Still learning to love

…and news-flash: it’s really hard.

A version of this was originally posted on Into The Image, here.

Here’s a secret: I have mixed feelings about Christian fellowship. For one thing, I consider myself an introvert and a day alone, in general, is a day of rest and relaxation. But eventually we all (myself included) feel the pull of loneliness, the draw toward community, and we know in our hearts the blessing that is friendship.

The Christian life is a life pursuing discernment — moving on from the elementary doctrines of milk and on toward eating solid food (Heb. 5:13–14). So if I am to discern how to spend my time: alone or with others, I must know God’s purpose for fellowship and for private reflection. While it is true that I am constantly rewarded by my solitary devotional times reading the Word, at the same time I am also consistently taught truth by my brothers and sisters in Christ during times of fellowship. My purpose is writing is not to advocate one position (i.e. more fellowship! or — more alone time!) as there is a time for everything but to remind us God’s plan for community in the Church.

“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” — Psalm 133:1

I’ll open the same way that Bonhoeffer’s classic treatise on Christian community (Life Together) does: with a Psalm. “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1) God’s people are scattered among the earth until that day when God chooses to gather His elect in heaven and so while on one hand we long for total, eternal, complete togetherness, we are also reminded that we have already been given the gift of brotherhood and sisterhood with believers around the world through a common remembrance of Christ. For that we are grateful and find joy.

In fact, Bonhoeffer tells us that “the physical presence of Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” We see Christ dwelling in one another and “receive and meet each other as one meets the Lord, in reverence, humility, and joy.” Not all have access to this gift and it can be easily taken away in the case of imprisonment, sickness, persecution or death. Le us be thankful to God from the bottom of our hearts that we have the opportunity to embrace fellowship.

“The physical presence of Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” — Bonhoeffer

Still learning love

Any given Sunday I am often struck by the brokenness of the people in the church. I hear the church share stories of struggling through failed hopes or dreams, unrealized expectations, or the general disappointments that life can bring our way. Many of us are broken or hurting in some way.Perhaps it is true that Christians are well taught to be open to share their hearts honestly, and perhaps it is also true that admitting our brokenness comes hand in hand with repentance that comes from faith. It’s good that the church shares from the heart with each other. We mourn with each other and we celebrate with each other.

We all have also experienced the disappoints of ministry: building up the church and stirring one another up in love and good works is fraught with difficulty. Ministry is difficult as we feel empathy to share the pains and sorrows of others. How can we find joy in this atmosphere? How can we avoid the burn out in the struggle to love others?

The answer comes in 1 Thessalonians 4:9–10 — we are tough by God to love others. “You yourselves have been taught by God to love one another… but we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more.” God teaches us to love others through the example of Christ. Jesus bought us by love at the cross. Inasmuch as we understand the mercy shown to us by God we can show mercy to others. We understand that God forgave us and we can forgive others. The more we receive, the more we are able to give to others, and brethren: we have received everything in Christ.

I’m Jeffrey West, and I created Into the Image to try and help others (well, and myself) behold the glory of Christ by writing articles on our website.

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