“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (ESV, Romans 12:10).
Christmas trees. Little ornamental Christmas trees. That’s what the woman I was talking with made in her spare time. A crafter. Man, that isn’t me. I’ve never wanted to make crafty Christmas trees.
But there we were, talking. Why? Because Christ died for me and her. We are family in Christ.
Believers are called into community. Jesus died for us. He purchased us with His blood. He put us into His family.
We are different from one another. We do not gather because of common interests, histories, experiences, skin color, or class. We gather because the blood of Jesus unified us. He made us one. He put us in His body.
We do not gather because we think it works.
The pragmatic reason ought to be rejected. Believers are obedient people, not pragmatists. In other words, we don’t self-diagnose. We aren’t the ones who decide what is best for us. God does.
We know God has a better vision for what works and what doesn’t work. How can I tell if a meeting was effective? How can I tell if it impacted me deeply or not? If I walk out of a meeting with strong feels, does that really mean anything? Perhaps it was in the meeting I was frustrated in God changed me most.
We are often bad judges of what works. I have no idea how God is using the meeting time in another person’s life. Perhaps, the meeting isn’t about me. Perhaps I am not the one God is trying to directly minister to that night.
Too often the Christian response to an invitation into Christian community is one of ambivalence. “I’ve didn’t get anything out of it last time,” someone might say. We air our grievances. The group wasn’t deep enough, fun enough, friendly enough, prayerful enough, etc.
This is self-diagnosis. “That was an awesome prayer meeting,” we say. Really? How do you know?
We usually have no idea what is and isn’t working. I have been to meetings that felt lifeless, only to discover later that, behind the scenes, God was rescuing one of the people through the conversation. God is alive. He is working.
Often, what I think works for me isn’t what God is trying to do in me. Everyone wants friends and friendly times, but sometimes God wants to use a different instrument to shape me. Perhaps my patience needs to grow. In harder Christian community my patience must grow.
Christian community is a fascinating experiment. It is flawed, imperfect, because, well, we are there. We bring our imperfections with us. We are to decide to love. Faithfully, we are to show up and care for whoever is in front of us.
We gather because God will do His work.
I grew up inside the church. I’ve been around Christian community my whole life. I’ve seen meetings that felt dead, only to find God was resurrecting someone throughout the entire lifeless experience. You just never know what God is up to.
I’ve found this is true in me. I’m like anyone else. There are meetings I enjoy more than others. When the conversation is flowing and the good medicine of laughter is abounding, I rejoice. “That was a great meeting,” I’ll say as we drive off.
But, really, how do I know? I felt it was great. I was edified. It probably was great. But on the nights I don’t feel that way God is still at work. It may have been great for different reasons altogether.
Perhaps, God is using the night to shape me. Maybe an uncomfortable conversation is designed to shape my character, develop my personality. God uses His instruments, other people, in my life and yours.
Perhaps, God is using the meeting to shape someone else. A word I speak, an ear I offer, an example I live out, might be just what someone else needs. If another part of the body is cared for, this part of the body (me) rejoices.
Perhaps, God is using the meeting to shape all of us together. He might use the time to create a longing in us, something strong and healthy and deep.
In this, love is to be preeminent. Mutual care one for another. No one there nails it every time. We all have blind spots, flaws, imperfections. We have priorities that are so wrong, so out of balance. Greed, lust, partiality; it’s all there. We bring those imperfections to the table and we love one another through them.
We don’t gather because we can see how it impacts us. We are too shortsighted for that. God tells us Christian community is His plan. This means it is for our health. We say, “I needed that” because God said we needed that, not because we felt the need.
So, because God has built a community by the blood of Jesus, I engage. His love for His bride is strong. I join. I engage. I give. I serve. I don’t always see how it will impact my life, but as I remain in it, I am very much impacted. I am changed. Transformation occurs.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24–25).