We were made for community. It is difficult to read any part of Scripture without recognizing this important fact. We were made to fellowship with God and with one another.
Unfortunately, we often don’t take the time to build relationships with one another. And, when we do start building relationships, we often stop when it becomes a struggle. In fact, that struggle – or “relational friction” as I’ve called it before – is an indication that we finally beginning to form a relationship. We’re finally starting to get down below the surface into the depths of community.
It is there in the depths – below the surface level – that we begin to understand that “love one another” includes loving those who are not like us and don’t believe like us and sometimes aren’t even pleasant to be around. It is there in the presence of relational friction that we truly begin to understand what it means to forgive one another, bear with one another, accept one another, live in peace with one another. Unfortunately, too often, before we can even begin to live in the reality of these “one anothers”, we give up on the relationship all together and look around for someone who is more like us so we can be “like minded”.
There is a reason that Paul wrote a letter to the church in Philippi exhorting them to have the “same mind”. What reason? Because it’s not easy – it’s not natural – at least, not in our fallen state. There is a reason that Paul wrote a very personal letter (Philemon) about a very personal problem (a runaway slave named Onesimus) and addressed that letter to several people and the entire church that met with Philemon. What reason? Because we naturally want to protect ourselves and our own interest. We need help to look beyond ourselves to see the benefit to the kingdom of God.
We use our doctrines, our creeds, our confessions, our interpretation, our denominations, our leadership, our structures… many man-made things in fact… as excuses to separate from other believers. Or, if we don’t outright separate, then we use these things as excuses to choose who we will form relationships with and who we won’t form relationships with. We would prefer to sit in an auditorium on the other side of the city filled mostly with strangers than to deal with the relational friction caused by differences with those who live next door to us.
Why? Because we don’t allow God to form our primary identity. Oh, we say that we’re brothers and sisters in Christ, but we live as if we’re second cousins at best. We says that we all have God as our Father, but we would prefer it were not so.
Guess what? We don’t choose our brothers and sisters… God does. And we are specifically told (in the context of doctrinal differences) to accept others just as God accepted them in Christ Jesus (Romans 15:7).
The person across the street who is a brother in Christ… is our brother in Christ, and it is our responsibility – as much as depends on us – to foster a relationship with him. The person who works in the office who is a sister in Christ… is our sister in Christ, and it is our responsibility – as much as depends on us – to foster a relationship with her. This is true for every believer that God brings into our life. Yes, everyone of them. Will we have the same depth of relationship with all of them? No. But, that’s not the point. Our relationships with our brothers and sisters should be growing and deepening – even with those who disagree with us. If we’re looking for excuses to stay away from a brother or to not relate a sister, then there is a problem with us… not with them.
Unity among brothers and sisters in Christ is not just a good idea. It is one of our primary arguments and our primary evidences that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and was sent into the world to redeem the world (John 17:20-24). We should grieve over the fact that we have lost this argument and evidence. Then, we should seek the unity of the Spirit – he is providing if we will simply live in it.