After being a follower of the Lord for 43 years, and after serving Him in full-time ministry for 38 years, it’s become crystal clear to me that it’s impossible for a person to grow to spiritual maturity apart from being an active member of a local community of Messiah’s followers. There are reasons for this:
God designed us to function together as a community. In 1 Corinthians 12, Rabbi Paul compared us to a body. Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Messiah. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many … Now you are the body of Messiah, and each one of you is a part of it. We are like a body with each part having a task to perform. Each follower of Messiah is to be working with the other followers of Messiah in a community, doing the tasks the Lord has gifted us to do.
Just as a body has different parts that perform different functions, and all the part are needed for the body to function the way it was designed, so God has designed Messiah’s community so that it is made up of people with different abilities. Everyone needs to be a part of the community and use their abilities so the community can function the way it was designed to function.
The Rabbi continued: The body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”
Individual Christians and Messianic Jews are not designed to function on their own. God has given us different abilities which are designed to help our brothers and sisters become what they need to be, and so that the entire community functions the way it should. The community can’t function the way it should apart us from being involved in a local congregation.
The Rabbi taught something similar in Ephesians 4: Messiah himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Messiah may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Messiah.
We need to be under the authority of God-ordained spiritual leaders and be part of the communities they lead, so they can equip us to serve God the way we should. Their ministry to us results in the body of Messiah being built up, and God’s people reaching unity in the faith, and reaching the knowledge of the Son of God that we should – which is not limited to intellectual knowledge, but also includes doing and being knowledge.
We need to be under the authority of God-ordained spiritual leaders and be part of the communities they lead if we are to attain spiritual maturity. If we aren’t under the authority of spiritual leaders and part of the communities they lead, we will remain spiritual babies. We will be spiritually unstable. We will be vulnerable to cunning, crafty, deceitful schemers. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
If we are under the authority of spiritual leaders and part of the communities they lead, we will be protected. We will know the truth, and speak it to each other in love. We will grow together to spiritual maturity. We will be properly connected to Messiah Himself. We will function the way God designed us to function. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Messiah. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
God designed Messiah’s Community to be led by spiritual leaders who are gifted to lead, teach and correct. We need to be in a relationship with them so that we know them and they know us and are able to watch over us and give us direction, and teach us and correct us. And, we are to submit to their leadership. Hebrews 13: Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you. We can’t submit to the authority of our leaders apart from being involved in a congregation.
Each one of us is to serve God, and the primary way God wants us to serve Him is by serving our Christian and Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters. The Rabbi wrote this to the Communities in Galatia: Serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5). The entire law, our entire obligation to obey God is fulfilled when we humbly serve one another in love. We can’t do that if we are not part of a fellowship of Messiah’s followers.
We need to be in a community to fulfill the Lord’s command and so the world will know we are his disciples. The Lord Yeshua said this: John 13: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
There is very little love in the world. Our love for our brothers is sisters reveals the transforming power of God. It is an essential part of our witness. It is part of God’s plan for world evangelism. We can’t love one another the way we should so that everyone will know we are Yeshua’s disciples if we are not actively involved with the other members of His Community.
We live in a fallen world that is satanically controlled and in rebellion against God and under a curse. It’s hard to live for God in a world like that. It’s hard to serve the Lord the way we should in a world like that. It’s hard to endure in faith. We need to meet together to spur one another on and encourage one another. Hebrews 10: Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 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.
After Israel was saved from Egypt, we battled the Amalekites in the wilderness. When Moses held his hands up, the army of Israel prevailed. When his hands got tired and he let them down, Amalek prevailed. So Aaron and Hur supported Moses’ hands until the Amalekites were defeated. The lesson for us? Our prayers, combined with the support of our brothers and sisters in Messiah’s Community, will enable us to be victorious in our battles. We need to be, for each other, the Aarons and Hurs who held up the weary hands of Moses. We can’t do this if we are not involved with a congregation.
Why do some who claim to be Christians and Messianic Jews refuse to be involved in a local community? Various reasons:
The fear of man: There can be a price to pay for being part of a community of the Lord’s people that is faithful to the Lord, His Word and His Gospel. Messiah warned us that the world will hate us. We are easier to hate if we are baptized and part of an identifiable community of the Lord’s followers. Because some will not want to experience persecution, or jeopardize their standing at work, or with their family or community, they refuse to become part of a community of Messiah’s followers.
But Messiah lives in His people. To refuse to identify with us and be part of us is to deny Him. I remind you of Messiah’s words: Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. We must fear God and obey Him and not yield to the fear of man.
Some refuse to be involved in a congregation because of pride: They think they are better than most of the people in the community and don’t want to associate with their inferiors. You may be smarter, wealthier, stronger, better educated than most others. So what? God gave you those gifts so you can help those less gifted.
Some refuse to be involved in a congregation because too many others in the congregation are not like them and they don’t want to associate with those who are not like them. They have less education, less money; less social status. They are from a different race. They have different political goals.
However, God’s purpose is to take a divided world and make us into a new united humanity. The basis of our ability to get along with others isn’t race, money, political parties, education. The basis of our ability is that we share one Spirit, are members of one universal community, have one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
And consider this: God wants us to be part of a community of people who are different from us to teach us to love those who are different from us.
Some refuse to be involved in a congregation because they don’t like most of the people in the community. You don’t need to like most people in the community. But you do have to love them. We may not like most people in our community. And some people might rub us the wrong way. That does not excuse us from being involved. Proverbs 27:17: As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. When iron is used to sharpen iron, sparks fly – but the final result – a sharp tool that is easier to use than a dull tool – is a very good thing. Being part of a community and experiencing problems with others is God’s way to improve us and make us more useful.
We learn how to communicate, and ask for forgiveness and receive forgiveness, and restore relationships. Part of God’s transformation process is for us to be with people we find hard to love so that we will learn to love hard to love people.
Some refuse to be involved in a congregation because of laziness. It takes time and effort to be a faithful member of Messiah’s congregation. Hebrews 6: We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. Don’t be lazy when it comes to your spiritual responsibilities.
Some refuse to be involved in a congregation because then they won’t have to give. Exodus 34: Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God.
Some refuse to be involved in a congregation because they can avoid having others to whom they are accountable. Again, Hebrews 13: Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority.
Some refuse to be involved in a congregation because there are things they don’t like about the congregation. The truth is that it’s very hard to find a community that is everything we would like it to be. The leader might be too young or too old. His teaching and preaching ministry is unlikely to be as good as the great teachers and preachers we have access to on TV, radio or the internet.
The service or the music might be too contemporary or too traditional. It might be not “Jewish enough” or it might be “too Jewish.” It’s hard to find a congregation that is everything we would like it to be. That does not excuse us from being part of a decent one.
Some refuse to be involved in a congregation because it’s full of hypocrites. However, Messiah taught us that in His Community, there would be hypocrites. There would be wheat and tares that look like wheat; that there will be many who say, “Lord Lord” but are hypocrites He doesn’t know. We are to expect hypocrites and fake believers to be in the Church. That’s no excuse for not being part of a local congregation.
There are some important things we can’t do on our own. We need to be baptized. We don’t baptize ourselves. We need to participate in the Lord’s Supper. We don’t serve ourselves Holy Communion.
For those who claim to follow the Lord and refuse to become part of a local community, consider how you affect others: your refusal to be part of a congregation sets a bad example for younger believers; and you discourage older believers.
Don’t tell me you are serving the Lord if you are not part of one of the Lord’s communities and you are substituting listening to Christian radio or podcast or watching Christian TV or reading the Bible on your own. Don’t tell me you are serving the Lord if you are part of a non-Christian community, like a non-Messianic synagogue.
We need to be not only members in a local community, but active members, involved members, members who are doing something to help the community. It’s not enough to come to services, sing songs, pray, listen to a message, give some money and leave. You need to serve in some way. If it’s a matter of time, cut back on other things you are doing in order to serve her.
You who are involved in Messiah’s Community the way you should be – well done! Good for you! Keep it up! You are doing something very good, very right, something that very much pleases the Lord.
Many people at Shema are doing something to serve, but not everyone is. Find a way to participate. Find something to do. Find a way to volunteer, to help in some way. If you can’t think of anything to do, talk to me and I will find you something to do. I’m serious about this.
If you know someone who claims to be a Christian or Messianic Jew, and he is are not an active member of a local community, send this message to him. Don’t be afraid to send this to him.
Lord of Your people, help us to love You the way we should; serve You the way we should. Love one another the way we should. Be connected to each other the way we should; serve one another the way we should. May the world see our love for each other and know that You are a God who saves and transforms.
Lord, we pray for those who are disconnected from Your Community. We pray that You would turn them around and reconnect them to us so that all of us, united and working together, can reach unity in the faith, reach the knowledge of the Son of God that we should have, and attain spiritual maturity.