From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Two summers ago, my wife and I took a trip to Israel, and while there, I noticed something profound – a great picture of what 2 Corinthians is talking about.
In Israel, the north is significantly different from the south. Right in the middle of the northern territory is the Sea of Galilee. Running across the country from north to south is the Jordan River. The Jordan runs into the north end of Galilee and exits the south end continuing on. All around this body of water is lush farmland and beautiful weather.
As you follow the Jordan, it flows into the Sea of Galilee and out heading south. The further you move south, the landscape gradually becomes dry, arid desert running right into the Dead Sea. This area is void of life because the Jordan River ends there – the Dead Sea consumes it, and there is no outflow.
The flow of the river terminates on the Dead Sea creating a stagnate space with no growth whatsoever.
The Gospel Flowing
Laying 2 Corinthians over this imagery, we see that the gospel has a flowing nature to it. The gospel comes in and reconciles us to God, but the gospel also goes out as we become messengers of reconciliation.
Through Christ we are reconciled to God and have been made messengers on mission.
When the gospel isn’t expressed in and through our life and the message of redemption terminates on you and me, it creates a vacuum of life.
When we do not understand the full picture – this fluid nature of the gospel – we are led to a stagnant, complacent Christianity and life-sucking community rather than life-giving community.
The Gospel Flowing In
We know that community is not the goal – growing more into the image of Christ is the goal – but it is the vehicle by which we move toward the goal. It is the context for the gospel to flow in and flow out.
There are over 50 “one another” passages throughout the New Testament – imperatives placed in front of believers on how we should live. “Bearing one another’s burdens”, “praying for one another”, “confronting one another” – on and on I could go. These things – that make up community – are crucial to the balance and progress of our spiritual growth.
But that’s not where it stops. The Bible says that the old has passed away, and the new has come. Then it says that, through Christ, God reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. And this takes place in community.
The Gospel Flowing Out
Community is a conduit and a canvas for the gospel to be poured out and displayed to the lost and dying world around us – for mission.
Mission does not come before the gospel; it comes because of the gospel. The love of Christ compels us. A community engaging on mission out of anything other than a response to the gospel is just advocacy.
When the gospel lands and blows up group life, you have an overflow of gospel-centered living that permeates neighborhoods, schools, softball teams and on and on.
Community life also has the opportunity to herald Christ by how we interact with one another.
Our society is saturated with the lie that everything is about you. Community is a place where this paradigm can be transformed. It is a place where it can be redeemed with a full, accurate and fluid picture of the gospel of Jesus Christ.