today.
As I’ve done that, the first two words of that statement have seemingly leapt off the page at me over and over again. Connecting people. What does it mean for people to be “connected”? What does that look like practically when it’s true? And why is it so essential that it be true anyway?
In the midst of that little internal dialogue, God brought to life the text that heads this post, Paul’s words to the church at Colossae. The image here- that of the church of Jesus as a human body, “nourished and knit together through joints and ligaments”- is not uncommon to the New Testament. Paul Himself talks about it several other places. But this time, God drilled down into my heart the critical truth that He is trying to communicate to us through this word picture.
God is teaching us that when we disconnect, we die. Specifically in this context, He is communicating that when we seek to “go it alone” in the journey of following Jesus, neglecting the essential gift of Christian community, we set ourselves up to wither and weaken dramatically. Biblical scholar N.T. Wright states this reality this way…
“In God’s plan all (Christians) belong together in mutual interdependence. It is no shame when a Christian finds that he or she cannot grow spiritually without support and help from fellow believers; it is, rather, a surprise that anyone should have such a thing possible, let alone desirable”
This may be a bit gross- okay, it’s a lot gross– but follow the imagery here with me. What happens when a body part is severed from its source, separated from the systems and resources that give it nourishment and vitality? You know the answer- it becomes lifeless, and ultimately useless. Why? Because it was designed to function- to thrive- in the context of the overall body.
So it is with each of us as followers of Jesus. Apart from “abiding in Jesus” Himself, there is no more essential task for us than to connect deeply in relationships with other Christ followers. Through such intimate connections, we are “nourished” with instruction, encouragement, accountability, and ultimately with love. In community, God works through each of us to “give life” to others. And when each of us live connected, playing our unique role in the overall function of the body, we move together powerfully for God’s glory and the advance of His mission.
Increasingly, though, such a connection to the church community has come to be seen as optional, a spiritual “add on” when we feel we have sufficient time and resources to invest. I’m not only talking about investment in the activities of the church (though those are important); I’m speaking especially of our relationships within the church.
The more isolated and insulated we become from the other “joints and ligaments” which God has graciously gifted to us for our good, the more vulnerable we are to flounder in an uninspired, seemingly burdensome form of faith. Additionally, we are at the same time neglecting our God given responsibility to others, taking from them what God has intended to give to them through us. As you can see, this is a big deal!
My intention in saying this isn’t to lay down a guilt trip on you, or to shame you for a job not-so-well done. You need to know that I’m speaking to myself here as much as I’m speaking to anyone else. I simply want to call our attention back to essential nature of Christian community, of life giving relationships within the body of Jesus Christ. I urge you to consider- Where and how have you become “severed” from such community- and why? And in light of that recognition, what does repentance look like? What changes can you begin to work toward as an individual and family today?
Perhaps there are some things in your life that have become far bigger and more pervasive than God ever intended them to be (and maybe more than you ever thought they’d be), and they are robbing you of the resources necessary to invest in Christian community. If that’s the case, you need to recognize those things- even, and perhaps especially, the good ones- as the barriers to spiritual vitality that they are. Ask God to give you the wisdom to put them- whether they be career or financial pursuits, recreational activities, or even your nuclear family- in proper perspective so that you might create the margin for that which is best.
Make no mistake- God desires that you would thrive in Him, that you would “grow with a growth that is from (Him).” But that can never happen in isolation, disconnected from Him or from the life sources which He so generously provides. When we disconnect, we die…so how are you being intentional about coming into contact with the “joints and ligaments” which God has designed to nourish you, and others through you?