As you read the passage from Hebrews 12 that the Holy Spirit has kept bringing us back to, please note the plural pronouns.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.Heb.12:1-2
The race of faith that we are in is not an individual thing – we are running together! And we are not just talking about teamwork to accomplish a common goal. We are talking about something far more fundamental than that.
God exists in an eternal plurality of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And we are made in the image of this divine community:
Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likenessGenesis 1:26
We were created for connection, formed for community. We, therefore, have a deep-seated desire for relationship (the Bible calls it ‘fellowship’) with God and with one another (see 1 John 1:3-4).
Since humanity rebelled against God, all hell has been let loose on the earth, and one of the most obvious expressions of this is in relational conflict, in breakdown of community. This is revealed in myriad ways, from friends falling out, domestic violence, church splits, racial tensions, gangs, social media bullying, international war, and much more.
But the purpose of God remains. It is still to demonstrate true loving community through his people, forming a different and diverse people into a community of radical love. To reveal to the world such diversity in unity, we cannot just associate with people who are like us. That is why a church is full of people who are very different (just like those first twelve disciples) but who, as followers of Jesus, are learning to love each other well. This is how we show the world what God is like.
‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’John 13:34-35
This is still God’s purpose. And there is no Plan B. That is why we cannot truly follow Jesus without doing so together. If we are not following together, we are not really following Jesus. His purpose is to bring all things together (Ephesians 1:10), starting with his church, and that means all those local communities of Jesus followers.
That is why the local church is still the place where we learn to love, and where we get formed together into a community:
“…that’s what the church is. It’s a place where you can get really mad at people and not run off and leave them. It’s a place where anger and contempt can be unlearned. It’s a place to learn the deep things of a fellowship in Christ that lovingly endures disagreement, anger, and injury. . . It’s vital. It’s God’s plan, and nothing is going to take the place of it. The church is intended to be a school of love.”Dallas Willard