Last week I wrote about the community we have with God. This week I have been looking at what scripture has to say regarding our community with others. The New Testament authors filled their letters with direct commands as to how we are to treat “each other.” These are sometimes called the “one another” verses. Many, many, many times, the writers of the New Testament encourage their readers to “love one another.”
“Love one another.” John 13:34, 1 John 3:11, Romans 13:8
“Love one another deeply.” 1 Peter 1:22
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10
“Live in harmony with one another, be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” 1 Peter 3:8
“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else.” 1 Thessalonians 3:12
“Keep on loving each other as brothers.” Hebrews 13:1
Ironically, last Sunday my pastor talked partly about what it means to love like a brother (or sister). Loving one’s siblings isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Suddenly we are thrust into this so-called relationship with another person that we didn’t get to choose. And, to top it all off, we are supposed to love this person. Now, I can’t entirely relate to the concept of having siblings because I’m an only child. However, this could also apply to loving other members of one’s family.
When we say we love somebody, what we are usually talking about is a strong feeling of care and concern for that person. We may also be referring to the fact that we love being around that person and doing things together. But with siblings (or other family members), sometimes we just don’t enjoy that person. Sometimes our brother steals our toy and then blames us for the conflict. Sometimes sisters make rude comments. But at the end of the day, most siblings usually say that they do love each other. And it is a feeling that goes deeper than petty conflicts or arguments.
So, how does this apply to followers of Christ? Obviously, we are called to have deep compassion and concern for other members of our Christian community (and I would assume that to be the global community of Christ-followers). Yet, the relationship between brothers or sisters is not always the rosy, easy, cheery relationship that we expect of church community. I think that most people expect to enter church and be greeted by several people, take a seat, hear a sermon, sing a few songs, and then go home. This is what people expect from the church experience, but I don’t really think this is what anyone wants.
Greeting, smiling, and handshakes are all good things, don’t get me wrong, but is that really love? Is that really loving like siblings? And if it’s not love, how do we foster love in our churches? How do we practically love the 50, 500, or 5,000 people in our church?
Love is such a deep emotion that I’m not sure we can do it practically for a huge group, at least not in the way that we are building deep relationships with all these people. I’ve met some very outgoing people who can make anyone around them feel comfortable and loved within a few minutes. But I don’t think it’s practical to expect everyone to love in an outgoing way. By this I mean, I’m a pretty shy person and the thought of going up to a stranger at church and engaging them in conversation practically terrifies me (for some reason I can do a lot better with teenagers), so my way of showing love to those in my community may look different than the guy who can go up and slap someone on the back and instantly be their best friend. I’m not excusing myself from trying to make people feel welcome in my church, but instead challenging myself to use my gifts and abilities to express love in my own unique way.
I see two things going on here: 1) that we need to be a part of a small community that has deep relationships among its members, and 2) that we need to be actively involved in loving all Jesus-followers, and just people in general for that matter, everywhere regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, or theological beliefs. In other parts of this blog I write about showing general concern for people all people everywhere (see Social Frays and Fair Trade). But in this “series,” or whatever you want to call it, I want to focus on what it means to “live in community” with other people who are trying to follow Jesus.
One of the criticisms that non-believers have against the American church is that Christians do not love genuinely. They say they “love” but then the live ungenerous, racist, selfish lives. I think Christians struggle with this too because they look at everyone sitting in the pews around them and yet cannot point to a single person that they would call their “brother” or “sister.” But it’s easy to point fingers and place the blame on “the church” or “Christians” and not do anything about it. What if we instead became deliberate about building our own small communities among other Christians? What would a Christian community look like?
I welcome input from others so feel free to add your own comments. Hopefully, I will continue to explore this topic in the weeks to come.