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Christ Builds Community, Community Builds Christ #1Malcolm Webber
In the western church, Christianity is largely understood as an individual thing – a personal transaction between the individual and God. Consequently, leader development is also understood, largely, in individual terms – the individual learns and grows in an essentially individualized learning environment and then, once qualified, he performs his ministry and fulfills his personal calling.
In the New Testament, however, there is a very close relationship between the church and the leader’s maturing union with Christ.
Of course, “church” does not refer to an institution, nor merely to a weekly meeting on Sunday morning. The New Testament church is a true spiritual Community – the lives of the saints joined together in the Presence and love of God, growing together, serving together and building each other toward corporate maturity in Christ.
This relationship between the leader’s union with Christ and the life of the Community can be expressed in two fundamental ways: Christ builds Community, and Community builds Christ.
First, “Christ builds Community” means that the leader’s union with Christ will be expressed in the leader living together with others in the Community in a spirit of self-giving love, of true servanthood.
There is a spectacular description of this in the first four verses of Philippians 2.
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, (Phil. 2:1)
Paul writes beautiful words about union with Christ in verse 1, referring to the believers’ experience of union with the Triune Godhead and our participation in the great eternal fellowship of His Self-giving Love.
- any encouragement from being united with Christ – the motivating and “encouraging” Presence of Christ in our lives, inwardly and actively directing us to Truth, to holiness, to servanthood, to life (Gal. 4:6; 1 John 3:24; 4:13; 5:10; John 14:26; 16:13-15; Rom. 8:14-16).
- any comfort from his love – the inward comfort of the love of God, as we go through various sufferings, which comfort then becomes the source of our comfort to others (2 Cor. 1:4-5).
- if any fellowship with the Spirit – the continual experience of inward fellowship with the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit reveals the Father and the Son (John 14:21-23; 2 Cor. 13:14).
These are extraordinary words of Life; a clear articulation of the inward reality of knowing God, living in His Presence, living by His Life; a high expression of our invitation to participate in the eternal, self-giving Love of the Godhead – as the Father loves the Son and gives Himself fully to Him, as the Son loves the Father and gives Himself fully to Him, as the Holy Spirit receives the love of the Father and the Son and gives Himself fully to them.
In this context, are Paul’s next words: if any tenderness and compassion. The direct result of the inward life of God by His Spirit is tenderness and compassion toward one another! This is the fruit of Divine fellowship, the mark of those who know God (1 John 4:7-12). If we live in union with Christ, it will be expressed in self-giving love toward one another.
The next result of the indwelling life of Christ, according to Philippians 2:2, is unity:
then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. (Phil. 2:2)
The Source of church unity is not organizational mechanics, but the eternal unity of the Godhead (John 17:21) – the eternal exchange of self-giving love within the Godhead; we are now corporately invited into participation in this unified fellowship (John 16:13-15)!
Then, in verses 3-4, Paul describes the practical outworking of their life together (v. 2) which proceeds from the inward life of Christ (v. 1).
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil. 2:3-4)
What follows, in verses 5-11, is the supreme Example of this self-giving love proceeding from Divine Life – the Lord Jesus, who did not “grasp” the rights, rank, honor and glory (the “form”) of Deity, but temporarily gave them up (“emptying Himself”), for the sake of those He loved. We are to do the same thing – and it all comes from inward Divine Life.
Christ builds Community! The inward life of Christ in the believer’s (and leader’s) life builds Community.
Thus, if you know God, you will serve your brother. If you love God, you will forgive your brother. If you walk with God, you will be patient and longsuffering toward your brother. If you live in God’s Presence, you will honor and prefer your brother before yourself. This is true spiritual ministry; this is the healthy leader.
…I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received [being filled with the fullness of God, as described in chapters 1–3]. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:1-3)
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers… (1 John 3:14)
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7)
As we love one another, we love Him. As we enjoy one another, we enjoy Him. In caring for each other, we care for Him. In opening our hearts and lives to one another, we invite His Presence. In serving each other, we kiss His feet. In pouring out our lives for one another, we pour out His love back to Him. As we prefer one another, we give Him the pre-eminence. As we behold each other, we perceive His beauty. As we embrace one another with self-giving love, we taste His sweetness. As we wash each other’s feet, we smell His fragrance.
Jesus dwells in His church – to love and to be loved. As we love one another, quickly and imperceptibly the one love passes over into the other, and we love Him. As we fellowship with each other, quietly and almost unnoticeably we come in contact with Him. And the loving fellowship with which we embrace our brother ascends to that with which we love God, and we are united together in the eternal love and fellowship of the Godhead.
No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:12)
No one has ever seen God (1 Tim. 6:16), but when we love one another out of His indwelling, self-giving love, we do see Him, we do hear Him, we do touch Him!
Church life is both a foretaste and a beginning of everlasting life. As we love one another, we participate in the eternal love and fellowship of the Godhead, joyfully awaiting the fullness of this union, in the realm which is to come. (Quoted from In Him Was Life by Malcolm Webber.)
Healthy Leader Development
This is why Community-integration is key to healthy leader development – Christ expresses Himself in Community!
Leader development processes that are separate from, or token add-ons to, the life of the spiritual Community, do not build life, do not build character, do not build godly vision, do not build healthy leaders.
In our next Letter, we will look at the second relationship between Christ and Community: Community builds Christ!
For more on this subject of the role of community in leader development, please see this page. In part 4, there is a link to download chapter 4 from Building Leaders: SpiritBuilt Leadership #4 by Malcolm Webber.
Also, please see our white papers on healthy leader development.