Life is plural

In , Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks makes an interesting observation regarding Jethro’s advice to Moses found in Exodus 18.

Interestingly, the sentence “What you are doing is not good (lo tov)” is one of only two places in the Torah where the phrase “not good” occurs. The other (Genesis 2:18) is “It is not good for man to be alone.” We cannot lead alone; we cannot live alone. That is one of the axioms of biblical anthropology. The Hebrew word for life, ĥayim, is in the plural, as if to signify that life is essentially shared.

We cannot lead alone; we cannot live alone. An essential aspect of being human is community. This can be applied to leadership, as Rabbi Lord Sacks suggests. It can also be applied to Church. The Western cultural ideal of rugged individualism has reached its apogee in modern-day America. The effects on the church are profound: Many Christians seem to view church as an accessory to their spiritual journey, a “good, if you’re into that kind of thing”, a less-than. Church hurt is real—and church leaders fail their followers routinely. But religious life was not meant to be done in isolation.1 The author of Hebrews instructs his readers to not neglect meeting together—and to challenge those who do. The New Testament is full of examples of Christians doing life together—whether the example of the early Church having “all things in common” in Acts 2, or the “gathering together” of all of God’s people at the end of days.

So why do we reject this community, trying to grow spiritually by ourselves? Sometimes it’s a lack of appreciation for church as community. If we think of church as a place to worship God, well, we can do that in our homes or cars, listening to great worship music, right? If church is a place to give financially, we can do that online—and we can support ministries we choose and like (of course, one can still do that, even if you are also giving to church). Maybe we conceive of church as a place to listen to sermons and get spiritual teaching. Turns out, in this day of TV preachers, YouTube sermons and podcasts, we can choose from a wealth of Bible teachers and preachers, many of whom may have more depth or flashier presentation styles than our local preachers do.2  Perhaps there are deeper reasons: We were hurt by other Christians, we cannot get along with or cannot stand other people in our church, or maybe we’re just lazy and getting up on our day off seems to hard.

Whatever our stated reason, Proverbs 18:1 cuts to the core of the issue: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” Isolation is unwise, and when we isolate ourselves, we do so out of selfish, self-seeking motives.

The community of Church is not an accessory or an optional part of Christian living. It is at the center of living fully as a human and indispensable to spiritual growth.

  1. Rabbi Lord Sacks quotes Dean Inge who defines religion as “what an individual does with his own solitude.” before rebutting,  “That is not a Jewish view.”
  2. Of course, I’m fortunate: Jason (at Church Project) is an excellent preacher with great sermons.