Finding joy in the mess of community. (Part 2)

Photo Credit:  mathias shoots analogue

Photo Credit: mathias shoots analogue

Paul gives us a hint when he says:

“listen, you all have professed a relationship with Christ. You all have been impacted by his work in your life, and so, with that understanding I plead of you….’If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends.’” (The message)

Agree with each other. Love each other. Be deep spirited friends. What’s Paul talking about here? We’re told to be like-minded.

This Biblical understanding of like-mindedness is a mindset, an attitude or a life-choice. It’s not an intellectual activity.

So often, we choose to run with, or associate with, people who share all the same beliefs and lifestyle choices as us. It’s easy, right? They don’t push us into places of discomfort. We usually don’t have to defend our beliefs, or we don’t have to be stretched by theirs. We can spend our time talking about things we agree with, rather than things we disagree with. But when we do this, when we choose to only be with those who are like us, we miss out on so many opportunities to grow and develop as human beings. The thing is this…our culture tells us that we must all agree on everything. That a person who is different is to be feared. Are you a different political persuasion than I am? I am to fear you. Are you a different religion? I am to fear you. Are you a different sexual orientation? I am to fear you.

This is modeled by our political pundits through the ways in which they talk to the “other side”

or…

Our cultural political leaders teach us that those who look, talk, think or act differently than us must be our enemies, and we must never listen to our enemies. This is opposite of what Paul is telling us to do. He is telling us to stop focusing on having a perfectly aligned intellectual opinion. He’s telling us to stop huddling in like-minded holy huddles.

Instead, Paul says, before we worry about theology, before we worry about politics, before we worry about any other non-essential division, let us first find commonality in Christ.

Let’s choose to make that our singular point of agreement. The rest, he says, are details. Now, it must be said, that this is not as easy as it looks. Right? But Paul doesn’t leave it at this.

Paul tells us to have the same love for our enemies that Christ modeled for us. 

The word for love in this passage is the word agape. Agape love means endless and boundless love. A love without borders. A love without conditions. A love without expectation of return. Agape is a love that says, I disagree with you, I don’t understand you, but you are my brother or you are my sister and I will choose to  not let my disagreements and personal conditions determine your worth. Agape love lets others speak. Agape love listens. Agape love refuses to stereotype. Agape love seeks to break down barriers. Agape love refuses to let go of forgiveness. Agape love refuses to hold grudges. Agape love remembers it’s all about Christ. Agape love begins and ends with Christ. Agape l love says that I will love you as I see Christ love me, us, the church, the world. How does this look practically? In many ways, it seems impossible, right? Paul tells the church in Philippi, if they want to find contentment, peace and joy, they must:

Resist Vanity

The word used for vanity here is kenodoxia, which means: a state of pride which is without basis or justification – ’empty pride, cheap pride, vain pride.’ We see this all over the place, don’t we? We see it in the way we manufacture our memories through platforms like Instagram and Twitter. We carefully construct these moments, using filters or carefully placed shots, in hopes that people are jealous of our lives. This was perfectly modeled by Zilla van den Born, a dutch student, who faked a trip to southeast Asia. She explained her purpose for the deceit this way:

“I did this to show people that we filter and manipulate what we show on social media–we create an ideal world online, which reality can no longer meet . . . My goal was to prove how common and easy it is for people to distort reality. Everyone knows that pictures of models are manipulated, but we often overlook the fact that we manipulate reality also in our own lives.”

When we attempt to show ourselves as more popular, more happy, more beautiful, more (  fill in the blank  ) than we actually are, we rob ourselves of the beauty of our real lives. In our pursuit of manufacturing our truth and happiness for others to be jealous of, we miss out on the moments of true happiness all around us!

Paul tells us to resist blind ambition. 

That desire to accumulate more and more. To build your wealth. To build your clout. To build your reputation. To build your career. To build your twitter followers. To build your blog following. To build your influence. To build your… We so easily find ourselves pushing for more of something, don’t we? And in this pushing, we’re celebrated by our culture. It’s is celebrated by the books we read: Atlas Shrugged The movies we watch:

The celebration and adulation of those who earn, succeed and win at all costs is a cornerstone of the American dream. We want to be [ rich, successful, powerful] like them. While it might be an American cornerstone, we must reject the belief that it’s a Christian pillar. We must remember the pursuit of power, influence or personal gain is not what life in Christ is about. We were not built for this, and we must always remember that joy does not come when Atlas Shrugs.

Lastly, Paul reminds us to not believe yourself to be larger than the church community.

Despite what we’re often taught, Christianity isn’t about the single person. It’s about the collective; the whole. We are a Kingdom Community.   While thinking about the individualistic Christian faith might sound nice on post-card, it isn’t real or true. While we know that, yes, Christ would have come and died for the salvation of only one (he loves us that much!), we also know what’s taught in Colossians. We understand Christ came to redeem and reconcile all of creation to himself. Everything. Everyone. This is a group effort. This thing we’re part of is much, larger than any one person, and when we’re part of the community of believers we’re reminded us of this truth, right? In the community of believers, we’re surrounded by people all working to make it through life. We struggle. We bicker. We fight. We love. We forgive. But there isn’t one here that is bigger or better than another in the eyes of God. We’re all equal. We’re all sons and daughters of God. But we must remember that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. That we’re not entitled to extra, or more, or that something extra is owed to us. How this begins the process of joy Part of what creates despair in us is that, in the process of trying to show ourselves to be something we’re not, we lose ourselves and we forget who God created us to be. Part of what the community of believers offers us is the chance to be real. To be our true, and honest self; warts and all. When we’re able to be ourselves, and when we’re accepted for who we truly are, we will find that joy comes naturally to us. It’s easy to find joy when we’re honest, open and recipients of God’s grace.

No matter the road we take, and no matter our path, the process towards true joy will always end with Christ, and will always be by way of the community of believers.

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