If Jesus came to earth to make things clean, simple and easy for his people, he certainly didn’t do a good job of it. I mean, we know from the Bible and from history that his followers in the early church faced some pretty significant challenges. Leaders had to be assigned to take care of some of the overwhelming needs of the early church (Acts 6:1-6), Paul had to talk to some believers through all hours of the night because of time constraints (Acts 20:7), and we know that one of his disciples was even boiled alive! In fact, Jesus made it clear that he didn’t come to make things easy for his people. He said “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me…” (Matthew 16:24).
So why am I saying all of this? Well, I think self-denial in the Christian life is an important call for us to remember if we are going to embrace the messiness of wholehearted community. Because the fact is that community is messy. Although I think that authentic community is one of the richest joys in life, your friend will probably still, at times, stay longer than you wanted them to. You might find that the house isn’t quite as clean as you would like, or your mate from church will pop in at an inconvenient time.
Community just isn’t convenient. It isn’t found only on a Sunday when we are ready to embrace it for an hour or two. It’s a living, breathing organism. It’s not something that you can simply schedule into your diary, nor is it a building you can point to. It’s not as clean and simple as that, but it exists. It exists when you intentionally love and welcome a face you don’t know on a Sunday. It exists when you grab a coffee with a friend because they need a listening ear. It exists when you choose to meet together, to encourage each other in the faith, to pray together, eat together, and just do every-day, normal life together!
Christian community, when it is done well, is not a place where problems are absent, but it is a place where love and forgiveness abound. It is a beautiful and a glorious thing. Actually, it takes seriously the fact that the God we worship is in and of himself a loving community. Father, Son and Holy Spirit have existed for all eternity in a loving, self-giving COMMUNITY. I can’t think of a better way to worship him than to become more like him, can you? Let’s embrace the relational and communal image of God in us.
May God bless you,