Jesus didn’t spend much time talking about what it means to have a “personal relationship with God,” although that language is certainly commonplace among Western Christians. He described the Kingdom of God, and it wasn’t an empire like His original audience might have assumed but a community of faith that we understand to be the Church. A person cannot survive or thrive in isolation, and God’s intent was never for you to do life on your own. Love, unity, and sacrifice are meant to characterize the fellowship within our community, and it extends so much further than we think. Jesus gives us so much when defining a neighbor and creating a family. Who is on your team, and how much stronger are you because you’ve got folks in your corner? Conversely, who has previously been on the other side of community for you, and what would it look like to sacrificially serve someone on the outside so they can see Jesus, too?
Why have you ever gone to watch a movie when someone could have summarized it for you in a couple minutes? They could have given you the setting, explained the characters and their motives, told you what happened at the end, and even wrapped it all with a bow by stating the takeaway. Movie reviewers are paid to write about movies, so why not just trust them and save yourself some time?
Well, that’s ridiculous, right? If someone tells us all those things about a new movie, we say we’ve heard “spoilers.” We won’t have felt entertained. We won’t have been along for the ride, or felt much emotion. And we probably won’t have that takeaway stick with us! There’s something powerful about a good story.
Jesus used parables; He taught with stories. He would explain spiritual truth through stories of things that people can see and touch. He brought the truth and wisdom of the One who created all things seen and unseen (Colossians 1:16) down to a level that the common person could begin to understand.
You may wonder, why didn’t Jesus say exactly what He meant in literal terms? Why did He bother telling stories with takeaways to the people He taught, instead of just telling them the answer in ten seconds or less? Why would he let sinful people have the freedom to think through the parables themselves?
There’s a number of reasons why Jesus taught in this way. One is that simply hearing wise words has not gotten the job done in the past! By Jesus’ time on earth, God’s people had had access to plenty of instruction on how to live a godly life. But people did not heed God’s law or His prophets time and time again. Humans can be stubborn! And our sin nature makes it unrealistic for us to be changed merely by processing rules like lines of computer code. Jesus’ teachings invited people (and continue to invite Gospel readers today) to wrestle with the nuances of His parables, and to rely on Him to reveal their truth to us.
Another plausible reason why Jesus taught in parables is that doing so meant stepping into humanity. The people of Biblical times understood how farming worked, for example. It was a very important part of their lives. It sustained their lives, and it surely was something which they pondered on often. Jesus’ parables would also bring a narrative into the teaching, setting the principle He taught onto the stage of the lives we live. Often, the parables involved people and the conflicts between them, as well as the postures of their hearts. Loving God and loving people are at the heart of any teaching of Jesus; the context of a parable brings this to our attention more directly than books of rules and laws can.
The Power of Fellowship
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. — Acts 2:42
In the film Remember The Titans, we follow a football team of both black people and white people in a time in America when African Americans were not treated equally under the law. There were boundaries between teammates on the basis of their skin color, and the norm at the time was to treat black people as lesser-than.
The movie, at its heart, is not about football so much as it’s about teamwork and unity. The team developed a new, radically different model for relating to one another. They saw past their superficial differences and saw what really mattered. They worked together for a common goal, with humility and respect for one another.
This football team’s battle-forged bonds remind us of the importance of fellowship. We are to be united in Christ, not divided. We are to lower our secondary and temporary identities — race, nationality, language, politics, affluence, gender — in order to make space for relationships based on our shared citizenship in the Kingdom of God.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
— Galatians 3:26-28
If we find our own identity in Christ, and we begin to see others how Christ sees them, wouldn’t that be amazing? Imagine what we could do for our world, and how much stronger our witness to Jesus Christ would become. In fellowship, we pave the road to restoring our relationships. We have a place to belong and purpose to fulfill. We find opportunities to love sacrificially. In fellowship, we can become more like Jesus.
MLN Podcast // Racial Reconciliation // Darrel Nelson