Jesus says a lot of good stuff in the Gospels. So much so that even when breezing over a few pages in your Bible reading plan or checking out a blog, you may still pick up some truth-packed goodies while drinking coffee and waking up. In this blog, we’ll unlock a few gems from a familiar verse: "...and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:30-31, NASB).
Love God. Love people. Mean it. Jesus made following him pretty simple. Definitely not easy, but simple nonetheless. The complications of following Jesus come as a result of good, old-fashioned human brokenness. We fumble around in prayer with some shallow “hallelujahs” and then stumble into our families and friend groups with deep fears and insecurities. For many, the pain of seeking to simply follow Jesus and falling embarrassingly short is exhausting. The sting of those failures can leave us running into dark isolation and unhealthy spiritual independence; or spiritual co-dependence and worship of religious constructs. Gross. How do we get out of those cycles?
Jesus came to establish a Kingdom. Kingdoms are comprised of individuals. By nature, individuals flock to groups and small communities based on appearances, interests, stages of life, occupation, etc. (Pro-Tip: one commonly overlooked factor in understanding community is location. People can gather, be recognized, and appreciated best by those in proximity). The Kingdom Jesus came to establish is best known as the Church and within it are communities illustrated with age, color, economic portfolios, etc. The solution to what feels complicated in following Jesus (specifically related to loving people) is embracing that Church right where you are. The answer is Jesus-centered Community.
The way we understand community is often under-defined, worshipped, or misrepresented.
It is under-defined in the sense that it is frequently left up to personal interpretation. When someone says the word “community” it brings hundreds of pictures and nuances to mind. We all come to the table with tons of ideas about what community could and should look like and often we’re disappointed when it doesn’t turn out like we thought.
It is worshipped in a sense that once the ideas of community is solidified in our minds, we won’t be persuaded into revising those ideas. We can’t just manufacture our imagined (or preferred) communities based on what we’ve seen, read, or listened. It may not apply where we are and it may not be what we actually need.
Community is misrepresented in the fact that most of us have seen some of that good, old-fashioned human brokenness firsthand. We’ve seen mistakes made and people hurt time and time again.
All of these issues affect our opinions and preferences on community and likely come as a result of putting Jesus on the sideline. Community is very simple. Not easy; simple. We could define it using the template that the early disciples embraced, "They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42, NASB).
They understood where they were, the culture surrounding, and the mission at hand. They were a family, on a mission, at war. Our friend groups, families, and local churches didn’t just happen to us. They’re not coincidental, they are gifts from Jesus. Waiting behind the way they dress, look, talk, and even think is an opportunity to fall more in love with Jesus. It’s even the way we’re identifiable as believers. (see John 13:35)
Community isn’t an obstacle to Mark 12:30-31. It’s the means. Community is simply seeing and believing that the people within our reach are worth pursuing because Jesus pursued them. The way we chase our communities is like a gauge for how well we can love Jesus (see 1 John 4:21). With Jesus off the bench and at the center of our relationships, we begin to define community by the love we share, the God we worship, and the Gospel we represent. The rest is history.
Don’t dream of a group who looks like you and talks like you. Embrace the group that loves you and will help you look more like Jesus.
- Discover Jesus’ passion for community in the gospels. Fall in love with his leadership and commitment to the growth and development of his friends.
- Talk to leader in your life about how to get more involved in your church. If you’re a loner, don’t be. Get off your couch and go meet people. Let them push you to greatness. If you’re a social butterfly, take another look at your friend list. Who actually knows you? Who’s asking about your spiritual health? Go deeper!
- Allow the mission to define the team. Jesus understood his mission to give the world “life and life abundantly” as the means of gauging success in his community. Don’t let your community “win” be just a board game and some snacks. Press on to know Jesus and make him known.
Much Love, Zac Lovelight
Children’s Director, City Life Lansing