If loneliness is common and widespread, then how should the church address it? We have already seen that the ultimate solution to our loneliness is a relationship with Christ. And in Christ, lonely people are now connected to deeper relationships within the church body. Yet despite the fellowship and relationships built within a church, many believers continue to express how lonely they are. How then do we build a community of lonely people?
After diagnosing the root issue of our loneliness, it is time to think about how we should go about addressing those issues. If the gospel solves our greatest problem — sin — then that means we have the tools to attack loneliness at its root. This does not mean we will fix loneliness, but we will know how to process and think through our loneliness emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
The One Another Commands
The church is built upon relationships. Relationships are built upon how people interact with each other. The “one another” commands are spread throughout Scripture to inform Christians on how they are to live out their faith with other people. Our obedience to these commands is the building block to true community in the body of Christ.
Think critically about these commands. We know them. Some of us know them very well. I have counseled many people who struggle with loneliness. They would quote these commands to me. “Love one another,” “be kind to one another,” “bear one another’s burdens.” But they would quote them and ask, “Why don’t I feel loved and well cared for? Why do my burdens still feel so heavy?”
My heart breaks for people who express those feelings to me. In many ways, it shows how much more the church (myself included) can still grow in learning how to care for one another. I am not denying that the church can do better in obeying these commands. I will be the first to admit that obeying all these commands are difficult. They tend to come with sacrifice. It really is laying your life down for another.
But that’s the thing. These commands are about being selfless. And when we start viewing these commands as how the church has a duty to care for ourselves, then we have turned these commands to be self-centered. We undermine the very attitude that these commands are promoting. Instead, we ourselves must be obeying these commandments for each other, without any expectations in return. The command says, “You! You love your neighbor,” not “your neighbor should love you.”
Loneliness is Selfish
This type of thinking is prevalent in our culture today (I am speaking mainly to Western/American culture). Individualism is highly promoted. We are supposed to do what we love and be who we are. “Stay true to oneself” is the motto of the day. Any time someone does something that conflicts with your happiness, then that person is rude, impolite, and wrong for doing so. In other words: individualism promotes selfishness.
It is no wonder why everyone feels so lonely these days. If we consistently tell people that it is about them and their emotions, then no one will ever serve one another. No one will ever build relationships. The minute something goes wrong, no one will ever seek reconciliation.
At the root of every struggle with loneliness is selfishness. Keep in mind that I am speaking about the struggle of loneliness, and not loneliness itself. People feel lonely because they are not getting what they want: a girlfriend or boyfriend, someone to understand them, community, reconciliation, etc. And that is understandable. It is definitely lonely. But when you struggle with loneliness in a sense that you let it define you and control your every thought and action, then that struggle is selfish.
Relationships are built when people start caring for each other selflessly. This is the type of love that God expects out of His people. He tells us that we must “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourself” (Phil 2:3). Unity is built through humble submission to one another. In other words, loneliness is battled when one seeks to love others selflessly instead of seeking to satisfy his own interests.
Christ the Selfless Cornerstone
The cornerstone to the church is Jesus Christ Himself, who, by His selfless sacrifice, redeems all believers for good works. This is why Paul says that we have obtained “the ministry of reconciliation” through Christ. If loneliness is a result of broken relationships, then the only path to true reconciliation is through the gospel.
Loneliness can be battled because we have all been reborn in Christ. Ephesians speaks greatly about the body of Christ and how we are all supposed to submit to one another and ultimately to God (Ephesians 5:20–6:9). This selfless submission can only be done when we “put off our old self” and “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God” (Ephesians 4:22–24). This process of putting off and putting on is made possible through Christ alone.
This is how you build the community and unity described in Ephesian 2:11–22 and Ephesians 4:1–16. It is counterintuitive to the world’s wisdom. To battle loneliness, Scripture tells us to go love on others. True fellowship happens when you begin to care for the needs of others over your own needs. Again, this doesn’t completely solve loneliness. Perfection can only be obtained after death in heaven. Yet, this is the prescription given to us by Scripture on how we are to relate to one another. Through building genuine and deep relationships within the body of Christ, we can battle against our internal struggle with loneliness.
The church is a community of lonely people. The problem is definitely not loneliness itself. The problem is how we respond to the loneliness that we will perpetually feel during this lifetime. Let us then move together, as a body, to care for one another, looking outside and beyond our personal loneliness, and seeking the hope and joy that can only be found in the ministry of reconciliation given to us through Christ Jesus.