I am on the verge of a profound discovery – one that will radically alter my understanding of the Christian life forever, and for the better. While this is an awakening for me, it is really older than time itself. Probably every other generation of believers has known it plainly, although up to now it has remained foreign and unknown to me.
I have mistakenly viewed discipleship as an individual pursuit. Until now.
The writers of the New Testament emphasized the communal nature of spiritual formation: Paul wrote “make my joy complete” and “work out your (that’s the plural form of “your”) salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:2,12). In fact, most of Paul’s references to “you” in his writings were not to an individual and singular “you”, but to a corporate and plural “you”.
Likewise, John said that his writings were penned so that we “may have fellowship with him” and “with the Father, and His Son Jesus”, and so that our (again, “your” plural) joy may be complete.
The writer of Hebrews gives us one of the most direct statements about the interconnectedness of all believers everywhere, throughout time, when he said
“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” -Hebrews 11:39-40
Whoa… what?! Did you notice the pronouns used there? They did not receive what was promised, because God had something better in mind for us…? And “together with us, they would be made perfect…”? Wow! Somehow, the sanctification of the martyred saints of old is tied to my sanctification today! That’s crazy!
I mean – How?! And what does it mean? Didn’t they achieve / succeed / reach the zenith of their spiritual formation when they laid down there lives for their faith in Jesus – when they died and entered His eternal Kingdom forever? The more I study the Word, the less I think so.
That’s not to say that they didn’t go to heaven – or that they did not enter the glorious Presence of King Jesus – no, no. I mean, their perfection is (somehow) not made fully complete until we are perfected. THAT IS HUGE. That shatters my little independent, self-centered view of growing in Christ as an individual! My own perfection is tied to the perfection of others not yet born – whom I will never meet. And to others who are hundreds of years’ long dead.
Our perfection is not fully realized until all others’ are. Wow. Wow wow WOW!
Pursuing God is not the stuff of the rugged individualist. It is the business of the community of faith – the whole body of believers pursuing God, living in and sharing His grace among themselves. Spurning one another on towards love and good deeds. Sharpening each other. Removing the specks and planks from each other’s eyes. Rejoicing with those who rejoice, mourning with those who mourn. Bearing one another’s burdens and fulfilling the love of Christ.
This will be the first in a series of posts on the concept of communal discipleship. I invite you to contribute to the conversation by leaving a comment below! I need your help in exploring the implications of the Bible’s use of the plural form of “you” in its discussions regarding spiritual growth and formation.