All humans are social beings. I’m aware the older I get the more I realize this truth is a fact of life. There is something rich and rewarding in the cultivation of friendship. A peculiarity of friendship is the more friends I have the more I want. I never reach a capacity ceiling; I never have too many and thus no more to accommodate. It’s also true, new ones never replace the ones we already have. It’s not as if I have to discard one to embrace the new one. Friends are not Legos, as though interchangeable parts.
Friends who are closest in geographic proximity are the ones with whom we commune regularly. To live in community is to live out our Christianity. The New Testament clearly appoints us to live in communion with one another. It’s in community we grow in our faith, in maturation of every realm of human existence; physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually and mentally.
To be clear, I offer a definition of the term community as I understand it.
A community is a group of people who share the same basic values and world view. They live in close proximity, (geographically), and intentionally engage in living life deeply for their good and for the good of others in the community. They share a personal bond and commitment to each other for the purpose of growing in Godly character and personal development. They provide nurture, encouragement, accountability and motivation as well as multiple role models for themselves and their children and grand children.
(I adjure you to note I distinguish between friends in general and those with whom we draw close as we traverse the vagaries of life with all its blessings and difficulties. These are the ones I’ve identified in my definition.)
Our culture tells us we are individuals and as such we are entitled to that which we claim as our right(s). This concept sets us up for isolation as islands of human existence. Many Christians hold to the truth of the “individual priesthood of the believer.” While there is theological truth in that statement, it sets us up for selfish behavior and makes us vulnerable to the machinations of the Evil One. It promotes an unhealthy and unrealistic approach to life that can become a trap to put us in bondage. I think of the poem by the great John Donne, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. In 1621 he wrote these lines as part of a greater work titled “Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions,” published in 1624. “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were.”
Comparing a man to an island Donne posits the concept that life lived alone can never achieve all the potential of personhood. No one is self sufficient, everyone relies on others. “Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” To lose one clod of dirt from the whole continent is the same as losing a mountain.
I believe this kind of living in community takes a certain intention and willingness to give of oneself for the greater good of the whole. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians his admonition to us is to recognize “we are members of one another,” (4:25b); “walk in love as Christ loved us,” (5:2); “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, (5:21). In his first letter to the Thessalonians Paul instructs us saying “you, yourselves have been taught by God to love one another,” (4:9b); “to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands.” (4:11)
In Romans 12 Paul reminds us to “love one another with brotherly affection, outdo one another in showing honor, rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, constant in prayer, contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Then he says “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep; live in harmony with one another, live peaceably with all, never avenge yourself.” (Rom 12:9-12, selected).
The issues of life we all face such as uncertainty of the future; problems of current living; loss of jobs; destroyed relationships; overcoming evil; and unresolved issues of the past, is where Christianity lived out in community, helps us to address these issues and challenges of life.
Community speaks of encouragement; can become a beacon of hope to overcome life’s challenges; provides direction in personal growth in character, wisdom and faith; and encourages developing and maintaining a life style of Christian principles lived in a godless world.
I have friends I’ve known since the late 70’s who embody these very truths. For years I’ve watched them live out a life deeply committed to each other. They rejoice with all successes of the others, they pray and interact with each other. When families have broken up the friends in community support one another. They are good examples of all I’m saying here. Even though I’m not geographically close to them any longer, I observe their community behavior from afar and take great joy in watching them grow ever older together. These friends have become my teachers, instructing me in the ways of Christian community. I’m blessed to know them.
My invitation to you is to join me in a renewed commitment to live a stronger, bolder life in community. I ask myself questions such as these: “Do I seek and accept counsel from others I call friends?” “Do I make myself available to others when needed and give myself for whatever is needed to live well and help them live well?” As an elder, “Do I think of the good of friends first or take from them what I think I need to advance my own cause?”
I hope you will join me in my endeavor to grow in my commitment and practice what I preach.