Have you ever thought it is odd that at a child’s birthday party, we give him the cake to blow all his germs on before we eat it? Until recently, I had never thought of it that way. Or, what about sneezing? For years it seemed funny. Now, I get a little nervous or embarrassed when I need to sneeze. What is healthy has changed. What is best? What is wise? What is good?
As the pandemic subsides, what is a healthy social distance? What isn’t? I am not thinking medically but spiritually. It is good to get some quiet time, to be by yourself, and to reflect. Yet, God’s Word states, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment” (Proverbs 18:1 ESV). The pandemic has accelerated what pollsters have been noticing—a growing number of people in America are distancing themselves from church and the fellowship of other believers.
Not for the Better
Our independent, autonomous culture has always prized individualism. The detachment brought about by months of self-isolation has only further solidified this value. I have seen this as a pastor play out in unhealthy ways, creating a mess down the road. People run away from the church, saying they don’t need organized religion, but they really do need a faith community. A church hurts them, so they give up instead of trying to be a part of the solution. Some have become accustomed to online church and have a hard time getting back in the habit of attending in person. The result of this type of social distance is a movement away from sound judgment.
For example, people may choose what is immediately attractive over what is detrimental in the long term. People may cohabitate instead of moving towards a committed covenant bond of marriage. They may seek the buzz of alcohol rather than self-control and moderation. People may secretly indulge in pornography instead of enjoying the genuine relationships God has given them. Sin doesn’t make sense and hurts in the long run. Moving back towards one another can help.
While community can be an antidote to the pitfalls of isolation, not all communities are equal. In Proverbs 18:24, we read about two types of communities: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” God doesn’t want us in a toxic circle of friends. He does not want us to join a mob of “yes-men” or buddies that egg us on to folly. The community God encourages us to be a part of should love us enough to tell us the truth and encourage us towards his ways. They need to be free to ask us tough questions and vulnerable enough to confess their own weaknesses.
We don’t want friends and followers like the ones in that story of the emperor and his new clothes. In the story, his fast-talking tailor pretended to make him special clothes the emperor could not see. The emperor bought the lie and sported his new birthday suit. Everyone around him was afraid to tell him the truth and instead complimented his outstanding duds, except one person. Needless to say, it was embarrassing when the truth came out. We need gracious, forthright, and godly friends who stick closer than a brother and help us not break out against all sound judgment.
Why would anyone isolate themselves if the end results are so bad? John 3 has an answer:
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.John 3:19–21
Jesus was and is the light of the world. Unfortunately, the world didn’t receive him. They killed him. Why? Because their deeds were evil, and they wanted to hide that in the darkness of the night. Deep down, without God’s help, our hearts can seek that same isolation. We don’t always want to be known or see the soundness of following him and his ways. In the dark of night and the privacy of one’s thoughts, rooms, or internet browsing, a person’s flesh can war against God’s Spirit. That person can break out against all sound judgment. That is not what we need.
Daily, I am in a battle between flesh and Spirit. I feel the tension Paul mentions in Romans 7. The words of wisdom from Proverbs are for you and me. It seems to be particularly poignant when we find ourselves stressed, disappointed, frustrated, and worried. Our defenses are much more likely to be down at those times. Because those times come so often, we regularly need the mirror of God’s Word and his people to show us the truth about God and the truth about ourselves.
Not only that, we need a spiritual community of the local church that reminds us of God’s grace, forgiveness, and call to holiness. Jesus died because we are lost without him. Each day is a new opportunity for us to press into God’s ways. We can’t do this without help. The Bible illustrates this reality with a comparison: a “cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12). We are better and stronger together than we are apart.
The value of community rings true to much of life. God designed the world that way. Plants and animals survive in flocks and herds and gaggles and groves. At the beginning of history, after making Adam, God said it was not good for him to be alone (Genesis 2:18), so he made Eve. In the New Testament, God formed the church and compared it to the human body. Every person is essential with a role to play (1 Corinthians 12:12–27). Even the early church’s leadership structure consisted of elders, not solo pastors. God made us for community, not isolation.
THE BENEFITS OF BEING KNOWN
We must fight against this growing cultural tendency of isolation. We can combat the tide by seeking to know people and to be known by people.
Being known offers several benefits:
- Others serve as a sounding board for crazy thoughts. Speaking aloud can help us see our foolishness.
- We gain insight into our blind spots as we begin to see ourselves through others’ eyes.
- We maintain accountability. As a result, we are far less likely to go down a path of sin.
- We gain an improved perspective on life’s circumstances. Others can point out ways God is working in and through our situation.
God made us for fellowship. From the beginning of time, we have always needed the companionship, accountability, and encouragement of others. So let us walk in the light of a Christian community to fight for sound judgment. Join me and press into a local Christian community.
I am so grateful to be in a small group studying the Bible each week for spiritual friendships, accountability, prayer meetings, service opportunities, and worship on Sunday mornings. All these local church activities help me get away from the danger of isolation. I hope and pray you can plug into a spiritual community as we move away from this type of social distance towards each other.
LAST WORDS: SEVEN SAYINGS FROM THE HEART OF CHRIST ON THE CROSS
In this powerful book, author Robert J. Nash explores a fresh perspective on a familiar event, guiding readers into the forgiveness, hope, comfort, and compassion of Christ’s words in his final moments on earth.