The church, above all humanity, should know the deep joy of belonging. We are people who, in Christ, belong to God and to one another. If any group holds the antidote to loneliness, it should be the church.
We of course have an enemy, the Devil, who loathes this truth and longs to isolate us. The Good Shepherd gathers His flock to enjoy abundant life together but the wolf snatches and scatters it. He seeks only to steal, kill and destroy and one of his early targets is the loving community of the church. However, the power of Jesus to restore those who are isolated is illustrated in Luke 8, where we read of a man who had been driven by the demon into solitary places and lived amongst the tombs. Jesus rescues this man from the demons and then restores him to the community to which he belongs: ‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ (Luke 8:27, 29 and 39).
The New Testament’s most common description of a Christian is soaked in the language of intimate belonging, for to be a believer is to be ‘in Christ’. For us to be in Christ is to be where He is and He is in the Father. The Son belongs to the Father and we belong to the Son. To be in Christ is to be the ultimate insider, enveloped in the secure, loving, eternal embrace of the Trinity.
In his book entitled ‘One forever: The transforming power of being in Christ’ (Kingsford, Matthias Media, 2012), the author Rory Shinner illustrates this beautifully:
‘What relationship do we need with an airliner to get to our destination? The key relationship you need with the plane is not to be under it, behind it or inspired by it. You need to be in it. Why? Because, by being in the plane, what happens to the plane will also happen to you. To be in Christ is to say that, by union with Him, whatever is true of Him is now true of us. He died, we died. He is raised, we are (and will be) raised. He is vindicated, we are vindicated. He is loved, we are loved. And so on, all because we are in Him.’
So much flows from this beautiful truth. To be that secure liberates us to love others selflessly and generously. The forgiveness and reconciliation that births our union with Christ patterns our loving unity with each other. To be in Christ together makes us part of His body. We don’t just need each other, we belong to one another (Romans 12:5). And we have the ultimate help in strengthening
these bonds of peace: the Spirit of unity Himself (Ephesians 4: 3).
Last October, Britain’s chief GP, Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, warned that loneliness can harm health just as much as high blood pressure or smoking and the dangers of long term loneliness should come as no surprise. The first thing in Genesis that God declares “not good” is Adam’s isolation (Genesis 2:18). So it makes absolute sense that belonging to others is a health essential for humans bearing the image of God. Our task, as God’s church, is to welcome people and to point them to Christ, ‘under whom the Father is bringing together all things in heaven and on earth’ (Ephesians 1:10). It will be the depth and sincerity of our belonging together that will point people to Him: ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’John13:35).
[Extracted from an article by Derek Burnside, principal of Capernwray Bible School and a Trustee of Keswick Ministries, which appeared in the July/August 2018 edition of Idea, the magazine of the Evangelical Alliance.]