In the previous three short essays, I’ve described the challenge of community in a busy, superficial culture, the Story of community throughout the Scriptures, and the Good News of community—that the gospel is inherently relational and connects us to this New Community, the New Society.
What does this new community look like?
Three things are supposed to be present in the Christian community—three shapes or contours of the new community that you won’t find anywhere else except the Church: Humility, Diversity, and Fidelity.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. – Colossians 3:12-14
Paul invites us to put on some new clothes: “Clothe” yourselves with these relational virtues—compassion, kindness, gentleness, forgiveness, and gratitude. Over all this, put on this new jacket of love—which holds everything together and completes the outfit, so to speak.
As I mentioned last time (well, not if you count the Fidelity Sports College Football 2015 Preview as ‘last time’), you can look at these things as commandments: “do this, be humble, put on love.” Or you can look at these as heavenly virtues to strive for in union with Christ. In other words, as we live close to Christ, we live like Christ. Really, it goes both ways: as we live like Christ (trying to live in the way he lived—for he was immanently virtuous), we then live closer to him.
If you try to be like Christ without living like him, without serving one another, forgiving one another—if you just don’t have relationships close enough to require forgiveness or patience, then you can’t ever expect to become like Christ.
What does this have to do with community?
Well, which of these virtues can be attained apart from deep, committed relationships? None! We can only be compassionate on others who are hurting or marginalized. We can only be gentle with those who are discouraged or weak. We can only be patient with those who drive us crazy. In each of these glorious Christ-like virtues, committed relationships are assumed.
Humility and love are the perfect virtues to summarize this passage and all that’s needed for life together. Humility is the orientation toward God and others—the humble put others before themselves. And love is the expression or demonstration of that orientation—we love others when we really put them before ourselves and don’t need them to accomplish our self centered goals or fulfill our self centered needs.
How might you recognize humility and love in the community? Look to where relational and physical needs are being met. At Sojourn, I love walking around our building during Sunday services to see dozens of members caring for children so that their weary parents can worship and take communion. I love seeing several classrooms full of counseling meetings and spontaneous prayer gatherings for the sick or hurting. Or during the week, we see the humility and love of Christ’s people through service at our free medical clinics or when a neighborhood is grieving a crime.
This is, according to St. Paul, one shape or contour of the New Community: God’s people are a humble, loving people.