What does your ideal community look like? How is it organised, and how is community life structured? What values does the community share?
John Stott’s commentary of Ephesians in the Bible Speaks Today series was originally published in 1979 with the title, God’s New Society. That book would be a very good, albeit 300 page long, answer to these questions of what good community looks like and what values it shares. (Graham Beynon has written God’s New Community which I know says many of the same sorts of things but I haven’t actually read it, so I’ll lead on Stott.)
The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is one of the most significant pieces of theology and ethics ever written. Its scope is universal, in both space and time, claiming every that ever was and is and will be under the Lordship of Christ. All things are being drawn together under one head, that is Christ. It outlines how God has removed the barrier of hostility between Jews and Gentiles, and he has removed the barrier of hostility between sinful men and himself as a holy God. It preaches peace to those who are near and those who are far away. It explains how God’s people are saved into a worshipping community the functions as a unit under the headship of its saviour.
The theology established, it goes on to speak of ethics. It shows how wrong and sinful behaviour causes harm to the community and how right and righteous behaviour builds it up. It urges a change of clothes, in metaphorical terms; put off the old self and put on the new self. It plays that out in the workplace, in the home, in the public square.
This is the church. We often think of the church as buildings or services – these things are good and important, but they are not how the Bible writers talk of the church. They talk of groups of disciples seeking to live well all the time and meet together from time to time for mutual encouragement. Its values are rooted in its origins: to have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had, as Paul puts it in Philippians.
It is always imperfect, often dramatically so, but in the bizarre incomprehensible wisdom of God the church is his chosen vehicle for shining light in the world. Done faithfully, it is a community unlike any other on earth. Its values are greater. Its goal is higher: to bring glory to God. And it’s a wonderful thing to be a part of.