The Celebration of Community

These are notes from my reading John R. W. Stott’s classic book, The Cross of Christ.

Perhaps this presentation of Christ’s cross is too individualistic. If so, this section should restore the balance. The purpose of Christ’s self-sacrifice on the cross was not just to save isolated individuals but to create a new community, whose members would belong to him, love one another and eagerly serve the world. The community of Christ will be nothing less than a renewed and reunited humanity, which Christ, as the second Adam, will head (1 Corinthians 15:45).

From the Day of Pentecost onward (Acts 2), it has been clear that conversion to Christ means also conversion to the community of Christ. These two transfers—of personal allegiance and social membership—cannot be separated. Read 1 Peter 2:4-10, written by the apostle who preached powerfully on that Day of Pentecost.

First Peter 2:4-10 is the basis of the Community study:
Peter describes what is true about Christian believers. He does NOT necessarily describe how we feel all the time. We are living stones in a spiritual house, a holy and royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.

One note specifically about the people of God as “a holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5) and “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9): This is the famous priesthood of all believers on which the Reformers laid great emphasis. In consequence of this universal priesthood, the word “priest” (Greek hiereus) is never in the New Testament applied to the ordained minister. The minister shares in offering what the people offer but has no distinctive offering to make that differs from theirs.

The uniqueness of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross does not mean that we have no sacrifices to offer, but only that their nature and purpose are different. They are not material but spiritual, and their object is not propitiatory (turning away God’s wrath) but eucharistic (thanksgiving), the expression of a responsive gratitude. What would be some examples of “spiritual sacrifices” (1 Peter 2:5)?

You may come up with many different examples from your own experience, but I see eight kinds of spiritual sacrifices mentioned in Scripture:

  1. We are to present our bodies to him for his service, as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12:1); that sounds like a material offering, but it is termed “spiritual worship,” presumably because it pleases God only if it expresses the worship of the heart.
  2. We offer God our praise, worship and thanksgiving, “the fruit of lips that confess his name” (Hebrews 13:15).
  3. We offer prayer, which is said to ascend to God like fragrant incense (Revelation 5:8).
  4. We offer “a broken and contrite heart,” which God accepts and never despises (Psalm 51:17).
  5. We offer faith, which is called a “sacrifice and service” (Philippians 2:17).
  6. We offer our gifts and good deeds, “for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (Hebrews 13:16).
  7. We offer our life “poured out like a drink offering” in God’s service, even unto death (2 Timothy 4:6).
  8. We may present the special offering of the evangelist, whose preaching of the gospel is called a “priestly duty” because the evangelist’s converts can be presented as “an offering acceptable to God” (Romans 15:16).

First Peter 2:6-8 include three Old Testament quotes that are applied to Christ. Notice how and why the stone affects different people in different ways:

  1. First Peter 2:6 quotes Isaiah 28:16, which is in the context of God’s promise that evil will be found out, judged and swept away. The person who trusts in the Lord will endure and will not be touched by the judgment.
  2. First Peter 2:7 quotes Psalm 118:22; the psalmist’s next words confirm that the Lord is the one who put the stone in place: “The Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes” (Ps 118:23).
  3. First Peter 2:8 quotes Isaiah 8:14, which also calls the Lord a sanctuary for those who trust him while promising that unfaithful Israel will “fall and be broken” (Isaiah 8:15).

We have received mercy so that we may “declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). Our new intimate relationship to God, which has replaced the old and painful estrangement, is marked by:

  1. Boldness: we are able to approach God is freedom and confidence; humbly (as sinners) yet boldly (as forgiven sinners) we come into God’s presence.
  2. Love: this love has driven out fear; responding to his loving initiative with an answering love of our own.
  3. Joy: we are no longer alienated and humiliated, we are rescued and restored; worshiping him with musical instruments and expressing our joy in songs of praise.

These are not to be thought of as purely private and interior experiences, they are to distinguish our public worship. Consider your public worship with other believers. What aspects of our worship express boldness, love, and joy?

The brief time we spend together on the Lord’s Day must not be separated from the rest of our lives; it is intended to bring our lives into focus.

Singing is a unique feature of Christian worship: I sent a few Journeyman missionaries to the Far East and they developed friendships with young local Buddhist monks. The Christian young men prepared an American style meal, and the evening led toward sharing music and Christian praise songs. The boys ask the monks to share some of their songs from the Buddhist faith. The monks got together and chanted a little and then shyly confessed, that “we really don’t have any songs in our religion.”

Whenever Christian people come together it is impossible to keep them from singing. The Christian community is a community of celebration. Evaluate the element of joy and thanksgiving in our worship experiences.

The community of Christ is the community of the cross. Having been brought into being by the cross, it continues to live by and under the cross. Our perspective and our behavior are now governed by the cross. All of our relationships have been radically transformed by it.

  1. The cross is not just a badge to identify us
  2. The cross is not just the banner under which we march
  3. The cross is also the compass that gives us our bearings in a disoriented world
Spread the Community, Faith, Love

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