Living in Community is Hard Work
A wise man once said to me that “living in community is hard work.” Longsuffering, humility, repentance and forgiveness are easy when they remain as rhetoric or ideologies. In practice, they stretch us beyond our own strength. But if we truly love one another then we don’t have to work so hard at it. Sins are covered, bones are broken by soft words, feelings aren’t lying around for neighbors to trip on, and everyone is committed to speak the truth in love knowing the vital connection of the two. We are, after all, the children of God. Our union is based on a blood splattered cross. We came into existence because God so loved the world.
And because this is our origin, our life together is to be essentially characterized by the same love sacrificing ourselves for the benefit of those we are in covenant with. We did that yesterday and it is on our agenda today and marked on our calendar for tomorrow. Born of love and kept by that same love we should bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things.
Loneliness in the Church
Perhaps we fail to act as the children of God because of what we have self-imposed and inherited. For instance, what if we are not involved in the lives of those with whom we worship? We may belong to a church but what if we seldom if ever really interact with our brothers and sisters? There are no “family” meals, no holidays spent together, no long conversations, no touching, no shared experiences to laugh or cry about. What if there is no Table life? What if this is how we grew up in the church?
Sounds like an orphanage doesn’t it? Sure, we are all in the same room and doing the same things but our connection is more like strangers that have assembled together rather than children born into the same family.
Modern life is characterized by detachment. This happens in many ways. Busyness, pursuit of career, temporal settings such as college and short-term jobs and constantly relocating add up to feelings of not belonging to anything or anybody. Hollywood, Madison Avenue, schools and industry divide us all up into specifically targeted consumers, interest groups and age groups, automatons. When we enter the doors of the Church, when we belong to that body that is called out of the world, things are supposed to be noticeably different. If our experience is the same as in the world then have we ever really left? And if not, what has been lost?
Church Community & the Trinity
Just as man is hopelessly religious so also is he communal. After all, man is made in the image of God who has always existed perfectly in joyful communion as the Trinity. And because we are, we have a built in need for a depth of intimacy and bonding like the Triune God who loved us and created us. We want and need that potency in relationships.
We are the children of God; birthed in love through the death of His Son. And it is by this love that we are bound to one another. But what if we have no opportunity to demonstrate that love? What if we commute to a building every Sunday and that is the extent of our “family” experience? Do we think for a moment that this is how God intended for our life together to be, a life without manifestations and demonstrations of love? If God is love and love is of God and we are lonely, detached, and empty then something has gone horribly wrong. Some may be self-inflicted, but how much has been inherited by what we have been calling the church?
This is the big clue that something is amiss. How many times have we known of or experienced married couples, football teams, businesses, etc, regrouping and getting back to the origin of their vitality? Yet the majority of churches continue their calcification. This has gone on for far too long. The frog in the kettle hasn’t just been boiled alive slowly; there is nothing in the pot but ash. The water boiled out a long time ago.
It is just amazing to me that something so beautiful created by God could be reduced to something so fake and superficial. No wonder Nehemiah wept. But he did more than cry, he prayed and he acted. Our chief vocation is to exhibit the love of our Lord to others. This is patience, gentleness, meekness and all the rest of the facets of love that the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians. We need to be the first to repent and the first to start acting like the people we are.
Loving in Community
Beloved, now we are the children of God. And as the children of a new generation let us not fail to learn what it means to love. We have studied theology and apologetics. We have built enormous buildings and enormous crowds. We have captured a share of publishing, broadcasting, and the Internet. Now let us get back to the first principle. Let us love one another sacrificially as Christ loved us.
Loving in community is hard work. And there will be conflicts like in any family but when we are committed to each other and for life (like any family should be) we must handle things differently.
The next time you have a conflict with a brother, apologize, and invite them to speak, uninterrupted about their views. When they are done, thank them and tell them that you will consider, biblically what they have said and will seek the wisdom of a few others. Then, serve them dinner, dessert, a glass of wine, a cigar, a beer, whatever and turn the conversation to areas of common ground. Before they leave, ask them to pray for you.
If you are not used to acting this way relationally, you will be surprised at the outcome as will your brother. What happens here is that you have loved your neighbor as yourself. You have preferred them above yourself. You have demonstrated a humility that culminated at Calvary. You have begun to live as God’s family.
Then you take a 10 year old tawny port and pour some over French vanilla ice cream and say, “Have you ever tried this? It is just fabulous!”
This article was first published in Every Thought Captive magazine, 2008. Subscribe to receive ten issues each year.