What is Christian community? What practical implications are there to being one body?
The book of Ezra is extremely fascinating as it continues the story of God’s steadfast love, his preservation of a remnant, and his faithfulness. Embedded in this book, however, is a great example of Christian community. The prophet Ezra returned to Jerusalem shortly after the rebuilding of the temple in order to teach the Law to the exiles. After some time in Jerusalem, some officials approached Ezra and told him that many of the Israelites, including the priests (the worship leaders if you will), had blatantly disobeyed God by intermarrying with foreign women.
[If we harken back to Deuteronomy 7:3-4, we will recall that God had commanded the people to not intermarry BECAUSE “they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.” It is not that God was against his people marrying people of another skin color or race (see Moses for example); God was against marriages that would lead the people away from worshipping the one, true God to false gods.]
What I am noting in this passage today, however, is Ezra’s response. Even though he did not sin and it wasn’t him who had committed this crime against the Lord, Ezra tore his clothes, pulled his hair, and fasted. These are the outward signs of someone seeking repentance (see King David). Then in his prayer to God, Ezra did not point his finger at them and blame them, instead he said, “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens.” (Ez. 9:6) Ezra continues using 3rd personal pronouns in his prayer, thereby taking responsibility in the sin and in the guilt that he did not commit. Ezra didn’t say, “Lord, I didn’t do it; they did.” No, he prayed, “Lord, forgive our sin.” For Ezra understood something that we do not understand today – when people in the church sin the whole church becomes under guilt. If one person is in guilt, then the whole community is in guilt. This of course does not mesh with our individualist context and way of understanding things, but it is the mindset of Scripture. Remember what Paul says in Romans 12:5 – “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” The unity of the body of Christ occurs in Paul’s other letters, such as 1 Corinthians. The whole body is affected whether good or bad by every member. When Judah went into exile it was not because every, single person had sinned, but because of the sin of the community, of the whole.
So let me ask you as I have already asked myself. When was the last time you cried out to God for sin that you did not commit instead of condemning the sinner? When was the last time you became broken hearted over the sin of a brother or sister out of love for them and because you knew that all sin impacts the community instead of viewing all sin as just personal? When was the last time you repented on behalf of the community, acknowledging your own guilt before God instead of saying “I didn’t do it”? Often times what will happen is someone else’s sin will reveal sin in our own lives that we have not seen before. Remember that a repentant church is a powerful church, for when a church acknowledges their sin before God, they become a humble people who deals with sin quickly, and consequently they see the power of God at work to restore, reform, and rebuild.
What happened when Ezra became utterly devastated over the faithlessness of the exiles? “The people wept bitterly” and “all the people sat in the open square before the house of God, trembling.” (Ez. 10:1, 9) It took the repentance and brokenness over sin of one man to lead the whole community to repentance.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1 Cor. 12:26