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Blog: Engage by Nurturing Relationships

“Christian community means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24–25)

This text conveys an essential message of unity and belongingness for the Jewish diaspora, which probably lived as far as Italy as forced exile when the epistle was written. Suffering from persecution at the hands of the Romans and their fellow countrymen, these early Christians found themselves in a challenging and precarious situation.

The Roman Empire, wary of potential rebellion and threats to their judicial system and way of life, targeted the diaspora. Concurrently, these Christians also faced ostracism from their people, who viewed them as sectarians, corrupting Judaism and undermining its religious foundations. Excluded from the synagogue as defectors and without a temple after its destruction, they found themselves in a unique and isolating predicament.

In this context, the message of koinonia, or fellowship, held particular relevance and significance. It served as a rallying call for unity and support, encouraging them to persevere in their faith despite their adversities.

The primary objective of this appeal is to encourage these early Christians to inspire each other actively, be the people together, and fortify each other’s faith. By fostering a sense of unity, they can better withstand the challenges and persecution they face as a community.

1. Inspiring one another

Stirring up one another embodies intentional encouragement and empowerment, inspiring fellow believers to display sacrificial love and perform good deeds.

The Greek word for stir-up (paroxusmos) signifies a strong urging or provocation toward positive action. God spurs the prophet through his Word.

In the early church, the apostles consistently urged their fellow believers towards a deep sense of love that manifested itself through good deeds (Acts 2:42–47). Such devoted commitment towards shared responsibility and accountability helped them create strong bonds and purpose. This dedication emphasizes the need for a laser-focused commitment and a sense of urgency to encourage one another in preparation for the Lord’s Day. They are called to demonstrate a mutual and reciprocal supportive attitude reflected through works of love.

We used to have all-night prayers in our churches or individual households in Ethiopia. When the world quiets down and the stars are out in full force, people gather to lift their voices in prayer and supplication. But sometimes, even the most devoted among us can grow tired.
Despite their best intentions, the long hours of devotion can take their toll, and it’s not uncommon for some prayer warriors to nod off amid their prayers. When a fellow warrior drifts off, the others draw close, raising their voices in prayer and rebuking “the enemy seeking to steal their friend’s focus in the middle of the night.”With each emotional cry and each heartfelt plea, the slumbering warrior stirs, awakened by the strength and determination of their fellow believers to see and get excited with the dawn of a new day, walking boldly with Jesus and fellow sojourners.

Our spiritual journey requires us to rely on one another to draw strength from the support and encouragement of those around us. Whether we are fighting battles in the spiritual realm or simply struggling to stay active in life, the community of faith stands by our side, ready to lift us and keep us moving forward.

The Apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1:13–15 further underlines the importance of mutual concerns and responsibility: “I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort to see that, after my departure, you will always be able to remember these things.” Here, the apostle acknowledges the necessity of continually reminding and encouraging believers of their shared faith and encouragement, even though he recognizes that his time is limited. By nurturing mutual responsibility towards one another, believers can maintain their resilience and dedication to the Lord and his path of discipleship, enabling them to face adversity with unwavering hope and a sense of unity.

2. Be the People

The Greek term ἐπισυναγωγὴν conveys a similar meaning to “synagogue,” which refers to the gathering of God’s people for His purposes. As the faithful were prohibited from meeting at the synagogue, God provided them with alternative spaces to foster and develop their faith, where they could find companionship and support. They are reminded to be a new “synagogue” to each other. The Word of God and prayer nourish the bonds in their midst.

There are examples of the early church living this out:
◦ Following his expulsion by the Jewish leaders, Jesus welcomed the man whose sight he had restored (John 9). Jesus became his eternal refuge in place of the physical and social expulsion he suffered.
◦ When the Apostle Paul was beaten and left on the street, his fellow brethren stood by his side and helped him to continue his mission. The text reads, “Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples gathered around him, he got up and left the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.” (Acts 14:19-20).

We are likewise called to be the new allies and companions to our fellow people of God as we are all engaged in our battle fronts in the journey of faith.

3. Fortify the faith

The Greek word “parakaleo” signifies the act of consoling, building up, and empowering others. The Holy Spirit empowers us as believers and gives strength and comfort to the weak and weary. The Bible speaks of the Spirit’s role as our helper and advocate in John 14:16–17, where Jesus says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him because it neither sees nor knows him. But you know him; he lives with you and will be in you.” The Spirit’s empowering presence enables us to assist and build each other up. As 1 Thessalonians 5:9–11 says, “For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore, encourage and build each other up, just as you are doing.”

Many Christian immigrants in Europe or America feel isolated and ostracized because of their status as foreigners. The spiritual conflict they go through as a result of the individualistic and materialistic cultural pressures in their environment only makes them feel more alone. To create a sense of community and sustain their lives, they often form smaller groups, or “social islands.” However, as they do this, they become susceptible to division over different issues, including theological differences, tribal politics, and status (leadership) competitions, causing even more stress and tension. They lose a sense of authentic collegiality that fuels further alienation, denying them essential support and sustenance mechanisms in the host country.

We are called to bear one another’s burdens and to support each other in love. Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Amidst life’s struggles, such as displacement, discrimination, and facing various forms of darkness, the importance of communal fortification is at stake. Early Christians acted like warriors, raising their comrades’ arms during intense battles. The story of Barnabas in the New Testament illustrates the impact of empowering others through acts of generosity, support, and encouragement. Known as the “son of encouragement,” Barnabas invested in the lives of many early Christians, including the Apostle Paul, and helped to establish and strengthen the early Christian community. His example is a model for believers today, who are called to use their gifts and resources to build up and empower others in the faith.

According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Christian community is not simply a gathering of like-minded individuals but a community formed through the shared experience of and through Jesus Christ. In his words, “Christian community means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.” He emphasized the importance of intercession, sacrifice, and service within the Christian community. He believed that members should be willing to give of themselves for the sake of others, which determines the health and growth of their community as a church. For Bonhoeffer, the Christian community was a place where believers could find support, encouragement, and accountability and listen to each other. He said, “The first service one owes to others in a Christian community is listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of our love for others is learning to listen to them.

Practical steps

  • Define the objectives of your shared community and align them with your faith and values.
  • Organize regular gatherings: Schedule consistent meetings or events that foster interaction and engagement among community members.
  • Encourage transparent and honest conversations, enabling community members to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
  • Recognize community members’ unique skills and abilities and encourage their utilization to benefit the community.
  • Provide opportunities for learning and development.
  • Assess the community’s progress toward its goals and mission, making necessary adjustments