What is intimacy?
I’m talking about emotional connectedness to another person when I use the word intimacy. All people crave the opportunity to be closely connected to another person. Sometimes it is expressed in physical closeness such as sexual intercourse. But that is just one aspect and it is possible to be intimate in a purely platonic way. In fact, emotional intimacy is needed by us all, and sexual intimacy is a fraction, sometimes used as a mere substitute for the satisfaction and fullness shared through personal intimacy.
Intimacy with GOD
Psalm 63:1 states, “Joy in the Fellowship of GOD.”
When we first become “born again” we discover intimacy with Jesus (1Corinthians 1:9). Fellowship with him is profoundly comforting, interesting, fulfilling. But that doesn’t remove our craving for human intimacy. It is natural and in fact encouraged to fellowship with other Believers (Acts 2:42). As we share in our journey, we strengthen one another (Acts 16:5).
Intimacy with the people of GOD – the Fellowship of Believers
We are designed for relationship. When GOD saw Adam was alone, it was “not good” and so He made woman.
People were created for relationship with GOD and with one another. And so in our spiritual walk, we yearn to share our experiences with others who also are on a journey with GOD. Intimacy is what arises out of those relationships, when we are real with one another, open, sincere and vulnerable.
Quest for Intimacy
In our walk through life, we can become desperate for intimacy. We can seek to share and find no one to share with; this is tragic. Fellowship in a church body is meant to satisfy that need for intimacy. If the church doesn’t do it, who will?
At the same time, life experience often provokes us to develop self-protection, which thwarts intimacy; we may block the very thing we crave in order to protect ourselves from the threat of embarrassment, vulnerability or judgement. In western culture, we say to the casual question, “How are you today?” — “Oh, I’m fine” when actually we may be suffering in silence.
I used to think that fellowship was encouraged so that we would grow in Christ. This is true, but this is only part of it. When we fellowship, our need for intimacy is satisfied (or should be) through healthy, sincere relationships with other believers.
But sometimes — for any number of reasons — that doesn’t happen. Then what?
Which comes first?
Fellowship with Jesus or Fellowship with his Followers — which is our priority?
For me, it’s fellowship with Jesus. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to have personally intimate relationships with other Believers. In fact, Paul in his various letters touches on this… He encourages people to get along (Philippians 4:2), he longs for the company of friends (Romans 15:24). Like anyone, Paul recognises the very human need for good friends.
Jesus had his twelve disciples, but three: Peter, James, John, were particularly close to him.
How do we find intimacy?
As we grow and mature in Christ, we naturally gravitate to others who have a similar perspective. Generations and cultures are crossed. When we delve deeply into the Word of GOD and we grow in maturity — from milk to meat — and as hunger for the knowledge of GOD is fed, we naturally discover relationships with others who are on a similar path. But we don’t really find intimacy, rather it finds us. When we are open to whom GOD gathers, we may become friends with those of a different culture, different generation, different socio-economic background. All this is the unifying power of the Gospel in action. Remember, when others who do not know Jesus see us, they should recognise us for our love (John 13:34-35).
We have to be willing to take risks to develop relationships… Taking a calculated risk, through observation, openness to others and gauging compatibility, helps us to build healthy relationships in as safe a way as possible. This should be possible within the family of Believers. When it isn’t safe in a church environment, then how has Christian society gone so wrong?!
“Home Groups”, Holiness, Openness… and is there a Vacuum?
The Church that Jesus started met on hillsides in the thousands. He also had smaller gatherings of 12, 70 and more. As we build our relationship with Jesus, we are encouraged to meet in large gatherings, customarily aka “church” and smaller groups — often called “cell groups”, “home groups” or “fellowship groups”.
In the smaller group, it is the intention to have prayer and share times where we can be more real and vulnerable. Such groups are intended to be like “mini – families” aren’t they, where we can be ourselves as we grow closer to GOD and develop in holiness. But does this work? Do we feel safe or real as we do in a family? Do we have the courage to be “messy”: genuine and open as we explore the Gospel and grow in total vulnerability? Or is our openness limited as it is in a social group where we enjoy one another’s company, but not wholly as a fellowship of Christians seeking to grow and share fully?
Let’s be real in our expression of intimacy
When we are open to the Word of GOD, we naturally become vulnerable as His word opens our hearts and our minds. It’s important to be self-aware of our needs, our desires. But wisdom says: be aware; emotions can get entangled with our growing spirituality. That’s part of our humanity.
Most of us come to GOD with baggage. He heals. When we allow Him to do the healing, and walk in the wisdom of His righteousness and moral fibre, we are protected from damaging that process for ourselves and for others.
Intimacy, vulnerability, these are aspects of our humanity. But the Bride needs to be open to the bridegroom first and foremost. His Holy Spirit touches us in ways we could never imagine. As we allow that process, as we connect with him on a deeply personal level, we grow in His likeness. And we are healed, set free, and are truly alive.
As we express ourselves with Jesus, we should be able to express ourselves with one another; but truthfully, this is more difficult isn’t it?
Let’s be wise, understanding our need, sharing our love
When we understand the human need for intimacy and GOD’s desire for us to fellowship, we can better accept ourselves and one another as we expose our weaknesses and celebrate our victories together.
In these circumstances, we must not judge — not ourselves, not one another. For if we judge, GOD’s judgement will bear down upon us. We will clam up, just as others will clam up around us.
Let us also be aware of guilt, shame, anger and hurt. Explosions of emotion can come out when we have pent them up. We store our emotions, hiding in our shame. But GOD wants us to allow the light to shine into all of our hidden corners, so that we can be healed and restored. There is no one without failure, and only those who have overcome are truly free from the condemnation of self and fear of others. In the process of breaking free, we can rejoice for those who share until we are ready ourselves to be transparent.
Beware the critical heart
Like anyone, I have wanted to be close to others, sharing in joys and sorrows at a deep and sincere level. Sometimes it has been easy to find a fellow who is likewise inclined. But I’m sure we have all been in circumstances where we are disappointed, where there doesn’t seem to be camaraderie.
There have been times when, in my frustration, I have become critical. Unaware of the source of my disappointment — experiencing a lack of intimacy — I have forced intimacy by expressing criticism. Even a negative expression of emotion feels better than none to one who is deeply lonely or feeling isolated. This is not good!
I have learned and I share this with you so that if this “rings true” for you, you might recognise your need for intimacy that is not being fulfilled. May I encourage us all to discover our need for intimacy and to find a humble, sincere, transparent way to express ourselves in a safe environment.
When we see others give and take in a setting of openness, then it would seem to be a safe place to share ourselves.
Share with me
When have you experienced the intimacy of the fellowship of Believers? It would be great if you could share about it to encourage others.
If there are times when you have you been denied the opportunity to draw close with fellow believers, would you share that too?
You can comment below or simply share with me privately by emailing me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Shalom and GOD bless.