Jesus calls us to become disciples. He says, as we saw last week, that when we become disciples he will show us how to fish for people.
He makes his disciples into fishers for people. When we decide to follow Jesus, we need to learn that this is our new purpose. We have set aside all of our previous purposes for life, and accepted a new purpose.
Well then, surely we need to learn all we can about this purpose. It is really important because Jesus has warned us in Matthew 12:30 that we can become his enemy if we aren’t careful. He said, “Anyone who isn’t with me opposes me, and anyone who isn’t working with me is actually working against me.”
We have learned that being a Christian is a lot more than saying we believe in Jesus, we also have to follow Jesus. And now we have learned that as his disciples we have to learn how to fish for people.
Paul writes about this new life in Colossians chapter 3: “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.”
This is part of what it means to be a fisher of people. Binding ourselves together in perfect harmony. Becoming members of one body. Another metaphor for the purpose of a Christian’s life is bringing the harvest of grain into the barn.
The Good News of Jesus is that we are saved, but it is also more than that. We are saved for a purpose. Just as a car is made to be driven and meal is cooked to be eaten, you are called to be fishers of men.
The images of fishing for people and being part of a body should have already hinted to you that being a disciple is about people and relationships.
You may have wished that becoming a disciple meant you could be saved and stay alone, walking ‘The Way’ on your own without any bothersome people around you.
But a fisher of men has to go out and make relationships with more people. However hard you find it, that is now part of the purpose of your life. Jesus is training you in how to do it. And when you make relationships with people you have to connect those people to Jesus so he can make them part of his body like you are.
Church is not a loose collection of spiritually minded people who believe in Jesus.
Church is not ‘doing’ disconnected from ‘being’. Church is the body of Christ, it is disciples bound together in perfect harmony. So when we become fishers of men, we don’t go off alone and try to fish. We do it all together. We fish by living out the gospel, being part of a Jesus-centred community. This is the gospel of Jesus as Lord, a gospel of trust and obedience.
The value of Christian community reaches even further than bringing the Body of Christ to strength and maturity. Such communities, by their character and their action, witness to the power and presence of God in the world. They are models of what God wants for all of humankind. Jesus’ disciples are to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16), shining like bright stars (Philipians 2:15), reflecting the glory of God (2 Corinthians 3:18). Often the Hebrews’ experiences of deliverance were sent, God said, so that they and the nations ‘will know that I am the Lord’. In a similar way, the unity and mutual love that distinguish Jesus’ disciples will demonstrate that Jesus was, in fact, sent by the Father (John 17:23).
This fellowship exists to be a testimony of Jesus, proof of his gospel to the world. When we are converted, this is what we are converted to. We are converted into the body of Christ (Colossians 2:2), which has him for the head (Colossians 2:6). We are knit together with love and truth (Colossians 3). We speak the truth in love to each other (Ephesians 4:15). We forgive and make allowances for each other (Colossians 3:13). We teach each other and share wisdom (Colossians 3:16).
If we reject this body we are rejecting the body’s head, who is Jesus.
Jesus died and rose again to make this community of dependent people, dependent on both himself and on each other. Building this community is fishing for people, inviting others to leave the world and join this new way of life with Jesus at the centre.
A Jesus-centred community is attractive. It is a community that encourages, serves, loves, forgives and invites non-Christians to join.
We cannot follow Jesus without being part of his body, and this community is his body. It is not this gathering in this room on a Sunday morning, it is a living community built out of our relationships during the week. So we make efforts to meet each other, talk to each other, help each other during the week. We ensure we are in a cell group so that we can meet together and pray for each other.
Some Christians feel that they must follow the call to community in rigorous, perhaps even radical, ways. We can thank God for the example of our brothers and sisters in communities such as Koinonia in Americus and Sojourners and the Church of the Savior in Washington. They help teach us principles that God wants for the whole Christian fellowship.
At the same time, we need to know that the Bible doesn’t require – or even give special blessing to – certain forms of community. Structure is not the point; relationships are. We can live together as God wants us to in a great variety of ways – ways that strengthen rather than disrupt our vocations, our families, and the other commitments we have already made under God’s guidance. The good news is that community is a gift God offers to pour love out on us all.
Even though forms may not matter much, size does. For community to be specific and personal enough to reach its potential, we need groups small enough for everyone to be directly involved.
The practice of the earliest Christians suggests a small scale. They often met in each other’s homes for meals and teaching, for worship and prayer (Acts 2:44-46, Acts 12:12-17). And it is clear that when Paul advised the Corinthians that ‘everyone’ should be ready with a psalm, some instruction or a revelation, he expected the meeting to be small enough for everyone to participate (1 Corinthians 14:26).
The practice of Christian community, quite simply, makes the gospel a lived reality. It embodies a specific, personal way of life together in Christ. It strengthens us to live the life to which we are called; it conveys God’s life and power to the world at large. And it is necessary.
When we imagine that we, as Christians and humans, can live in total independence and self-sufficiency, we are deluding ourselves. God, from the beginning, never intended that we should go through the world ‘alone’. We simply cannot experience fully the power and delight of life with God without also being drawn into life together with our sisters and brothers in Christ. Without experiencing such life together, we will not discover how wonderful the news about Jesus really is.
Community is not to be feared, but welcomed. The risks don’t go beyond those it takes to follow Jesus. The reward is to enter into life as God intended it to be lived from the beginning. How can we baulk at an offer like that?