“…let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…. “ (Heb. 10:24-25 NASB).
heard the story of one young man who was so certain about hearing directly from the Holy Spirit that he said “I don’t need my Bible any more; I get mine direct.” Similarly some people say, “I don’t need other people; all I need is my relationship with Jesus,” or “I don’t need a church; all I need is a few friends with whom I can fellowship.” I believe, however, that love is never stimulated apart from community and that almost always means a particular local church.
Although we can gain the power to love others by our times alone with the Lord, that love is never expressed or stimulated except by being with other people. The Greek word for stimulate (paroxysmos) is sometimes used in English: paroxysm. It means “provoke,” “irritate,” “exasperate,” or “stir-up.” It is a word that communicates intense emotion and is almost always used in a negative fashion. For instance, when the Apostle Paul sees the city of Athens “full of” (under) idols (Acts 17:16), his spirit is deeply moved or “provoked” within him. This seems to be a powerful negative reaction to the idolatry that he saw all around him (Acts 17:16). It is because Paul saw the idolatry that he was moved (provoked) as he was, and thus spoke as he did. But in our context, Hebrews 10:19-25, a positive meaning is demanded. The context of the community stimulates—provokes—love and good deeds by all kinds of means. Without community (the church), love and good deeds are not provoked or stimulated. Love is in fact impossible in isolation. Love demands another: God or our brothers and sisters.
Why then do so many people think they can make it on their own? I suppose a major reason is because we live in a society that encourages autonomy and independence. One pastor coming from England to America saw a sign in New England that said “We serve no sovereign here.” He wondered how he was going to talk about the Lordship of Christ and the sovereignty of God in a society that most highly values independence. One study found that the value most encouraged in American children was independence. Yet, the most often heard complaint of American parents was that they were too independent. Many people have the attitude “I don’t need you” or “I don’t need anybody.” Self-sufficiency, for some, rules over all other virtues. Do we really need others? Do others really need us? What happens when we live our lives in isolation?
Why do we need community?
“When we live our lives in isolation, what we have is unavailable and what we lack is unprocurable,” wrote Basil (an early Church father). When we live our lives independently, other people are poorer because they cannot benefit from our gifts: “what we have is unavailable.” Also, when we isolate ourselves, we are poorer because the benefits of others’ gifts are lost to us, so what we lack, we cannot get. There are good things in others that are “unprocurable” unless we interact with them. So if we take on the role of “lone ranger” believer, others are poorer and we are poorer too.
We already do need each other. C. S. Lewis says that we are “one vast need.” Yet often we spend much of our lives denying this vast need—and we are helped along by a culture that blinds our eyes. I once saw a foreign film, “La Strada,” where Anthony Quinn plays a hardened circus performer. A young girl is drawn to him, and they leave the circus and try to make a living going town to town. He treats her harshly, but she puts up with him because she has a love for him. After a while, he tires of her company and just leaves her asleep by the road. When she awakes, she is devastated. She goes to a town and leads a sad and lonely existence. Towards the end of the film, the man attempts to seek her out and arrives in the town only to find that she has recently died. He hears more about her sadness, and at the end of the film, he starts saying repeatedly, “I don’t need anybody,” even pointing to the heavens saying, “I don’t need anybody,” and he dissolves into tears. It turns out that he had more needs than he knew. There is a section of Scripture that addresses this need that we all have.
The classic passage on the body of Christ is I Corinthians 12. In that passage two erroneous beliefs are addressed. First, “I am not needed.” Second, “I do not need you.”
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