I have long aspired to be a superhero. I have dedicated much more time than I would like to admit to brainstorming about the ideal superpower and how I would use that power if it were at my disposal. I long to be a one-man-army, capable of dispatching innumerable foes with little more than a swipe of my hand.
I think the same is true for many men. Maybe all of us don’t daydream about superpowers, like I do, but many of us set out to try and conquer life on our own. Dominating our temporal existence with all of the power and might of a real life superman. As a therapist, I see it constantly. We stifle our emotions, alienate our children, friends, and spouses in an attempt to be everything we need.
The unfortunate reality is that we were not designed this way. As I have been reading through some of Paul’s letters recently, I have noticed the distinct theme of community that, for some reason, I never noticed before. For example, In Philippians, Paul tells us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2.12b NASB). This has long been a verse I have interpreted as a personal verse, with a personal vision. But as I look at the greater context of Philippians, I find that all of Paul’s exhortations carry with them the focus of community. The Philippian believers were to work these things out for the good of other believers, for Paul, and for those who did not yet know Christ. Paul’s focus was always on the corporate church, rarely the individual, unless some individual conflict or person had a significant impact on the whole.
Even Paul himself viewed his very existence as being focused on the good and needs of the whole. Again, in Philippians Paul says about his life or death, “But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean a fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose [life and ministry or death and unification with Jesus].” Paul does not view any part of life as a personal endeavor, but rather as individual actions that are inextricably linked with the life and well being of others.
The problem is, men are lonely and even the secular world is noticing the trends. An article on the Good Men Project states that loneliness in men is every bit as damaging as smoking. It goes on to state, “People who are alone have no friends with which to form a supportive community. Community ceases to exist without human beings who engage those around them.” What a far cry we are from the believers in the early church that “were together and had all things in common…day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2.44 and 46, NASB).
Several months ago I had the opportunity to speak to some of the men of New Hope at ManCamp. It was a great experience to be with a group of men: to eat good food, share stories, and talk about Jesus. I felt alive that night, ready to come back to my life and be super-dad, wonder-husband, and a general all-around-great guy. Guess what happened…life did. I was back to coasting through my days, medicating emotions with food and television, snapping at my kids, and shutting out my wife. As I look back, (and honestly around), I think one of the problems is that I am very rarely a member of anything but me, myself, and I. The problem is, I was really just slipping back into what many men do. Really, it is the cultural norm. Wake up, go to work, come home…bury your head in social media, sports, or entertainment. But I can’t help but think that we, the body of Christ, were meant for so much more than this. Actually, we are.
The exhortation by Paul in Romans 12 to be “members one of another” (NASB) then is a big ‘ol slap in the face to my (our) nurtured selfish nature of self-reliance. Paul, speaking, to the Roman believers says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he out to think; but to think so as to have sound judgement, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (Romans 12.2-3 NASB). It looks like maybe there was a little selfish take-care-of-your-ownishness going on back then as well. Paul had to remind them that they were a part of something bigger. Something that was far more concerned with saving people’s souls, through the power and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, than it was with comfort and personal gain.
Paul was, in many of his writings, concerned much more with the corporate church and it’s all-important mission than personal satisfaction and comfort. Paul knew satisfaction and comfort will be received fully in heaven and wanted that for as many people as possible; so he addressed the body. The sinner-filled, bumbling body called the church. I mean look at us: full of individuals, varied backgrounds, opposing schools of thought, competing ideas, tumultuous feelings all wrapped up like a Christ-redeemed Chipotle burrito. But messy as it can be, it is our body nonetheless. And Paul highlighted that each of us, like fingers and toes, all have a purpose in the body; we are all important. The truth is, I worry our body won’t function very well if a few of us toes decide we are better off on our own.
My exhortation here is this, and believe me, I am preaching this one to myself as well: get over yourself! You and your needs are not more important than the needs of the other people around you. If we, the corporate body of the church, have any prayer to “present our bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God,” we are going to need some help along the way. Granted, that help is going to come from God, but last time I checked God has a tendency to work through…you guessed it, other people. So, New Hopian men, let us fire up the grill, crack open a book together, or just open the door and make a practice of being “members one of another.” After all, it really isn’t me, or you against the world, is it? It is more like us…through Jesus…against the world anyway.