I remember the last time I was in Dallas that the central expressway, running through the city from north to south, had the inside lane marked as HOV lanes. That stands for High Occupancy Vehicle. You must have two or more people in the car to use that lane. It was designated as such in order to encourage carpooling. But there were hardly any cars in those lanes, while the other lanes were backed up at times with that miserable start and stop congestion. I’ve recently read a news article where someone was arrested for driving in that lane with a mannequin in the passenger seat. He wanted the ability to drive in a faster lane. We often want the benefits of the community without the inconveniences associated with it.  We hate to wait for others. We hate to have to depend on others. Independence is probably one of the greatest values in our American culture. It’s also true of us in the Church.

When we study the foundation of the early church in the book of Acts, we find that the first believers in Jerusalem devoted themselves to four things. (See Acts 2:42-47).  The first thing is probably first for a reason. They were devoted to “The Apostles’ teaching.” The Apostles continued Jesus’ teaching and told stories about Jesus’ life, explained Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, and encouraged and exhorted all believers to live sacrificial lives in community with others. They were now members of a new family and needed to live in harmony with other believers.  They needed to learn patience with others and learn how to forgive others and learn how to overlook others’ faults and weaknesses, and they needed to learn how to love each other. You cannot do that unless you are in community with others. All the fruits of the Spirit are relationship concepts: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness, and Self-control.

I mentioned that the first of the four things that those in the early church were devoted to is probably first for a reason. It was always a community event, like our church services on Sunday. Their time in the “Word” (The Apostles’ Teachings”) had to be a community event because there was no recognized written word at the time. Actually, there were no personal bible studies for 1500 years after Jesus’ death! It wasn’t until the printing press was invented that individuals had personal access to the Apostles’ teachings. It was always done in community. The letters were hand copied and distributed around the area to other churches. We even read where the letter to one church was read to members of other churches. Further, the literacy rate was very low in the first century. Slaves, over half the world’s population, could not read. Women were not taught to read, and the luxury of devoting time to such activity was reserved for the rich or those, like Paul & the other Apostles, who were supported by the giving of others. We need each other! We may need moments alone for reflection and meditation on God’s truth, but unless we put what we learn to practice in community, we haven’t learned a thing or grown an inch. Paul addresses the community in Rome as a physical body. He says in Romans 12:4-5, “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.”