Theresa Morgan(GoFundMe)

My co-teacher for the last – wow, 10 years or so – is Theresa Morgan, a lovely, encouraging, insightful, God-fearing woman of God.  Now she needs some assistance as she battle multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer.

She’s undergoing a treatment that will require 4 weeks of attentive hands-on home care, and a GoFundMe account has been setup for her by her family.

If the Spirit moves you, you can contribute here:  https://gf.me/u/yqmdip

 

I AM the Bread of Life

Introduction

Who does Jesus say He is?

The book of John describes Jesus beautifully, beginning with in verse 1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  But I want to skip to verses 9-13 because it gives a nice introduction to our lesson today.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Jesus gave us the right to become His children, and all we have to do is believe.

We’re beginning a 7 week series on the “I AM” statements of Jesus.  Seven times Jesus said “I AM”, which in Hebrew times “seven” meant “complete”.  In Judaism, when Jesus said, “I AM,” it was no mystery to the people that Jesus was declaring His divinity.  In Exodus 3:14, when Moses asked God who told Moses to lead His people, God replied, “I AM WHO I AM.”  I imagine thundering rolling from the clouds as God made this pronouncement.

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The seven “I AM” statements from Jesus explain His ministry to us and His relationship to the Father.  These statements are –

      1. I AM the Bread of Life
      2. I AM the Light of the World
      3. I AM the Door
      4. I AM the Good Shepherd
      5. I AM the Resurrection and the Life
      6. I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life
      7. I AM the True Vine

We’ve probably all heard the phrase Jesus said, “I AM the Bread of Life,” but today we’re going to dig into it and understand what Jesus was saying.  Jesus was able to take a complex theological ecclesiology and make it easy to remember, “I AM the bread of life.”  But the meaning behind it eluded the people following Jesus, and it still eludes people today, despite its simplicity.

In John 6, which is all about food, it begins with crowds following Jesus.  Once Jesus had begun in ministry of miracles and healing the sick, people began to seek Jesus.  But the people are misunderstanding *why* Jesus is performing miracles.  The people just want Jesus to do more.  Jesus takes his disciples across the Sea of Galilea, which isn’t a huge distance, about 4 miles across.

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The crowd followed him to the other side and while the sea isn’t that large, it’s a long way from any restaurant.  There were 5000 men, and maybe an equal amount of women and children, and I imagine Jesus is grinning inside when He asks Philip in John 6:5,

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”

You’ve heard the rest of this story.  A small boy has what might be his lunch, five small barley loaves and two small fish.  Jesus gives thanks, and then proceeds to feed the 5000.  Afterwards, in verse 12-13,

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.”  So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

I believe Jesus intentionally uses bread here for His miracle, as well as having an abundance of bread after everyone was filled to illustrate his “I AM the bread of Life”  statement He will be making soon.  But how did the people respond?  Verse 14-15 –

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”  Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

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That evening, the disciples got in boat to go to Capernaum.  Jesus is still on the mountain.  It got dark and windy, the disciples became afraid, and then Jesus walked on water toward them, a miracle just for the disciples.

The next day, the crowd is wondering where Jesus is.  They know He didn’t get into the boat with the disciples.  When Jesus doesn’t return, they go looking for Him in Capernaum.  And when they get to Capernaum, there’s Jesus.  And they’re puzzled.  They say in verse 25,

When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

And Jesus begins to teach, completely ignoring their question.  I can appreciate the deliberate ministry of Jesus.  The question of how he arrived in Capernaum is irrelevant.  Instead, Jesus immediately begins to teach.

Now, Jesus is not speaking to believers.  He is speaking to people seeking Jesus.  Remember, in verse 15, just after feeding the 5000, these people tried to make Him king.  These people were looking for a messiah to overthrow Rome, and they thought Jesus was that guy.  Jesus will save us from Rome, we’ll make Him king.  And remember, Jesus was disappointed and went up on the mountain by Himself after that.

Now when they see Jesus, they’re no longer calling Him “messiah” or “king”.  Now they call Him “rabbi” or “teacher.”  Ok, so you’re not the mighty warrior, you’re just a teacher.  A teacher that somehow magically appeared in Capernaum, but still just a teacher.

I think we can find many people like that in churches today.  People who claim they are following Jesus, who attach themselves to Jesus because they believe Jesus will give them stuff and solve their problems and heal their sickness, but have not understood what their relationship with Jesus is.  Jesus can do all things, but He does them for His purpose.  I think many people only call themselves Christian because of material things, which Jesus is about to explain misunderstands His purpose among us.  In verse 26, Jesus knows their confusion.

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.

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Jesus says the only reason the people are following him is because they want stuff.  They want to eat, to feed their stomachs for a day. That is what the fall of man has produced, a broken connection with our Creator.  And man cares about the natural, not the spiritual.  It cares about the temporal, not the eternal.  It cares about a full belly, not a clean heart. Jesus knows this – He knows what is in the heart of man because He created us.  We want our food, our entertainment, our bread and circuses.  Anything else?  Nope, we’re good, thanks.

Jesus wants us to recognize that our sin nature separates us from God.  People say, Jesus, fix my health.  Jesus, fix my business.  Jesus, fix my children.  Jesus, fix my marriage.  And Jesus says, “Hold on.  I came to fix you.”  Of course, Jesus cares for our physical circumstances, but that’s not why He came.  Jesus offers so much more.  Jesus wants to change us on the inside.

So Jesus tells the seekers in verse 27 –

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.

Jesus offers the bread of life.  Jesus offers manna from heaven.  There are two Greek words used for our English word “life;” “Bios” refers to physical existence.  “Zoe”, used here, refers to quality of life both essential and ethical, not just merely living, but living for a purpose, living life to the fullest.  It answers the question, “why do we live?”

Jesus has the answer.  He has the authority and dominion.  He calls Himself here “Son of Man,” a title from this verse about end times prophecy from Daniel 7:13-14 –

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.  He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

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Jesus is claiming to be the son of man, claiming His deity, claiming to be God, and the people believed this to be blasphemy.  Jesus can give zoe, the answer to life.  Instead, the people just wanted their physical bread.  Instead of eternal life, they wanted a sandwich.

So how do you get eternal life?  Verse 27 tells us,

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.

Jesus gives it to us.  It’s a gift.  We don’t earn it, we don’t purchase it.  We are saved completely, 100%, by the grace of God, not by works.

Did the crowd understand that it was a gift?  Do we understand it’s a gift?  Verse 28,

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

The crowd is clueless.  Still.  Jesus says, “eternal life is a gift I give to you” and the crowd responds, “well, how do we earn it?”

The human condition is fallen, but we all believe we have to do something to merit God’s favor.  Christianity is so unlike every other religion.  In every other religion, man is working his way to God.  In Christianity, God works His way to man.  It’s a relationship.

Fallen man wants to earn salvation.  Like the crowd responded, “What must we do?”  Works, works, works.  What do I have to do to please god?  Immediately after the fall of man, we started trying earn our way back.  In Genesis 3:6-7,

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.  She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.  Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

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They were naked, so they made loincloths.  The fall has happened and we have to do something to fix it.  This was the beginning of religion when we used to have a relationship.

Paul, writing to the Philippians, understood how fruitless his work were.  Paul had every reason to boast:  he was the perfect Jew.  Philippians 3:4b-6 –

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

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If anybody could fulfill the law, Paul did.  He lays out all the reason Paul should be saved, as though God owed Paul something for living a perfect life.

Does God owe us something?  So many people are mad because God doesn’t provide what they want.  Why does god owe you?  If you die tonight, people believe they should have eternal life because I go to church.  Because I’m a good person.  Because I give to the poor, I I I I me me me me I try hard I go to bible study I have the 10 commandments memorized…  but our relationship with God is not based on I I I I me me me me, it’s not based on what we do, but trusting in what He did for us.  The crowd asks, “what shall we do?”

Jesus corrects them in verse 29 –

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

Jesus says, you wanna work?  Then believe.  Why do we want to work for our salvation?  I think it’s because we can boast when we walk into heaven.  Look at what I did!  But God doesn’t want our works if it’s taking credit for what He did.  He hates boasting.  Isaiah 64:6 says,

All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.

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Sing in the choir?  Filthy rag.  Tithing 15% instead of 10%?  Filthy rag.  Perfect Sunday school attendance?  Filthy rag.  Being a Sunday school teacher?  Filthy rag.  We have all become unclean, we all wear filthy rags.

So how do we fix it?  We can’t.  How can *He* fix it?  He already did.  All we have to do is believe.  Romans 4:4-5 says,

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation.  However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

 

Slide20.JPGIt is our faith in the works of Jesus that saves.  When Jesus said this to the crowd of seekers who wanted a sandwich instead of manna from heaven, it drove them away.  The good news, the gospel, is a stumbling block.  It is offensive to fallen man because it takes away my ability to boast about myself.  We are all trying to earn something from God so that we can have bragging rights.  Man hates that message that salvation is paid for by somebody else.  We want to work for it so we can work harder than somebody else so that we can say, well, at least I’m better than that person.

That’s not the gospel.  John 14:6,

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

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Acts 4:12,

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

God fixed our problem, and there’s no other way, no way to fix it ourselves.  Remember immediately after the fall when Adam and Eve clothed themselves with a fig leaf?  Did that cover their nakedness, restore their relationship with God?  God provided a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus in Genesis 3:21,

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.

God fixed the problem.  God fixed their nakedness by clothing them with the skin of a sacrificial animal.  God will clothe us.  We can trust that God will provide our sin sacrifice.  The gospel is that He did the work, not us, and we just believe in Him.  Remember Paul a little while ago, before he knew Christ, he considered himself the perfect Jew and earning his way to heaven?  But then Paul became a Christian, and how does he feel about his perfect works?  It’s the very next verse, Philippians 3:7-9 –

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.

Our righteousness is found in Him, no where else.  I have no righteousness of my own, only thru faith.  My works are garbage, filthy rags, compared to the glory of Christ.

So when Jesus told the crowd that all they have to do is believe in Him, did they understand?  Verses 30-31 –

So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do?  Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

The crowd is still confused, but if Jesus will just give them a sign.  We need a sign first.  This is what, like the 4th or 5th sign in the last 24 hours.  They are literally asking for a sign for more bread the day after Jesus gave bread to 5000.  But like many seekers, like many following prosperity gospels, the crowd wants Jesus to perform according to their schedule.

And we still do the same today.  Ok, so you’re Jesus, what have you done for me today?  Show me a sign if you’re God.  Like balance gravity and centripetal force so that I can stand on the surface of earth, neither being crushed by gravity nor being flung into space.  Like balancing the atmosphere with just the right balance of oxygen so I can breathe.  Like making the sun rise so I can work and the sun set so I can sleep.  Like giving me a soul that knows there’s more to life than just bread and circuses, that there must be a purpose.  Seriously, Jesus, what have you done for me lately?

The crowd tells Jesus, your signs aren’t enough like Moses.  What was manna the people wanted?  The Hebrew word “manna” literally means “what is it?”  The Israelites fleeing Egypt had no idea what it really was.  They had to gather it daily, depend on the Lord daily.  The people were still asking for a miracle that they wanted, they still wanted Jesus to rescue them from Rome like Moses did with Pharaoh.  And Christ corrects them yet again in verses 32-33 –

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

 

Slide26.JPGChrist tells them that their thinking is stuck in the past.  The people want a rescue from Rome, but Jesus is saying them that’s like getting physical bread for one day.  Instead, focus on spiritual bread that feeds for eternity.  Focus on true bread that comes from heaven.

Notice Jesus says this with the words “very truly” or maybe your version says “truly truly.”  Or maybe you’re using King James, “verily verily” which for some reason wants me to add “life is but a dream.”  Literally, the Greek repeats the word twice, “Amen, amen.”  In the Greek, this means it’s absolute dogmatic 100% certain fact.  It means no doubt, no question, with certainty, completely true.  And Jesus repeats again that this is a gift, “it is my Father who give you the true bread.”  This gift is not obtained by any sort of human effort.

And the crowd still doesn’t get it.  Many Christians today don’t get it, either.   In verse 34,

“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

First they wanted to make Him king.  Then they downgraded Him to rabbi or teacher.  Now it’s just “sir.”  Their question is confused, give it to us, where is it, how do we find it?  And then Jesus begins the first of the “I am” discourses, His teaching to us about His character, what He does for us, how to have a relationship with Him.  If you want to understand how to be close to Jesus, get to know Him, and verses 35-40 provides so much information –

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.  But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.  All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.  For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.  For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

Jesus is the bread of eternal life.  He uses the same phrase for “I am”, in the Greek it’s “ego eimi.”  This phrase only belongs to God, but Jesus goes beyond that, “ego eimi” about himself.  I AM the bread of life.  “He who believes in Him” is the only condition.  if you receive it, there is no more spiritual hunger or thirst, original sin no longer alienates you from your creator, it is fixed once and for all.

Jesus says in John 4:13,

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

This was Jesus’ purpose.  It’s why he was born, lives, and died for us.  Everyone that accepts that has eternal life, saved eternally from damnation.  And He will wipe every tear from our eyes, saving us from death and sorrow and pain, for the former things have passed away.  He did not come to make us a sandwich, and yet people still demand things they think they are owed.  I I I I me me me me.  Jesus wants us to accept what he gives freely and abundantly.  Eternal life.

And yet after all the teachings and miracles, people still won’t believe.  Verse 36 Jesus says the people have seen Him and still do not believe.  It’s because they’re focused on physical, not spiritual.  They’re focused on Moses, not Jesus.  They’re focused on temporal, not eternal.  They’re focused on I instead of being focused on “I AM.”

Conclusion

Jesus is the bread of life, life abundant, life eternal.  He says in John 6:51,

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

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Jesus foreshadows His sacrificial death for all of us, giving up His life so that we may live.  It’s no coincidence that Jesus gave us his “I AM the Bread of Life” discourse during Passover week.  The Jews would be remembering that God provided manna during the Exodus, bread which symbolized God’s presence, sustenance, and provision.  Jesus is now saying, “I AM this bread.”

This salvation is open to everyone who accepts this sacrifice.  Not because of I I I I me me me me look at me.  We cannot boast about our salvation, but let the one who boasts boast in the work that Jesus did.

Jesus is the only true bread of eternal life.

To God be the glory.

The Purpose of Community

 

Introduction

Ecclesiastes is a unique book.  Most think it was written by Solomon near the end of his life, and it’s a book of perspectives and of insights about the purpose of life.  It’s a book of depression as Solomon tries to find pleasure in this world, only to find that eternal pleasure in this temporary, human world is not possible.  Nothing gives him meaning, everything is like chasing after the wind.

Solomon pondered many questions from his own perspective, and Solomon’s thoughts and actions were not always based on God’s principles.  From Solomon’s laments, we learn from his mistakes so we don’t spend our lives chasing after the wind.  Here are some key verses that sum up this book –

      • Ecclesiastes 1:2, “’Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘vanity of vanities, all is vanity’”.
      • Ecclesiastes 1:18, “For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.”
      • Ecclesiastes 2:11, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”
      • Ecclesiastes 12:1, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them.'”
      • Ecclesiastes 12:13, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

Two phrases, “vanity” and “under the sun,” are repeated often in Ecclesiastes. The word “vanity” (your version may say “meaningless”) is used to emphasize the temporary nature of worldly things.  In the end, all of our achievements and accomplishment will be left behind. And the phrase, “under the sun” occurs 28 times, and refers to our human world.  Everything under the sun is meaningless, the Preacher says.

Maybe the Preacher didn’t try everything, you may be thinking.  Solomon was the wisest and richest man who ever lived, and here is what he tried –

      • Scientific discovery (Ecc 1:10-11)
      • Wisdom and philosophy (Ecc 1:13-18)
      • Amusement / entertainment (Ecc 2:1)
      • Alcohol (Ecc 2:3)
      • Architecture (Ecc 2:4)
      • Property (Ecc 2:7-8)
      • Luxury (Ecc 2:8).
      • Materialism (Ecc 2:19-20)
      • And even different moral codes (Ecc chapters 8-9).

Everything was meaningless, a temporary diversion.  Without God, nothing had purpose or longevity.  The remaining chapters 8-12 of Ecclesiastes discuss the conclusion about how a worthwhile life should be lived.  Without God, there is no truth.  Without God, there is no meaning to life.  There are many evils in this world, and even the best of man’s achievements are worth nothing when compared to eternity.  So what should we do?

      • Acknowledge God from our youth (Ecc 12:1)
      • Follow God’s will (Ecc 12:13-14).

Slide4For all of the vanities described in the Book of Ecclesiastes, the answer is Christ.  Here are some examples –

Before After
Ecc 3:17 God judges the righteous and the wicked, 2 Cor 5:21 Only those who are in Christ are judged righteous.
Ecc 3:11 God has placed the desire for eternity in our hearts. John 3:16 God has provided the Way to eternal life through Christ.
Ecc 5:10 Striving after wealth is vanity and does not satisfy. Mark 8:36 if we could gain the whole world, what good is it if we do not have Christ and lose our souls.

Ultimately, every disappointment and vanity described in Ecclesiastes has its solution in Christ, the wisdom of God and the only true meaning to be found in life.

The Greeks gave this book the name ‘Ekklesiastes’ which means “assembly.” In essence, the writings of this book are based on community, an assembly of people.  In the New Testament, this same word is used to mean “church.”  The writings in this book are meant to teach and preach to the church, to teach us how to live in our community, and we’ll spend the rest of today’s lesson in Chapter 4 of Ecclesiastes and what it means to be in a community.

Our worldly culture is weird when it comes to history.  On one hand, we are pulling down statues left and right.  The original excuse may have had racial overtones, but now we are pulling down statues of Abraham Lincoln and the Virgin Mary.  Seems there are many people that want to eliminate the past and pretend it never existed.  At the same time, Ancestory.com and 23AndMe.com have surged in popularity, DNA testing is more available than ever before.  People want to know their heritage, their background, and their cultural makeup.  They want to know who they really are.

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And then we are weird when it comes to being categorized.  Have you taken a personality test like Myer’s Briggs or Strengths Finders?  We want to know our strengths and our uniqueness and how we best connect with others.

Whether it is ancestry or personality, people want to know who they are.  Our worldly culture begins the exploration of self-discovery by starting with ourselves.  That seems natural.  If we want to know ourselves, we should study ourselves, right?

But the Bible begins the exploration of self-discovery by starting not with us, but with God.  And the better we know and understand God, the more we understand who God made us to be.  And much of the purpose that God has for us can be found in the community God has placed us, to bloom where we are planted.

 

God in Community

What is the purpose for community?  It’s obviously related to people, but not all people are, well, people persons.  Some are extroverts or naturally ‘social butterflies’ or those who are exuberant extroverts.  Others are more introverted, preferring quiet time or very small groups.  Is one better than the other?

Whether extrovert or introvert, our personality type does not depend on community.  If community determined who we are, then how we relate to our community would either boost our pride or deepen our despair, based on wherever we fell on the personality spectrum.

The purpose for community is not some sort of competition that God has set before us.  Community is his demonstration to us on how to experience more of Him and how we are to experience the life we were meant to live.  Our ideal community doesn’t have to be large or small or deep or wide or every day or twice a week.  There’s no formula except the book of Hebrews says it ought to be frequently.  Hebrews 10:24-25,

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

We mentioned earlier that the Greek root word for Ecclesiastes means “assembly or “church.”  What “Ecclesiastes” doesn’t mean is music.  Or tithes.  Or a sermon.  Or even a mid-week bible study.  What makes church “church,” our “ecclesiates,” is the people, the gathering of the body of Christ, to make a covenant with one another, and meet together frequently.

Meeting together as a church and maintaining a level of biblical community is for our soul.  But perhaps the greatest of all reasons is that God models community, and we are made in His image.  Community helps reveal who God is.  God exists in community, and He has done so for eternity.  Even before time, space, and matter were created, God existed as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  God exists as one in three, and three in one.

In other words, if God exists in community Himself, and if we are designed in His image, this means that God wired the need for community deep within our souls.

When we neglect community, we become less of what God designed us to be.  To be made in the image of a triune God means fundamentally to be in community.  Jesus Himself surrounded Himself with the larger community of His twelve disciples and we would be foolish to think that fullness of life can happen without the Christian community.

 

Purpose in Community

Since creation started with a triune God who exists in community past, present and future, and since God created us in His image and all of life, this means the purpose of community is woven throughout the very purpose of our lives.  To really live, and to really experience the life God designed us to have, we weave our lives into the lives of others, reflecting the perfect, good, and communal nature of God Himself.  Let’s look at Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 for the purpose of this community –

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.   For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion.  But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.  Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?  And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.

Three ideas here –

  • When we fall, community can pull us up

King Solomon also wrote in Proverbs 24:16,

“For the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.”

In the times of the Old Testament, the number seven represented the number of completion.  Solomon is saying that the righteous person falls completely, the righteous person falls frequently.  But righteousness is not determined by whether we fall, but what we do after.  We get up, we rise again.

So how can a righteous person get up and rise again after falling?  Ecclesiastes 4 says it is by living in a community where others can help them back onto their feet.

Living life in community is a safeguard from calamity, from being broken by our circumstances or by our own sin. The Bible does not promise that living in community means that we will not stumble or fall; in fact, we know that everyone stumbles and falls at some time, and Christians are not spared.  But living in a community will provide help from others around us.  If we cannot help ourselves, others can.

  • When you are spiritually cold, community can warm you up.

Ecclesiastes 4:11 says, “Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?”

Did you know over 600 people in the US die from hypothermia each year.  Stuck in the cold, the body begins to shut down.  Decades ago, might have been in the early 1800’s when I was in the Boy Scouts – when they were still the Boy Scouts – I remember taking my First Air merit badge courses.  In mild hypothermia, one can warm themselves back up.  But as hypothermia progresses, the body loses it’s ability to warm itself.  One of the solutions was to crawl into a sleeping bag with another person and use the heat of somebody else.

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When we face the coldness of life through pain or grief or hardship, it is a temptation to isolate.  We think that we do not want to be a burden to other people.  Somebody offers to help, and we say no.

But when we reverse the roles, and somebody else is in pain, we offer to help.  And then we’re disappointed when they don’t take us up on our offer.  As a community, we want to help.  It’s receiving help we often struggle with.  And if we’re not helping one another, we become indifferent.  Callous.  Even cold.

It is easy to slip into a pattern of callousness towards the person of God, the Word of God, and the mission of God when we are not a community of helping hands.  Hebrews 3:13 says –

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

I’ve always loved that line, because it is always called “Today.”  The key is that the people of God and the Word of God move and act together in encouragement.  We stay warm when we are together; we grow cold when we keep each other distant.

  • When you are weak, community can strengthen you.

Next, our scripture says, “And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him.”  A third truth about the purpose of community is that in our weakness, community will make us strong.  We may try to go it alone, but going it alone isn’t a sign of strength.  It’s a sign of weakness.

Our pride hides our own weakness from us and deludes us with overconfidence in our own abilities.  This is the nature of sin in our lives: underestimating our weaknesses, overestimating our strengths.  And the solution isn’t, “Memorize more Scripture!” Even though that is important.  The solution isn’t, “Pray more!” or “Get more sleep!” or “Listen to more sermons!”  Although all those things are beneficial, but alone, we are still weak.  We have strength in community.

I think it’s because when we live in community and get to know one another, others will truly see us, know us, and can help us where we need it most.  Darkness of sin loses its hold over us.  When we live in community, things that are hidden are brought into the light, and it cleans us up.

Community can pull us up when we fall; it can warm us up when we grow spiritually cold, and it strengthens us against the power of sin.

 

Three in Community

Then the last phrase in our scripture always seems peculiar to me.  It begins with “Two are better than one” and then describes what you do better when there is a second person.  But then, the end of verse 12 says, “A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.”

Maybe it’s a typo.  Maybe the author meant to say, “A twofold cord is not quickly broken?”  Or maybe it is because in a biblical community, there are never only two parties involved, but three.  God is also present.

Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew, 18:20 –

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.

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There are always three parties involved in the body of Christ: you, your community, and God.  If it is your spouse and you, your cord is not quickly broken with God in the middle.  If it is an accountability partner and you, your cord is not quickly broken with God in the middle.  If it is your church community, Bible study class, small group and you, your cord is not quickly broken with God in the middle.

In a biblical community, there are always three parties at work. The Apostle Paul gives us a picture of how this works in 1 Corinthians 12 –

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?  If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

Paul writes that God has given each of us unique passions and abilities so that we work with one another, minister to one another, and be nourished by one another.

If we cut ourselves off from the community of the church, we are fundamentally cutting ourselves off from the primary method God uses to minister to us through others.  And it also means the reverse.  If we cut ourselves off from the community of the church, we are also cutting ourselves off from the main means through which God is trying to minister through us to others.

In other words, whenever we think we are reducing our threefold cord down to two strands, we actually reduce our threefold cord down to one strand. Because when we remove one strand from the equation (such as God or community), we actually lose both strands in the process. God ministers to us through community.

Biblical community, therefore, always happens in three.  Even in the Gospel, you see all three persons of the Godhead working together, ministering together, and accomplishing together. The Father planned our salvation, the Son accomplished our salvation, and the Spirit applies our salvation.  And now, we have access to the Father because of the Son and through the Spirit.

Truly, a threefold cord is not easily broken. It is modeled in our salvation and also in our community.

 

Conclusion

This year, 2020, is certainly one for the history books.  The impact on our lives has been staggering.  And the effects are almost entirely negative.  And quarantined, we feel isolated, depressed, angry.  We aren’t meant to live like this.  From the time of Adam and Eve until now, God has wanted us to be part of community.

Community is not our idea, it is God’s idea.  Christian community is simply sharing a common life in Christ.  It moves us beyond the self-interested isolation of private lives and beyond the superficial social contacts that pass for “Christian fellowship.”  The biblical ideal of community challenges us instead to commit ourselves to life together as the people of God.

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We need each other.  We need to be connected to the body of Christ – not just for our own sake, but for the sake of others as well.  So that we can be a blessing to them, and so that they can be a blessing to us.  It is God’s plan for us, to live in community with one another.

Ecclesiastes offers Christians an opportunity to understand the emptiness and despair that those who do not know God grapple with. Those who do not know Christ are faced with a life that will ultimately end and become irrelevant.  If there is no salvation, and no God, then not only is there no point to life, but no purpose or direction to it, either. The world “under the sun,” apart from God, is frustrating, cruel, unfair, brief, and “utterly meaningless.”

But with Christ, life is but a shadow of the glories to come in a heaven that is only accessible through Him.  We need each other, so let us meet one another, talk to one another, encourage one another in our community, as long as it is called today.

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To God be the glory.