It’s that time of year again, when we get together with family and friends to celebrate, catch-up, and fellowship with one another. Most of these gatherings occur around a table, whether we’re sipping coffee or hot cocoa, or we’re eating delicious meals. Maybe we’re playing games or sharing our hearts? Whatever the occasion or activity may be, something special happens when we sit with one another around a table.
The past several weeks, I heard the phrase “coming to the table” twice. I thought this was interesting knowing I would soon be gathered with friends and family for Thanksgiving meals and “Friendsgiving” celebrations. I wanted to dig deeper into this concept of why it’s so special to gather around a table with one another. More specifically, I believe coming to the table together is the same as being in community with one another. But, being in community hasn’t always been easy. As I wrestled with this and talked with God, I wanted to be reminded of His design for community and what scripture says in regards to Godly community.
I want to share with you what God revealed to me through several passages of scripture, in hopes to encourage and remind you what community requires of us, and the complete blessing it is. Let’s begin with The Last Supper.
Being in community requires sacrifice
“And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:14-20
Jesus is having his last meal with the disciples before He is crucified. I’ve read this passage so many times, but what stood out this go round is verse 15. Jesus says that he has “earnestly desired” to eat this meal with his disciples before he suffers. Jesus continues to be intentional with His disciples, even up to this point in His life – even when He knows He is about to suffer a tragic, painful, embarrassing, awful death. And not only is Jesus being intentional with His disciples, but His disciples are all present – they showed up, even the one who will betray him.
For three reasons, I bring this up. First, God designed us to be in community with one another, in our joy and in our suffering. Second, Jesus shows us here that gathering around a table with one another is a special event – something great happens when you meet face-to-face with one another. Third, this passage reminds us of the sacrifice it requires for us to commune with one another. Not only am I talking about Jesus’ sacrifice for our souls, but the time and money we sacrifice to be in community with one another. When we sacrifice, we give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to work in and through the lives of not only us, but also each other. That gets me excited, right there. Not only is the Holy Spirit living in us to help guide our own individual walks, but, The Spirit is there to help one another!
So, as we gather with the women we’re discipling, or with people we’re reaching out to, I encourage you to give your time sacrificially and joyfully, like Jesus shows us here, and you watch – He’ll blow your mind.
Being in community requires humility
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count other more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:1-11
Rocking Philippians 2 is a common expression heard at Aletheia, and I think this passage further encourages us, and explains why we gather at the table, or live in community, and what that looks like.
Verse 4 reminds us to not only look at our interests, but to also consider the interests of others. Paul then goes on to remind us that we do not serve a God who sits on His high throne and makes commands, but we serve a God who humbled Himself into the form of man and suffered death on the cross to reach us.
I think that we, because of what God has done, are called to humble ourselves as well, so we can reach not only the lost, but also the found. Keeping the interest of others in mind is an important part of our walk – and it’s a reminder that this life is not about US, and why community is so important.
I encourage you to humbly serve one another, reach out to one another, and pray for one another, because the Lord blesses this type of fellowship – He designed it!
Being in community requires vulnerability
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess out sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
1 John 1:5-10
I believe this verse points out the “why” we should be in community with a slap in the face. Honestly, this one is hard to swallow and follow. It’s hard because “living in the light” requires us to be vulnerable with one another.
Verse 7 tells us to walk in the light, having fellowship with one another, and that the blood of Jesus cleanses our sin. This verse, not only references the metaphorical light of Jesus and His warmth, but also the literal exposure that His light provides on our hearts. John is saying that walking the light of Jesus should expose our sin, in fellowship with one another, allowing the Holy Spirit to work His grace, love, and forgiveness by the power of Jesus. What I love about this verse and its connection to community is that darkness represents not only our life without Christ, but it represents isolation, loneliness, bondage, and maybe even captivity.
God does not want us to walk alone! He wants us to walk with one another in His light, exposed and vulnerable, so by the power of the Spirit, He can continue to make us new. When we come to the table together, or when we live in community like this, we allow the Spirit to work in this way; to heal and be healed, to grow, and to love one another. I encourage you to ask yourself, are there any sins in your life that are holding you captive, or keeping you from experiencing growth, or moving forward in your walk with God? Do you feel alone in darkness because of lies from the enemy? If you answered yes to any of these, I encourage you to step into His light in faith, and to talk to a trusted woman, who loves you dearly, because you are not alone!
Being in community requires grace
“And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
Luke 15: 20-24
To give a little backstory on this very popular passage, the Prodigal Son left his father and brother, took all of his inheritance, spent it recklessly, found that no one would help him, and realized he had sinned against heaven. So, he decides to go back to his dad, planning to proclaim his unworthiness. But, before he even makes it home, his dad sees him, and runs to him, filled with grace and open arms. The father asks that his son receive a robe, shoes, a ring, and then they sit together at a table to eat and celebrate.
To be transparent, this act of grace is hard for me, and has kept me from gathering at the table with certain people in my life. Grace can be tough to show! Especially for me as a leader, as someone who tries to be understanding, loving, and graceful constantly, it can really be exhausting. But, just like Jesus received us with open arms, after we’ve been lost, doubtful, dirty, prideful, selfish, ungrateful, unloving, ungraceful, etc., we should also receive one another.
After reading this passage, I had to ask myself, “When was the last time you ran to someone with open arms, who in your heart was undeserving?” I couldn’t answer the question, because I’m human, and I over-analyze everything. I selfishly think, “This person hasn’t reached out to me - why should I be reaching out to them?” But, this is not how grace works, and luckily, we serve a God who is graceful!
Of course there are such things as toxic relationships, but I’m referring to your community of brothers and sisters. Being in community can be tough because it can be hard to love someone once you know their dirt, or once they’ve said something unkind. But, I encourage you to pray and love and run to those in your life with the grace of the Prodigal Son’s father, and with the grace of Jesus in your heart! Allow the Lord to fill your heart with His grace, so you can love those in your life the way He calls us to, and the best part? We cannot be gracious without our merciful Father, so if this is something you struggle with, ask Him to change your heart towards His children – he is the ultimate Helper.
I’d like to close with a quote from my devotional called Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are by Shauna Niequist. She’s much smarter than me, and a much better writer, and I’d like to encourage you just as I’ve been encouraged. Her excerpt on November 10 titled “At The Table” was focused on the passage in Luke we discussed earlier about The Prodigal Son. It reads,
“The most sacred moments, the ones in which I feel God’s presence most profoundly, when I feel the goodness of the world most arrestingly, take place at the table. The particular alchemy of celebration and food, of connecting people and serving what I’ve made with my own hands, comes together as more than the sum of their parts…It’s not strictly about the food for me. It’s about what happens when we come together, slow down, open our homes, look into one another’s faces, listen to one another’s stories. It happens when we celebrate a birthday, and also when we break out of the normal clockwork of daily life and pop the champagne on a cold, gray Wednesday just because the faces we love are gathered around our table. It happens when we enter the joy and the sorrow of the people we love, and we join together at the table to feed one another and be fed, and while it’s not strictly about the food, it doesn’t happen without it.”
Shauna’s closing question is, “When was the last time you felt nourished and seen and known around the table?”
So, when was that? When was the last time you allowed someone to see your heart? When was the last time you showed a fellow sister grace? When was the last time you met face-to-face with a loved one? When was the last time you put the interest of someone else before your own?
I encourage you to come to the table with one another, to be in community with your brothers and sisters, and you’ll feel the blessings of His design!