“When Jesus died, He died alone. There is no greater pain. When we die to ourselves, we’re to do it together, with our community. There is no stronger bonding.” Larry Crabb, Connecting, p. 95
I’ve been discovering something so simple and radical in the Gospel: loving the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength is not enough. He also demands I pour myself out in love for others.
Think about it: In Eden, no sin existed—no brokenness between God and man—yet God declared it “not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). The law of God required that Adam love someone besides God.
We need connection with others because we’re made in God’s image. “God exists as a community of connected Persons. We were fashioned by a God whose deepest joy is connection with Himself, a God who created us to enjoy the pleasure He enjoys by connecting supremely with Him but also with each other.” Larry Crabb, Connecting, p. 55
By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
While the Bible is the only place God’s love is accurately described, few people recognize God’s love there without first witnessing it through interaction with a loving follower of Jesus. That’s why instead of designing us to hatch out of eggs in the forest and look only to Him for support, God ordained families to exemplify love to children. Of course, all parents are sinners, so every child’s image of God’s perfect love is somewhat warped by parents’ flaws. But parental love is often the spark that first kindles love for God in young hearts.
However, for those who don’t have healthy, nurturing homes, and even for those who do, relationships beyond biological family are needed to portray the love of God adequately. Could this be the purpose of the fellowship of believers—to teach the principles of love through deep, authentic community?
Jesus said so. “As I have loved you…also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34, 35).
I suggest this radical thought: the Gospel enables, and demands, that we live vulnerably within a fellowship of believers, as Jesus did.
Dare I even suggest that “doing evangelism” is at best a dangerous venture, and at worst a hypocritical farce, if it does not include living in soul-baring, accountable relationship with other Christians?
Oysters without shells, living in a world of poking, stinging sea urchins—I don’t like the implications. But we can’t soften the demands of the Gospel just because they’re painful. Our Example walked the thorny path of the painful Gospel. His followers will trace His bloodstained footsteps in human relationships.
I don’t mean that Jesus trusted or lived in vulnerable relationship with everyone. That would be humanly impossible, emotionally and physically. When eager crowds followed Him, the Bible says “Jesus did not commit Himself unto them” (the Greek word means “trust” or “depend upon,”) because He “knew what was in man” (John 2:25). Jesus knew people were untrustworthy. But in studying His earthly relationships, I discover three layers of friendships: seed-sowing, cultivating and reaping. One might picture them as three concentric circles.
The outer circle included careless passersby, sour Pharisees, curious fans—everyone within His influence. Nicodemus was in this category; people you meet on an airplane or old friends with whom you stay in loose Facebook contact might be in yours. With these people we don’t live in deep community. We reach out, but we don’t expect much in return. We model Jesus’ acceptance, treating each soul as priceless in the light of the cross no matter what their outward appearance.
Jesus actively cultivated the second relational circle—the disciples, the seventy, and others. These relationships devoured much precious time—time He could have used preaching or healing. What a waste! But the wise Teacher was strategic. Only a few were growing into His inner circle, but He was investing in all of them—nurturing a precious crop of souls, of soul-winners. Wise Christians will follow His example, giving much to a few, investing time and love in developing well-rounded leaders. “Make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). It will pay off in eternity, though Jesus’ example warns us—there will be Judases. It will hurt.
Jesus’ enemy was sin, not pain.
Jesus’ inner circle was small—likely only seven (Peter, James, John, Mary Magdalene, Martha, Lazarus, and his mother). With these people He not only gave, He received. He sought encouragement and comfort from them. Significantly, He embraced Peter as one of these whose betrayal could hurt Him like no other. Jesus’ enemy was sin, not pain. Through loving deeply despite the resultant anguish, He modeled living vulnerably with fallen people.
If we omit one of these circles, our lives easily warp into imbalance. Without purposeful contact with an outer circle, we become narrow and insular. Without strategic investment in cultivating disciples for the kingdom, we stay within our comfort zones, cheating ourselves and others out of rich opportunities to love and learn. And perhaps most crucial, we must have an inner circle to whom we are accountable, and with whom we can “take off our armor” and be vulnerable. Sometimes they are our mentors; other times we trade places. Without such deep, satisfying relationships, we risk burnout, or worse, self-sufficient pride. Without counsel and confrontation from fellow believers, we may trust our own judgment and miss God’s radical call out of our comfort zones.
Jesus purposefully modeled authentic community. When anguish or temptation crushes us, like Jesus we will need others to cry with and pray with us. And unlike Jesus, we have weaknesses and cherished faults we may not even recognize as sin issues. Without being vulnerable to confrontation, we risk hindering the work of Christ by our blind spots. We must be open with spouses and close friends who know and love us well enough to confront us. Because we trust their love and spirituality, we will take such confrontation seriously. In a world of huge, shallow friendship networks and comfort-based living, God calls for deep, dissatisfied seekers—people who are determined to grow, and to help others grow.
“He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked” (I John 2:6).