Read: James 5:13-20
Reflect: As an elementary school student, I remember the bane of impetigo, a contagious skin infection forming pustules and yellow crusty sores often appearing on the mouth. When a classmate entered the room with the telltale sores, they were immediately sent home and couldn’t return until their skin had cleared up. To be isolated isn’t a whole lot of fun when you are a little kid, especially when your mouth is a crusty mess.
Human beings of any age are social creatures, created to live and to participate in life together and not to live in isolation. That’s why Google reports that “people who live in solitary confinement are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, and psychosis. It effects physical health, increasing a person’s risk for a range of conditions, including fractures, vision loss, and chronic pain.” Yet many people insist on living in isolation because living in community, especially Christian community, can be challenging. It means making oneself vulnerable to others and making sacrifices. That is the underlying theme to this passage; what community living for a believer, as designed by God, should look like. James mentions the communities of suffering, rejoicing, illness, confession, and caring such that if the one strays from the ninety-nine, that the individual should be pursued to draw them back to community. Remember those nature films where the lions pursue their next meal by separating that lone animal from the herd? That’s what Satan wants for believers, to separate us from other believers so we are vulnerable to attack.
As a believer, I know it can take a great deal of effort to commit to community living. “If we love each other, we will not stand in judgment on each other, or speak evil against each other. We will not bite or devour each other (as if we were wild beasts). And we will not provoke or envy or lie to each other. Positively, if we love each other, we will be kind and compassionate to each other, forbear and forgive each other, submit to each other and build each other up, practice hospitality to each other ungrudgingly, encourage each other, admonish and comfort each other, pray for each other and bear each other’s burdens.” (from “The Living Church”, by John Stott). If more of us purposely lived this way, wouldn’t the local community of believers be wondrous?
How about considering Christian community as an opportunity (I love that word: “OPPORTUNITY”), to live out life as God has designed? In my own life I have found community in my life group called “The Tribe”. The participants are women who I can weep with, laugh with, praise God with, pray with, be real with, and who will hold me accountable if I start “straying off the reservation”. They care for me and I care for them. They are James 5:13-20.
Apply: So, have you pushed back at the Christian ideal of community, maybe due to painful experiences from the past or you have considered isolation a way to protect yourself? If you are a believer, you are designed to rejoice with others, weep with others, sing with others, walk with others through trials, pray for others, admit your sins to others, and to help draw that wandering sheep home. This is what God has planned for you, not to live in isolation, but in COMMUNITY.