“But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” Ecclesiastes 4:10b
Of all that Solomon laments in Ecclesiastes, this may be one of the saddest pictures he paints. Sure, the endless treadmill of life is exhausting, for as he states numerous times throughout this OT book, life lived beneath the sun can never bring contentment. Over and over, Solomon claims that everything is meaningless, a striving after the wind. Whether wealthy or poor, whether foolish or wise, each discovers the same purposeless, pointless vanity; each is appointed a time to be born and a time to die. For the one who thinks that perhaps there is something to be gained under the sun, the old king offers evidence to the contrary. Riches and relationships, pleasures and popularity, status and success, were all his, yet they failed to fulfill their promises; each season was incapable of bringing his soul satisfaction. So sad… So terribly disappointing… But woe to the man who learns this lesson in isolation.
In the fourth chapter of his journal Solomon describes the oppression that he witnessed under the sun and goes on to explain that the very thing that leads some into excessive labor, causes others to pull away and give in to laziness. It is no surprise that he says this too is vanity. But in the verses that follow, the “Preacher” identifies this significance of avoiding such striving in solitude. In short, he says that together we can be more productive and resourceful. It is here that we find comfort, confidence, and companionship. Essentially, there is strength and safety in numbers; and there is caution given to those outside of community – “woe to him who is alone when he falls.”
Are you able to identify with Solomon? Have you felt the heaviness that accompanies this world? Are you familiar with the grittiness and gravity of life lived beneath the sun? Do you see all the various forms of oppression? Can you resonate with the “Preacher” at all? Even more importantly, if you were to stumble or be tripped up, perhaps even thrown to the ground by the burdensome bully called Life, would there be anyone there to see you fall? Would there quickly be a loving hand extended to you? Would you be picked up and dusted off, offered a warm blanket or a caring shoulder to cry on? Unfortunately, far too many would not be able to answer this in the affirmative.
I must be honest and say that most of my life was lived outside of true, life-giving, gospel community. But by God’s grace, it is now something my family is privileged to experience. Just yesterday we were able to spend time with a sweet group of people that make up our d-group (discipleship group). And while our gathering added on to an already busy Sunday afternoon full of other activities and obligations, it also encouraged us to hit this week head on with intention and purpose. This community of believers and friends is far from a finished, polished product; by no means is it perfect, nor is everyone completely transparent all the time. We are being sanctified as individuals, and transformed as a group, and because of that, we know our involvement is vital to our overall growth and maturity as a family. Also, please note that it has taken some time to develop.
For every Sunday that we’ve enjoyed a full house of fellowship, we’ve also had a smaller gathering of only a few. It takes time to build a group; it takes some time to become as family. It takes work to reprioritize, organize schedules, develop trust, and establish group consistency. However, once it is discovered, so is the genuine love and joyfulness that comes with it. This type of community provides a safe place to be known. It’s an environment where we can share prayer requests and personal concerns; it’s a place to express doubts and ask hard questions; it is where the people of God remind each other of His gospel and mutually encourage each other to focus on living for His mission – to make disciples of all nations.
There are lots of things that keep us from pursuing such community. In his book, Community, Brad House says this: “The marginalization of community within the church and culture has not come from conviction but from apathy and isolation brought on by sin. Isolation is our response to sin. Community is our response to reconciliation (p.42).” In another place he reminds us, “Sin always separates what God joins together (p.32).” This describes in part why I was hindered from seeking to get plugged-in. I was somewhat ashamed of my sin and afraid to share parts of my story. I also knew that being around others might expose some darker places in my heart – the deeper hurts I had vigorously toiled to suppress. I was fearful of being known and possibly facing rejection.
And perhaps fear is that main deterring culprit for you as well; it’s that thing that keeps you from getting connected. It is scary to think about making yourself vulnerable to others. What will they do with what I have to say? Are they safe? Will they judge me? Will they tell everyone about my struggles? Well, maybe they will. Perhaps they’ll judge you. They might trample on your heart… But if so, then such people are to be pitied, for one day they will have to answer to the One who covered our sins, paid our debt in full, and reconciled us unto Himself. I understand being hesitant. Really, I do. However, I must tell you that the risk of putting yourself out there is worth the reward of finally being known – finally feeling free and at peace in your own skin. Truly, we have been called into gospel-relationship with one another so that we might remember that it was for freedom that we’ve been set free.
There are a million other excuses we can give for neglecting our call to community, and they all seem quite justifiable. Yet in light of Scripture, it is foolishness to suggest that we are above the need for community. For to again quote from Community, “There is no biblical support for personal, autonomous Christianity (p.47).” So then, why do so many of us live under the guise that it is safe for me? Why do we think that it is unnecessary for us or that we are somehow excluded from this kind of environment? Oh, my prayer is that we might trust God enough to make ourselves vulnerable with each other. Like so many things in life, that which is most precious and dear, often requires the most labor and sacrifice. We all have much to offer, and we are all so desperate for His grace and goodness. It would appear that our Father often sends His mercies to His people, through His people. As we search for divine purpose and meaning beyond the sun, may we be found seeking it out together.
House, Brad. Community: Taking Your Small Group off Life Support. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011.