Collective vs Individual

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Readings: 1 Kings 14:1-15:24; Psalm 147:1-20

READ (Verses chosen for meditation)
1 Kings 14:11-14 “Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city the dogs shall eat, and anyone who dies in the open country the birds of the heavens shall eat, for the LORD has spoken it.”‘ Arise therefore, go to your house. When your feet enter the city, the child shall die. And all Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave, because in him there is found something pleasing to the LORD, the God of Israel, in the house of Jeroboam.”

Jeroboam’s sin was so great that apart from this one son, everyone else in his house would die without a grave. For us “moderns”, such an idea where the sin of one man caused the harsh punishment of so many could be unthinkable. Our familiarity with “individualism” might make it difficult for us to understand these biblical ideas of “collectivism”. We might think to ourselves: “If it was only Jeroboam who sinned; why was it that his entire household needed to be punished?”

Yet I suspect for the people of Israel, they wouldn’t even be asking such a question; for their worldview was so different from ours. Theirs was of collectivism, or corporate responsibility. It was acceptable that one person’s action (especially of the king’s) was collectively viewed as representative of the community or even nation. People were supposed to watch out for one another. Faith in God was communal; rather than individualistic.

So if the punishment meted out by God was against the entire household because of the sin of the king, it was acceptable. Furthermore, in the context of Kings, it wasn’t as if the rest of Israel was innocent. It was clear that many Israelites also took part in the kings’ idolatrous worship and practices.

This episode on Jeroboam reminded me of a question: “As a church, do we tend to view our faith as a collective or as individuals?”

My observation is that we tend to swing towards the latter. If I sin, it is my own responsibility. I am in this all alone. Therefore, I find it difficult to confide in someone since this is viewed as “my own problem”. Or that my faith is my own, therefore you have no right to tell me how to believe or read the Bible. I have my own experience and that is enough. This is the way I do things in church, take it or leave it.

Yet, the reality is that our faith is also a corporate issue. That is why baptisms, membership services and communions are done in the context of public worship. That is why for those physically able, we hear sermons together as a body in Christ. That is why we come together as smaller groups to learn God’s Word together and fellowship in the faith. Even when we sin, it is a corporate issue. When we sin, we affect the people around us. It is likely that our behaviours have consequences, not just for ourselves but for the welfare of others.

Our faith in Jesus is never an individualistic endeavour and it should never be viewed that way. Our Lord never meant to be that way. Otherwise, He wouldn’t have said in John 13:35 “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Let us therefore, read our Bibles and practice our faith as a collective. Let us rely on God and one another more to persevere in the faith so that the world may know that we are indeed, His disciples.

Lord our God, help us to be mindful as like the people of old, that we are not individuals in the faith. We are all in this together as a family of faith. Help us therefore to be authentic, courageous and loving towards one another; so that we can grow in Him and help one another to persevere in Him. Amen.


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