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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Community Killers

It is easy to be in Christian “community” when we have not yet sinned against each other, and when we have not yet broken each other’s hearts. Prior to that point, Christian “community” might look to us like reading the Bible together, laughing together, enjoying potlucks together, participating in hobbies together, and going on social outings together. It may even look to us like offering a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on, bringing a meal over to a friend’s house when they have lost a loved one, inviting a single guy over for dinner, helping a single mom move, pooling together resources to cover the expenses of a family whose breadwinner has been laid off, or offering to baby-sit young kids so that their parents might enjoy a much-needed date night. But what happens when the ugliness of our sin encroaches on all of this? What happens when we find ourselves on the giving or receiving end of betrayal, apathy, and selfish ambition?
Why is it that we are far too often too content with parting company rather than doing the hard work of engaging with our brother and sister in humility and persevering love? Here are some of the ways I have seen this play out in my own life through my own actions and through the actions of others:

1) We so badly want the approval of others that we are unwilling to be real, honest, and vulnerable with them. We are afraid to expose our sins, struggles, and wounds because we fear pain and rejection or because we simply want to be adored by others.

2) We refuse to humbly submit to one another and to allow our brothers and sisters to speak into our life. We get so bent on gratifying the sinful desires of our flesh that we dismiss our brother and sister when they lovingly point us to Scripture in admonishment or rebuke.[1] From there, we can end up avoiding interactions with our brother and sister because such interactions make us feel bad when we obstinately choose to ignore the loving pleas of our brothers and sisters. Instead, we decide to persist in forging our own path--even if that path takes us away from our brothers or sisters in Christ or even away from Christ Himself

3) We are not willing to take the risk of lovingly and prayerfully speaking into the lives of one another when prompted by the Holy Spirit. We avoid anything that might lead to confrontation because we fear the potential uncomfortable consequences of speaking into our friends’ lives—that they might reject us, or misunderstand us, or lash out at us. Or maybe we are just too lazy to be inconvenienced by getting into the messiness of life with one another. Our love is not sacrificial. When we fail to speak to our friends when the Holy Spirit prompts us, our interactions with our friends can become insincere, dishonest, and superficial.

4) We fail to be gracious grace-filled people who overlook minor offenses, who sincerely forgive by the power of the Spirit, and who allow love to cover a multitude of sins. Instead, we too often cling tightly to our “rights,” grudges, wounds, and bitterness. We lash out at each other and we carelessly vomit our thoughts and emotions on each other without prayer and discernment.

5) We are so wounded by the ways we have been sinned against or by the ways we think we have been sinned against that we retreat from community. We guard our hearts so tightly that we never allow ourselves to be vulnerable with others and/or we never pursue getting to know others in any deep way. We allow our self-protection to interfere with the ways that we could otherwise be actively loving those around us.

6) We are simply not devoted to one another (as Romans 12:10 urges us to be). We pursue and engage in relationships when they serve us. Our relationships are confined to seasons in our lives when they serve a purpose for us. When our friendships no longer meet our needs and desires, we dispose of them or allow them to fade away. When our friendships get difficult, or require extra work, we allow them to disintegrate. We get impatient (and ungracious) with our friends because their frailities, struggles, wounds, neediness, and sins burden us. When pursuing relationships with our friends cost us something—our time, our energy, our reputation with others, etc—we are not willing to pay those costs.

7) We lack faith. Sincere Biblical love is foreign to us--we do not see it intuitively in ourselves and we do not see it in so much of the world around us. Although we read it about it in Scripture, we wonder whether the gospel really works practically in our relationships. We do not believe (with our hearts, minds, and actions) in the power of God to produce sincere Biblical love in us, even though Scripture tells us this is the fruit that comes from being filled by God's Spirit.

8) We do not seek continually to be filled with God's Spirit.

All of these responses kill Biblical community. And we are too often okay with that!!! Yet, these responses boil down to a lack of love on our part. This lack of love is something we too often take too lightly, and yet gospel (pursuing, persevering, sacrificial, devoted, sincere, grace-filled) love is THE hallmark of being a Christian. In John 13:34-35, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This kind of love is actually THE ESSENCE of what it means to obey and worship Christ! We can speak in the tongues of men and of angels, have prophetic powers, understand all mysteries and all knowledge, have all faith so as to remove mountains, give away all that we have, and even deliver our bodies up to be burned, and NONE of it would count as worshipful obedience apart from love! (See 1 Cor 13). Wow.

Romans 12:9-21 “ Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. 20On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Ephesians 5:15-21 “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

2 Cor 4:7 “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”

1 John 1:7 “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

1 Peter 4:8 “ Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”

2 Cor 2:5-11 “Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. 6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs."

Colossians 3:12-17 “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Philippians 2:1-11 “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Proverbs 19:11 “ Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

Proverbs 17:10 “A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understandingthan a hundred blows into a fool.”

Proverbs 27:5-6 “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. 6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”

Galatians 5:16-25 "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another."

Dear Heavenly Father, Please forgive me for the ways that my attitudes and actions kill the Biblical community that you want me to engage in!! Please fill me with your Spirit, that I might have your heart for community. Remind me that I glorify you in community by imaging you--the God who is the perfect community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Remind me that I get to reflect your gospel in the ways that I relate to my brothers and sisters—by pursuing them, by forgiving them, by being devoted to them, by serving them, by blessing them, by being faithful to them—just as you do all of these things for me! Remind me that we administer your grace to and we receive your grace from our brothers and sisters. Please forgive me because I am far too wrapped up with my own interests (my own comfort, needs, emotions, desires, etc) and I am not concerned enough with the interests of others. Please forgive me for ever feeling self-righteous when others disappoint me because I do the very same things! Lord, I pray for your intervention and healing where community has broken down in my life. I pray for your wisdom and guidance in how to navigate these areas. I pray that you would mediate between us and that you would unite us to you and to each other. I pray that you would give me a heart that is full of the sincere fruit of the Spirit. I pray for any who would stumble upon this blog too—may your Truth shine through the inadequacy of my words. May your powerful Word speak to all of us and convict, encourage, and empower all of us. May your Spirit penetrate our hearts on this issue. May Jesus be our example in how to live this out practically. For Your Name Sake, Amen

[1] Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that every piece of advice or every admonishment or rebuke that we receive from others is unequivocally from the Lord. We ought to exercise discernment about the advice, admonishment, and rebuke we receive from others by humbly praying, searching Scriptures, and, if necessary, seeking further Biblical counsel from the larger Biblical community of which we are a part. (For more on this, see my post on discernment here: ).


Amber said...

God has you right this for me Bina! I have been up since 4am fretting about a relationship and was begining to fear it was totally lost... But this post urges me to move forward in love and make an honest effort in restoring community with this person. It has also helped me to recognize the sin and "community killers" I am convicted of.

Thanks for being His tool.

Bina said...

Praying for you, sweet Amber. To me, relational pain is the most painful pain. Praying that the God of all peace, comfort, hope, and wisdom would bring you peace, comfort, hope, and wisdom in this situation. Praying that the Holy Spirit would empower you to do the hard things to which He is calling you. Praying that the example of Jesus would guide you. Praying that our Great Peacemaker would bring reconcile you and your friend for His glory. (Praying all these things for me in my messy relationships too!) Much love, Bina

Heather said...

Thank you Bina for this - I appreciate your willingness to dive into difficult topics and not just reflect on them, but search the Bible for answers. You are such a blessing to us!