Generally, a community is a social group that shares in common a set of values, a cultural heritage, and similar goals and interests. A community can reflect a given locality (the community in which we live) or it can refer to larger groups based on values and goals (a business community, a religious community, etc.).
Christians form a community of believers who share a common faith and salvation (Jude 3). Because of their desire to glorify God and love one another, sometimes the community of believers shared their possessions and had “all things in common” (Acts 2:44-45). This was not a forced socialism or communism, but rather God’s people acting out of love and a desire to care for each other. Christians help care for each other’s needs (Rom 12:13).
The concept of community can easily get lost in a culture that stresses hyper-individualism. Don’t misunderstand. Individuals stand before God in the final Day (2 Cor 5:10). Individuals are responsible for their own behaviors. Yet Christians should not lose sight of the fact that they have also been placed in a community, which requires individuals acting out of love on behalf of others and for the benefit of a group greater than their own personal interests. Paul stated it this way: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:3-4). This is the mind of Christ, who sacrificed Himself on behalf of all humanity.
This means that there is a real sense in which we are our “brother’s keeper.” Not in a coerced way. Not in a way that deprives others of their dignity and rights. Yet we are to watch out for one another, pray for one another, encourage one another, forgive one another, love one another, show mercy to one another, and sometimes even snatch one another out of the fire (Jude 22). “One another” is all over the New Testament. Christians know they have greater responsibilities than just acting for self.
So great was the the sense of community under the Old Covenant that they even shared a sense of common guilt for the sins of others. I don’t mean that each individual was personally guilty of a particular sin, but when they belonged to the community, they saw themselves as connected. This is why Daniel, I believe, would include himself in a prayer of repentance: “we have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled…” (Dan 9:5). This is why Nehemiah could confess “the sins of the people of Israel,” and say, “we have sinned against you” (Neh 1:6). They included themselves in the group even if individually they were not engaging in the sins.
Again, the individual is certainly the responsible party, but it is also possible that individuals can share in the guilt of a culture, not necessarily through personally and actively being involved in a specific sin, but rather more passively by helping to foster a soft culture that allows for the sins to occur with few if any repercussions. For example, if we do not speak out as we ought against sin or work to fight against sin properly, we might personally be against something yet have not done enough to stop it. This was Eli’s problem in relation to his own sons (1 Sam 3:13). This is what is frightening to me about sins like, for example, killing the unborn and racism. We might personally be opposed to these things (and a greater list could be given). We might occasionally speak up. But is it possible that we help foster an environment that allows for these things to occur with little else done? That requires some deep introspection—personal, individual reflection on our own hearts.
Herein was the problem at Corinth. A man had his father’s wife, and rather than warning and dealing with it, they proudly tolerated it (1 Cor 5). The group became complicit in the sin as they allowed for it, though the individuals apart from this likely would not have approved of it.
Please think about it. Christians are responsible before God as individuals, but God has also made us a community who share with one another in ways that make us responsible to others. While we are to keep watch for ourselves and bear our individual loads, at the same time, we are to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:1-5). Let us not become so individualistic that we fail in the “one another” part of discipleship, for “one another” is a concept that is written throughout the Scriptures and cannot be avoided by those who share in the common salvation of Jesus Christ. By focusing on one another, we will, individually, be better for it.