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Building Blocks of Community I: Bodily Presence

From John 1:14 we learn a simple lesson – when God wanted to enter into communion with man, He became a man in Jesus Christ, and lived among men, becoming bodily present with His people. A fundamental building block of Christian community is bodily presence.

There are two aspects to bodily presence in the text that are important for us to see. The first is this: the word became flesh. Jesus took for Himself a human body, joining Himself eternally to a package of muscles, nerves, fat, and blood, in order to repair the relationship between God and men. In order to have community, you need bodily presence, and in order to have bodily presence, you need a body!

If all that was necessary for community was simply communication, Jesus would not have needed a body for that. God had been communicating with people through letters, prophets, and visions for thousands of years, but it was not enough. True community requires bodies interacting with each other, and so the Word became flesh.

This truth has some important implications for the way we go about seeking community. Our technology tempts us by providing a digital illusion of presence. But if you are spending more time with your friends outside the body, through texts or tweets or emails or whatever, do not be surprised that you still have a longing for richer and deeper community. Bodiless friendship is insufficient! That’s not to say these ways of maintaining relationships are bad – far from it! As John says in his second epistle, writing is good, but face to face is better. Following Jesus in community means participating bodily in a community of other bodies.

The second thing that John 1:14 teaches us about bodily presence, and thus about true community, is presence. The Word that became flesh, the text says, dwelt among us. God wanted greater communion with man, and so He moved. He relocated His home in order to live closer to the people He loved and wanted to minister to. He changed jobs, taking a drastic pay cut so that He could live in the community of His disciples.

We could say it this way: Community doesn’t happen from a distance. Holiness has a normal geographic shape, and as we will continue to see in the book of Acts, wherever the gospel goes, people who live near each other geographically are gathered together into groups, into local communities that worship and follow God together.

But this aspect of dwelling among each other faces unique problems today. An entirely different set of technologies presents us with the illusion of nearness. Cars make it seem like distance is no big deal, and if worshiping together on Sunday were the only aspect of following Jesus, it wouldn’t be. We’re willing to drive thirty or forty minutes to worship once a week, but not much more frequently than that. Living apart from each other at distances that make daily fellowship all but impossible undermines our efforts to create true and meaningful community.

If you want a deeper and richer experience of community (and you should), then you need to live in close proximity to the people you go to church with. But remember, in pursuing this “spiritual discipline of geography”, you won’t be breaking new ground: Jesus traveled this road before you. He looked at the distance between God and man, and took action to decrease the physical distance between Himself and His people, so that He could minister more effectively. He came and dwelt among us, and the world has never been the same.

Posted on Thursday, August 08, 2013 by CJ Bowen