The Pentecost Season brings to remembrance the remarkable fellowship that was formed when the Holy Spirit made those first century believers members of the Body of Christ and “…all who believed had all things in common” (Acts 2:44). If one member suffered, all suffered together (I Corinthians 12:26). They wept together, they rejoiced together, they “… loved one another with brotherly affection, outdoing one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:13). They were bearing one another’s burdens, including “the failings of the weak,” and “were not passing judgment on one another” (Romans 14:13, 15:1) – they “visited orphans and widows in their affliction” (James 1:25) – they “practiced hospitality and “contributed to the needs of the saints” (Romans 12:13) – they “showed no partiality” but had “…the same care for one another” (James 2:1, I Corinthians 12:25) – they remembered those who had been ‘left alone’, letting the lonely know they were not forgotten in their loneliness, for there were those in Christ’s Church who cared (I Timothy 5:5) – they served one another by using the spiritual gifts they had received “for the common good” (I Corinthians 12:4-8). As “members one of another” bound together as “one body” in Christ” (Romans 12:3-8; I Cor. 12:18-27) – they dealt “patiently” with one another, clothing themselves “…with compassion, kindness, and humility,” and if anyone had a complaint against another, forgiving each other, just “as the Lord had forgiven them” –.teaching and admonishing one another “with all wisdom and with gratitude” in their hearts for the life they were privileged to share “in the one body” (Colossians 3:12-16) – “…provoking one another to good deeds…not neglecting to meet together…but encouraging one another” in love (Hebrews 10:24-25).
As I said in my last blog, what a fellowship! All of this One Anotherness is what makes authentic Christian fellowship so unique, because of our shared life in Christ, which includes a shared mutuality of ministry (Ephesians 4:12). This is God’s Cure for Loneliness. All of us need a sense of belonging. All of us need to feel loved, accepted, forgiven, affirmed, appreciated, and cared for. All of us need to know that we are special to someone, especially to God! Whether you realize it or not, you need to know that you matter to God. Furthermore, all believers need to know that they are never really alone. Jesus said, “I am with you always…I will never leave you or forsake you…I will not leave you as orphans in this world…Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.”
Furthermore, this is why Christ has put us together in His Body. This is why every believer is baptized into the Body of Christ. Jesus knew how much we were going to need each other as His followers. He knew we would need to be encouraged by each other’s faith, that we would need to meet together, worship together, praise God together, give thanks together, and break bread together. He knew we would need to love one another, as He had loved us; that we would need to forgive one another, correct one another, admonish one another, rebuke one another, and restore one another. He also knew we would need a strong sense of His own continued presence with us, His abiding presence, His unending presence. He knew we would need “another Counselor” (i.e. another One just like Him, who would not only be “with” us, but would be “in” us, binding us together as “one body” in a unique fellowship). This is why He sent the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12:12-27).
Has this truth ever truly gripped your mind and your heart? If you are one of those people who believes in Jesus, but has never felt a need for the Church, I encourage you to think again. Have you ever wondered why you do not have the joy so many other believers seems to have? Have you ever asked yourself why you have not grown as a Christian? Have you ever wondered why some Christians are so much more mature in their faith, while you have simply remained a “babe in Christ”? Do you ever ask yourself why you are always going back in your memory to a time years ago when you made a commitment to Jesus, why you have not had any intimate and life-transforming experiences with the Lord for so long? Is it possible that you have been trying to live as a believer on “stored-up grace“? Is it possible that your Christian faith is “second hand”, that you have been trusting in the faith of your parents, or grandparents, to see you through? Do you actually believe that Christianity is such a “private affair” that you do not need other believers in your life, that there is no need for corporate worship, no need for Christian fellowship, no need for prayer support, no need to be living in obedience to God’s command: “Do not neglect meeting together as the custom of some is” (Hebrews 10:23-25)?
Do you actually believe you can live a satisfying, fulfilling, victorious, abundant Christian life all by yourself? If you do, then let me ask you, why do you think Jesus loved His Church so much that He was willing to give His life for her (Ephesians 5:25-27)?
Let me “shift gears” for a few minutes, so we can focus on the society in which we are living. We are living in a time when loneliness is a disease permeating our common life, caused by walls between people, walls that lock out intimacy, true friendship, authentic fellowship, even in marriage and family life. Walls between husbands and wives, walls between parents and children, walls between the young and the old, walls between races, political walls, cultural walls, economic walls, walls between nations. There are walls everywhere in our society, in our neighborhoods (they call them “fences”), in our schools, in our churches – yes, even in our churches. Walls between liberals and conservatives, between evangelicals and social activists – walls that cause hard feelings, distorted opinions about those who are different from us, a different sexual orientation, a different perspective when it comes to critical issues and controversial causes, different priorities, different goals – walls that often cause others to feel judged, rejected, and even condemned – walls that can make minorities feel unwanted, unwelcome, shut out, misunderstood, and uncared for.
Let me hasten to make a distinction between being “alone” and “loneliness.” There are times when all of us need to be alone. We need solitude occasionally just as Jesus did. We are told that He left the crowds in order to find “a solitary place,” where He could be alone with His Father in heaven, He needed time by Himself to pray, sometimes in silence and sometimes out loud, as in the Garden of Gethsemane. There were other times when He did not want to be alone, as in the Garden, when He asked three of His disciples to go with Him, and wait there with Him. For He was in agony; it was the dark night of His soul. There were other times when Jesus was not alone, but He was lonely, for no one understood, not even His closest friends. He had tried to help them understand, but they could not bring themselves to believe that He was going to suffer, that He was going to die, that He was “going away.” There is such a thing as “selective deafness,” you know. The disciples did not want to listen. They did not want to hear. How many times did Jesus say, “Let those who have ears to hear hear!”
How often we too do not want to hear. We do not want to listen, for it is too painful. But listening is loving! And, of course, both listening and loving can be painful, but scripture tells us to love and to listen. In fact, we are told to be “slow to speak, but quick to listen,” and to “love one another” as Jesus has loved us. Jesus was such a great listener. He responded to the feeblest cry for help. He was never too busy to listen. Although He was very busy, and had only a short time to train His disciples for their mission, He was always interruptible. One person was a great audience to Jesus, and when He looked out upon the crowds He did not just see a very large group following Him; He saw many lonely individuals, “harassed and helpless, and scattered like sheep without a shepherd” – hurting people, people who needed to know that God loved them and wanted a relationship with them, and that He was the “Good Shepherd” seeking the sheep that had been wounded, the sheep that had wandered, and the sheep that were still lost and needed to be brought into the sheepfold, to become “sheep of God’s pasture.”
How sad it is that there are so many lonely and lost people, so many who feel uncared for. People who are asking, “What’s wrong with me? Where did I fail? I’m not wanted. I’m not needed. I’m unimportant. I’m not lovable.” Its’ equally tragic that our secular society (and large segments our society that are also godless) offers no answers (or I should say only false responses) and futile efforts to improve such low-self esteem – artificial and tragic solutions for such loneliness, for such feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, such as drugs, empty talk at cocktail parties, alcohol binges, pre-marital sex, extra-marital sex, and so many other unhealthy efforts to escape boredom and to find at least temporary relief from loneliness. None of these unhealthy attempts to fill the empty place in human hearts really satisfy. Oh, they may bring momentary pleasure, or temporary escape for a season, but they cannot really fill the void that is on the inside. For there is “a God-shaped hole” (Pascal) in every person’s life that nothing but God will fill. When people are truly “filled with the Spirit” (i.e. filled-full with God) they are then full-filled! When we find Jesus, or rather when He finds us, we experience the “abundant life” He promised to all who believe and receive Him, and the next thing He wants to do for us is place us in His Body, His Church, where we can experience love, forgiveness, acceptance, as well as the power of the Holy Spirit within us for “reconciliation” with those from whom we have been alienated – for whatever reason – for Christ breaks down all those dividing walls, and we discover that the kingdom of God is a kingdom of right relationships – that healthy relationships are what matter most in life. First, the right relationship with God, then the right relationship with ourselves, next the right relationship with others (especially the significant others in our lives, including other Christians), and the right relationship with the world. “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:1)
Suffice it to say, our life together in Christ’s Church should provide the model and the motive for a loving acceptance of all people, as persons made in the image of God, spiritual beings into whom God has breathed His Spirit, persons for whom Jesus died on the cross, persons capable of knowing God, loving God, and loving one another as God in Christ has loved us. Our shared life in the Body of Christ should provide the environment where walls can be torn down, where loving and lasting relationships can be established, where a sense of belonging to something everlasting can be experienced (for God has “set eternity in our hearts”), where the loneliness in people’s hearts can be healed. Where a diverse group of people can find their common and true identity in Jesus Christ and discover a purpose that is worthy of them as “children of God.” When that happens, and wherever that happens, our Christianity will become contagious, and others who have only scoffed in the past will stop, look, and listen – and they too will discover GOD’S CURE FOR THEIR LONELINESS!