THE TENSION OF LIVING IN COMMUNITY
Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”
If we sit down and really get honest with ourselves we’ll see that there is something in all of us that runs from community. There is something deep within us, a result of our separation from God, a desire that is just pulling us away from being in close community with other people.
Too often we plan towards this end. For example, I’ll get home from work and many evenings find myself rushing through the routine of dinner, clean-up, kids in the tub, read the kids a book, have them brush their teeth, put the kids in bed…. Done. Relax… And in the meantime, many beautiful moments that were full of life were quickly passed over because I was maniacally focused on a goal, a goal to be sitting on the couch watching TV, or reading a book with no interruptions, free from responsibility. I think as my family has grown, as work has become more demanding, free time has become a kind of an idol for me. And the tragic thing is that this idol, like any other idol, has the ability to destroy what is most precious. And the thing that I have found with worshipping free time is that while pursuing it, it is stealing from you the very thing you are trying to get. Another topic for another day.
In our culture today the movement away from community and towards independence continues. Decks and patios in the backyard continue to replace porches in the front yard. Electric garage door openers allow us to enter our homes without having to encounter our neighbors. I don’t know if it’s because people are less trusting of others, or if it’s a result of our need for instant comfort, or both. For sure, technology has certainly enabled the trend and now is birthing all sorts of cyber communities where people can hold tightly to ideals without having to navigate the normal tension that comes with making bold political and religious statements. It’s certainly more comfortable than making these declarations in a group where others may openly disagree. And this tension is where I think we touch on an aspect of community that nobody likes, an aspect of community that most of us would rather not have to experience. Getting challenged by people who don’t see things the way we see them. Or when we need to get on our knees and ask God for the power to love someone who may really, really, get under our skin. God uses these interactions to develop our character. The very thing we run from is the thing that God uses to sharpen us, to grow us. And the growth never feels pleasant. In fact it can be agitating to the core. There are so many things in culture today that allow us to be free from the discomfort of community, but these very things also rob us from the life and blessings of community as well.
Even as I write this, I called and old friend to see how he was doing. He’s taking a different path on his journey with Christ than I am. He loves Jesus, that’s for sure, but theologically I’d say that we would have strong disagreements on many topics. But here is my dilemma; And this is the dilemma we all find ourselves in when we press into community; Our beliefs and ideals come to a real point of impact with someone else’s beliefs and ideals and we have to ask; is this a battle I am willing to die for? Do I want to steamroll my brother and throw right and left hooks with bible verses attached? Is this a battle that I am willing to lose a friend over? To be sure, there are definitely doctrines that we should not waver on such as the substitutionary atonement, the resurrection, the trinity, and there will be times that we need to lovingly explain why we may or may not believe some things. But there are many battles that are not worth the fight, such as the exact time that Christ is returning, type of schooling for your children, or if a Christian should responsibly drink alcohol. These battles are not worth the casualties, or even the injuries. We just may need to re-examine why we believe in that particular area so strongly. Are we basing it on God’s word? Are we adding to God’s word? Maybe we aren’t seeing the other side. Maybe we are just dead wrong. Or maybe God is using it with our brother or sister for something beyond what we can perceive. Community will do this to us. Being in community with other believers will force us to examine the beliefs we hold so tightly and will push us to hold on to what really matters and let go of the stuff that doesn’t. Living in community will challenge beliefs that we thought were black and white and bring new light to them. Community will bring real flesh and bones to what were once just academic ideals. Navigating through this tension will open up the Scriptures in news ways to us as we wrestle with some of the same issues that the NT Christians faced.
James 1:2-3 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”
Wrestling with this tension is right where He wants us.