I’m off for an extended weekend to visit my parents in the Sierra Nevada mountains above Fresno. Yes, Sara, my daughter and the grandgirls are going too! It should be fun! Before I go, I thought I’d leave you with this:
I get in a lot of discussions with people about the practicality of finding real community among flawed brothers and sisters. Certainly we are all in a journey of transformation, but community need not demand perfection, just the resolve to live inside relationships. Everyone wants community but mostly for the benefits, and that can’t happen where people are not also willing to pay the cost.
The cost is this: one must put the priority of friendship above any other consideration, including how right I think I am. This is what Philippians 2:1-4 and other passages encourage us to do. The problem is, so few people I’ve met in this life can either live that or sustain it for any length of time. The moment community is about something other than friendship (finding our ministry, promoting our own happiness, or satisfying our coping mechanisms), it will always break down into a competition as to who has the most power to get their way.
The problem with any structure we would seek to use to guarantee this kind of life eventually fails. Subtly the structure replaces relationship, as people think the structure (the fact we belong to the same group) guarantees a relationship. But it won’t be long before most people will exploit the structure for their own self-interest or preferences. And most of those will mask their selfishness by claiming God led them to pursue they things they also happen to prefer the most. The biggest disappointments of my life have come when people get involved in a friendship only for as long as it met their needs and desires. Then they easily tossed aside the friendship like a piece of junk mail. They wanted the benefits of friendship, but had neither the responsibility nor integrity to contribute to the friendship beyond their own gain.
That’s why real community remains elusive. I read something interesting this morning that provoked these thoughts. I am reading
His Excellency George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis. It’s a fascinating read and this particular paragraph really leapt out at me.
During the war Washington had learned, the hard way, that depending on a virtuous citizenry was futile, for it asked more than human nature was capable of delivering… Making voluntary sacrifice the operative principle of republican government had proved to be a romantic delusion. Both individual citizens and sovereign states required coercion to behave responsibly.
I realize he is talking about fallen humanity, but his conclusion perhaps applies to the redeemed community as well. Since we’re all people being shaped by Jesus in various stages of healing, community cannot rest on perfection. Asking people to prefer relationship over self-interest is to ask what human nature is incapable of delivering. Without an ongoing transforming work of the Spirit, which goes on in the whole of our lives, community is impossible.
So I guess I’m back to where I began. Real community is found in friendships, not structures. And even there, they may be transitory at best. Enjoy them when God brings them across your path. Share his life together as long as there is grace to do so. You can structure around it when a group of friends are sharing the life of Jesus together, but no structure will guarantee or secure that life for any period of time.
So here’s what I hope to do: Love everyone. Recognize those relationships that go deeper with a sense of mutuality and sacrifice. Enjoy sharing the journey together and fight for those relationships more than anything else. In real community, being right with each other is more important than being right about any issue. But don’t be too shocked or devastated when some of them go south. Some people don’t have enough maturity yet to live inside their spiritual nature in the moments when relationship costs them something. The endurance of community asks for something that human nature isn’t capable of providing. That doesn’t have to be a cynical conclusion, just a practical one.
As I’ve said often, community is a gift God gives not a mandate for us to manufacture. Always extend it to others. Revel in it for those seasons where others extend it to you as well. And let’s all look forward to the day when all our vices and selfishness are swallowed up in the fullness of Christ.