We will never have intimate relationships if we are not willing to dig in and live life together. Our lives are meant to be filled with people. People to love, people to honor, people to laugh with, cry with, and just live life with.
Why We Need Relationships for the Christian Life
In the book of Romans chapter 12 is a bit of a turning point. Chapters 1-3 primarily focus on man’s depraved nature and our inability to get to God. Against this bleak backdrop, chapter 3 verse 21 jumps out at us with astounding mercy as we see the shift to discussing Christ, the Gospel, and the nature and plans of our God. These are discussed through the end of chapter 11.
Chapter 12 begins with the word “therefore” which draws our attention back to everything we have just read. Based on the gospel, Christ, the character of God and His plans for humanity, chapter 12 tell us that we ought to give ourselves for His cause.
It is with this in mind that verses 9 to 21 are titled the “Marks of a True Christian”. Listen to what they have to say to us.
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
It is amazing to me that most of the marks of a true Christian in this passage have something to do with community. Think of it.
What does it look like to live in community?
If we are to love one another with brotherly affection, doesn’t that necessitate a genuine relationship with each other? If we are to rejoice and weep with those experiencing joy and pain, doesn’t that mean we must know something about the people around us?
We are specifically told in this passage to “associate with the lowly”. Rather than looking down at people different from us, we are to come alongside them.
We are also supposed to be kind and unified and peaceful in our relationships. Christians are supposed to be marked by blessing even their enemies.
Our lives are not meant to be lived in isolation – presenting to the world only that which we think is the best of ourselves and then hiding away in our homes until we are able to do it again the next day. Our lives are meant to be filled with people. People to love, people to honor, people to laugh with, cry with, and just live life with.
Is it easy to live in relationship?
This is not an easy thing to do. Far from it actually. And Paul knew this when he penned Romans. This is exactly why he says “so far as it depends on you, live peaceable with all.” There will be plenty of mistakes and a whole lot of messy moments to extend grace and forgiveness in.
We will say things that hurt others. Others will say things that hurt us.
We will be left with scars and challenges. But we will also be left with great joy.
There is nothing so sweet as a friendship of the soul – a person who genuinely loves you and understands your difficulty and your triumph and walks alongside you in those things.
But we will never have those intimate relationships if we are not willing to dig in and live life together.
I hear often that people are afraid of letting others in because they have been hurt in the past and don’t know how to trust. I understand this feeling all too well, however, this is God’s prescribed method for His people. He is all-wise and all-knowing and He wants the best for His children. It because of this He has told us to live in community. He has commanded us to welcome others and to love them passionately.
The rewards of relationship are greater than the risks.
People will fail us and when they do, we are reminded of the Gospel and our utter failure toward God and His grace to us.
We will fail other people. When we are forgiven we are reminded of God’s grace toward us. When we are not forgiven we are reminded that God does not act toward us the way sinful humans do.
We will get hurt and we will hurt others.
But we will also have great joy!
In relationships we will help others and be helped in our times of need. We will see the face of Christ in the compassionate faces of friends. We will feel His embrace in the hug of a loved one. We will know His grace as we experience forgiveness, restoration, and beauty.
God designed us for relationships. We were created to be in relationship with God and people.
We do ourselves and our world a great disservice when we lock ourselves away and refuse community.
I fully know this is not an easy subject for many.
Some struggle because of past pain in relationships. Others because they do not feel like relationships are accessible to them and as much as they try, no fruit of relationship comes from their efforts. I understand both of these situations and have been there myself.
It is not an easy thing. Community doesn’t just develop on its own. It takes hard work, dedication, genuine love, forgiveness, and most importantly, prayer. I know how it is to battle loneliness and try in myself to solve my problem of lack of community. I also know how it is when I turned my desire and genuine need for relationships over to the Lord and prayed for Him to work in my situation. He has, on more than one occasion, literally placed a friend in front of me.
Do not lose heart. Live the Christian life in community. The difficult, gut wrenching parts of relationships are part of what make them genuinely beautiful.
For more encouragement in seeking relationships, I HIGHLY suggest you check out Christine Hoover’s phenomenal blog Grace Covers Me.
How can you work to foster community in your life? How can you encourage your local church to grow in depth of relationships? Or are you happily reveling in these types of relationships? What encouragement do you have for everyone struggling?