When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)
When I, then an agnostic, heard the good news and believed the gospel, it was a life-changing event. Indeed, God instantly took away a kind of alienated rage that I often felt. But the Lord had much, much more work to do in me yet.
I had plenty to learn about what it meant to follow my shepherd and to hear his voice. And some of this learning took a long time. As just one example, it took eight years to be cured of my smoking addiction. And my training is still going on today. Why do I still need that ? Because even after all these years part of me is still addicted to wanting my own way.
Here’s how the Apostle Paul presents the sequence of first believing the gospel and then making every effort to live it out:
Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2: 8b,11-12)
Today we often think of the Christian life in overly individualistic terms. Once we’ve believed and come to faith, we try to live a private Christian life. But Paul challenges this solitary mindset, with a compelling comparison of how being Christians is like being part of a family.
Two thousand years after Paul, we are asked to live Christian life in community, sharing our lives as well. What does this kind of community look like for 21st century people ? How can a more experienced believer share life in Christ with new believers , encouraging them and comforting them ?
It’s through this family sort of community, called koinonia in the Bible, that we progressively grow out of being harassed and helpless. I think we’ll be growing together in seeing in how to live this out.
It’s my prayer that koinonia grows in all our churches.