7 Metaphors of Community

Metaphors are pictures that help us to take a closer look at realities embedded in a concept through a tangible analogy.  I want to describe 7 metaphors (or pictures) of community given to us in Scripture.  This is not an exhaustive list, but I hope it will paint a broad and ideal picture of the community God desires to see in His church.

1. Family (1 Tim. 5:1-2, Eph. 3:14, 2 Cor. 6:8, 11:2 Matt. 12:49-50)

The picture of family is a strong one.  However, this may lose some of it’s force in American culture due to broken families and more personal independence at a younger age.  Families were the fundamental unity of society and patriarchical in nature.  There was pride in your lineage and that pedigree was largely determined by the father.  So, to say that we, as a community, are a family means that we are united like brothers and sisters.  And, we have a royal pedigree because our Father is the King of Kings.  In this metaphor, Christians are princes and princesses with royal blood running through our redeemed veins.

2. Branches on a Vine (John 15:5)

A branch is the smaller appendage of a plant that is connected to the vine.  As such, the branch relies on the vine as it’s source of nutrition.  A vine may have many branches all of which are united by one vine.  In community, we are branches united and nourished by the True Vine which is Christ.

3. Field of Crops (1 Cor. 3:6-9)

In the Corinthian church, people were putting themselves in camps based on the “pastors” that they liked the most.  Some claimed Apollos, while others Paul.  Paul seeks to thwart this division by saying that he planted (past tenses) and Apollos watered (past tense), but ultimately it is God who causes the growth (present and ongoing tense).  Paul’s point is to show that “neither the one who plants or the one who waters, but only the one who causes growth” (vs. 7), that ultimately God is the owner of the field (namely, you and me) and that ultimately a minister has no power apart from the Spirit of God.  In context of community, we must remember that we are not united by a church, a building or a pastor, but only by the Spirit of God who grows us.

4. Temple of Living Stones (1 Peter 2:4-8; Heb. 3:3-6)

The temple was made of the finest materials that symbolized the holiness and majesty of God (Exodus 25).  It was not that God desired expensive things, but using valuable materials express the worth and preciousness of God through the building of the temple.  As such, our very lives have become the valuable and precious “stones” formed as a place of worship and sacrifice to God.  Christ is the cornerstone of this temple and we unite with Him and each other to form a spiritual house of worship.

5.  Living Sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2)

This passage can get lost in translation.  Paul uses a peculiar grammar construction saying this: “present your bodies (plural – all your individual bodies) as a living and holy sacrifice (singular – only one sacrifice)…”  The thrust of the passage is that we all   (plural) offer ourselves to God, but He receives that collective offering as one gift.  We each offer our talents and resources, but we do so in context of community united in this living sacrifice to God.  This passage is about unity; we cannot offer ourselves to God outside the context of community.

6. Nation, Race and Priesthood (1 Peter 2:5 & 9)

I tie all three of these pictures together because they are necessarily wed in the Biblical narrative.  Drawing from Exodus 19:6, Peter is referring back to when God set apart Israel as a nation.  Their identity as a nation was in being a kingdom of people who would serve as priests to all nations.  As a kingdom, they were united and governed by God.  We must remember that, in our communities, we are governed by God.  We honor the worldly governments, but always remembering that God is our King.  In God’s Kingdom, we are His “special treasure” (that is what it means to be His possession).  As His special possession, He commands us to serve as priests to all nations.  We bless, serve and proclaim truth to all people (drawing even further back in the story to Genesis 12).  So, as a Christian community, we view ourselves as God’s people who are governed by Him for the sake of being a blessing to all people on earth.

7. Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-27, Eph. 1:22-23; 4:15-16, Col. 2:19)

Perhaps the most dynamic is that of the Body of Christ.  There are three things I think it is important to note about community as a “body.”  First, every part is important and needed.  Each part plays a necessary role in relation to the whole body.  No one part can consider itself insignificant because the body needs each part.  Second, each part is dependent on the others.  There is no room for pride.  One part cannot survive without being attached to the body.  When someone detaches from the community of Christ, they die spiritually.  Finally, parts make the whole.  Every part unites to make what is the whole body.  As a body, all of us are needed, no one is solely essential, but together we all make a whole.  In our community we must honor and esteem every person, never consider ourselves (or anyone else) as of too high importance, and at the end of the day remember that we are part of something much larger, which is Christ.

Think about these questions:

  • How do these metaphors affect your vision of the church community?
  • How do these affect your view of yourself within the church community?
  • What are some characteristics that are true of each one that are not evident in the communities with which you have had experience?
  • How can you promote the values experssed in each metaphor in your community?

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