Imagine a group of people who knew of the needs of others, but then never acted to meet those needs. Would such a group be deserving of the noun community? Now imagine a group of people who learned of the needs of others, either because those needs were shared or because someone noticed that a need existed, and then the group came together and met that need in a tangible act of loving service. Undoubtedly, it’s not the first group, but the second group that deserves to call itself a community.
Why does one deserve the title community and the other does not? The answer lies in the way the members who know about a need respond to the need. True communities are not just places where people share their needs with one another, but also where those who learn about the needs are willing to give of themselves to meet the need. When a group fails to come together in service for one another, then community doesn’t exist. Maybe an association of people is present, maybe an environment where people gather is present, but a community is not. Community, at its root, entails a group of people living together – communing. And to live together means that we do things together – we eat, we work, we play, and we serve, one with another.
Where does this idea come from in Scripture? There are so many places. Paul tells the Philippians to look out for the interests of others (Phil 2:4). He reminds the Galatians to ‘bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ’ (Gal 6:2). The Romans are told to ‘outdo one another in showing honor’ (Rom 12:10). The new commandment calls us to love one another and love is always an activity and not just a mushy feeling (John 13:34). In fact, John tells the readers of his first epistle, ‘If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?’ (1Jn 3:17). The insinuation in the passage is that pity is a response to meeting the need and it is directly connected to love, and love is the hallmark of God’s covenant community.
So, what does this mean for us at Hope in Christ? This year, we have the opportunity to expand our view of community and those whom we see as a part of our community. We need to come together and ask others to help us, but we also need to be willing to go and help others who are in need. Maybe we can come together to help raise a fence, rebuild someone’s house or even just do some old-fashioned chores that we know are being neglected at a friend’s home. When we come together and serve, we are putting on display for the world and those who are served, that we are a community willing to give of our time and talents in order to make someone else’s life blessed. As we live and serve together, our love for one another and the bonds of peace between us will be strengthened, and our witness to being the living body of Christ in contrast to the facsimiles of the world will be clearly shown. Let’s build a true community this year at the church and in our world.