With Christian community there are distinct privileges, problems and responsibilities. Dietrick Bonhoffer said, "It is easily forgotten that the gift of community is a gift of grace, a gift of the kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who now has had the privilege of living in a common Christian life with other Christians praise God's grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren."
In short, we find that community is a gift of grace, it can be taken from us at any moment and that it isn't something we should expect or that we deserve from the Lord. God has so graciously given us community so that we can more fully understand the workings of the Trinity and the community that God has with in Himself, it keeps us longing for the joys of the community we will experience in Heaven, and community sharpens and sanctifies us (Prov. 27:17). However, here on earth I think that community provides us an opportunity to practice the qualities of Christ that are hardest for us. This is a privilege, but not an enjoyable one. To fully practice our "religion" we must do what is hardest for us. For we are not really loving, serving, being humble or being like Christ, until we are put into a place when that is difficult.
This is where problems arise in community, weather it be our marriage or with those we are less intimate; something we hold dear is offended, and we are given the choice of putting ourselves or the others first. 1 Cor. 3:1 speaks about just such a problem, "Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly - mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldy. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?" Paul is pointing out that when we become Christians we are to take on the characteristics of Christ, seeking to become more and more like Him, but because of our sin and selfishness we stay in a state of the world.
Instead, we are to practice the qualities of Christ, Romans 12 is a chapter filled to the brim with these qualities and how they make community what God would have it to be:
- not thinking of our selves higher that we should
- see others as Christ sees them
- love with sincerity
- honor others more than ourselves
- never lack zeal
- be patient
- share with those in need
- bless those that persecute you
- do not be conceited
- do what is right in other eyes
- live in peace with everyone, as much as you can
- do not take revenge
- overcome evil with good
When I taught kindergarten I found that the biggest problem was with how the children treated each other when some one wronged them. Our most basic nature is to take revenge, but that isn't what will make things right or even make us truly happy. So, we "instituted" a new policy based on 1 Peter 3:8,9, "Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another, be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with a blessing, because to this your called so that you may inherit a blessing." The key to Christian community is all wrapped up in this. When some one wrongs you, bless them! Put your pride to the side and do something to bless them, encourage them or to make them happy.
Our faith is nothing until it is tested in these circumstances. We cannot say we are followers of Christ until we must follow him at a cost. With in community we have the amazing opportunity to practice what we preach and to become more like Christ! Thank you Lord for this opportunity.