The first thing that God declared was ‘not good’, was for Adam, the human, to be alone. We all desire the company and the presence of others. Someone to share our passions with, to be there in our quiet moments, to talk with and to listen to, to be our companion, our lover, our friend. The best things in life we plan together, we dread the isolation of being alone.
Jesus tells us that there is treasure to be found that is worth selling all our possessions to buy. He calls it ‘the Kingdom of Heaven’. I was pondering what this treasure might be one morning as I walked with my dog through the village, with lines from scripture and wonderings about the day ahead filling my head, when it struck me that this treasure, valued beyond all that we can possibly own, gained only when we lay everything down, is the opportunity to live in a relationship with the God who created the universe.
Our lives are defined, not by the fact we share this world with billions of other human beings, but by the interactions we have with just a few others. Relationships place us in families, bring us friends, company, laughter. Broken and strained relations, bring hurt, frustration and disappointment. It is the quality of our connections that define us as human beings. We can only be ‘loving’, ‘kind’ or ‘generous’ through the bonds we have with others.
The God who has revealed himself through the pages of scripture is a God of relationship. He speaks, gets close, chooses to live alongside the creatures he created. He is willing to make promises and do-deals, to be intimately involved in the details of life. He is the one who valued our relationship with him so much that he became like us in Jesus. How much easier is it for a human to relate to another human, who walked this earth with us and shares our joys, frustrations and our pain. How awesome, how loving is the God who is prepared to do this for the sake of his relationship with us.
Relationships happen outside of ourselves. By definition they require at least two people to exist. They connect us to others. Good relations occur when we each bring something to give to the other person. When we are sensitive to the things in their lives, when we share in their joys and feel the hurt of their disappointments and they do the same with ours in return. And when more than two connect together in this way, we grow into something greater. We become community.
How well community functions, depends on the quality of the relationships between the individuals that make up the group. Or in other words, we cannot expect to belong to a healthy community if our own interactions with the others in that community, our relationships, are not healthy and good.
Paul wrote his letters to the diverse communities that formed from individuals who responded to the good news about Jesus. They came together around their new found hope, often, they had little in common except for this. They, like us, discovered that living in community is a daily challenge. Paul responded by investing time, thought, prayer and his very being into these gatherings of people. When he could, he stayed with them, sometimes for months just doing life with them. No doubt encouraging and building up individuals so that they might desire to be more like him, more like Jesus, in their relationships with each other. His letters leave us a lasting legacy of what he talked with them about, demonstrating that even when he could not be with them, Paul was always praying for them, thinking of them, feeling their pains and sharing their joys.
These letters not only remind us of the behaviours and attitudes that we know damage the bonds that hold us to each other, but also, they encourage us to love each other, to put each other’s needs before our own and to build each other up. It has been calculated that the phrase ‘… each other’, is used over 56 times in the New Testament. We need to hear these words now, just as much as when they were first read.
We might do well to realise too, that many of the promises and hopes that we hold on to from scripture are addressed to ‘us’ plural, as community, and not ‘us’ singular, as individuals. God works all things together for the good of our communities, because through them we experience His love and grace expressed by our ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’.
As I write these words, I realise that this is an ideal, knowing all too well that many, myself included have walked away from other ‘Christian’ communities because the quality of relationships and the experience of community fell a long way short of what we hoped for. I cannot promise that this community will be any different but I hope and pray, that in God’s grace and by the gift of his Spirit it might be.
The link below is to a song which contains the line “We are made in the image of a perfect union”. This gives us hope!
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