Love God. Love People.
It’s tattooed in bold on my wrist. I see it hundreds of time every day. It echoes Jesus’ words in Matthew 22: “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
But somehow I never “got it.” I never clearly connected these verses with the actions of the early church, in Acts 2:42: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
I truly believe that we were created to live in community. Like Adam, it is not good for us to be alone.
Last week, when in bed battling my most recent ailment, tick fever, I saw the beauty of living in community come alive, as friends offered to drive me to the clinic, brought food, smoothies, and milkshakes, and graciously covered my classes yet again.
What if loving our neighbor means just that–being a neighbor? The early church described by Paul did not live in relative isolation, only coming together on Sunday mornings and maybe Wednesday nights. They shared, gave, received, and depended on one another. Even history shows that most societies, at some point, were based on community, until, at some point in time, man’s desire to be self-sufficient forced him into the current trend of western isolationism. One of the things I notice every time I fly back to the U.S. on break is that “there are no people.” Nearly everyone drives in a car (usually by themselves) to and from work–and don’t even get out of those cars to buy our coffee. When people do walk on the street, nobody talks to each other. We are plugged in to our devices, which, ironically, keeps us from being “plugged in” to the people around us. More and more, this concerns me. I don’t think that this is how we were created to live. Here in Tanzania, there are people everywhere all the time. Greetings, even just to show respect to the elders you pass on the street, are incredibly important to East African culture. Though the constant interaction with strangers, especially with “vijana” (youth) or older, drunk guys who are catcalling and being generally obnoxious, sometimes gets old, there is something reassuring in knowing that you are never alone.
At the same time, I know that sometimes the most lonely place is in the middle of a crowd. Just being “around” people doesn’t guarantee that we are living in community. Life in a community requires giving and taking. It requires humility and being willing to ask for and accept help from others. For me, stepping up to help someone else is easy. Accepting assistance is much more difficult. I want to be self-sufficient. I want to be strong. I want to prove that I can do it on my own.
This is pride and foolishness.
Galatians 6:2 tells us to, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” If I’m unwilling to share my burdens with others, they can’t bear it. And what a blessing it is to walk together, sharing the load that is back-breaking for one person, yet light with two or three!
I am thankful for the circumstances of life that have forced me to share my burdens with others, and for the opportunities others have given me to help carry their burdens. After all, I am pretty confident that this is how we were created to live!
For more information on life in community, Paul Tripp has written a small brochure of sorts on the topic, available here. I found it both informative and challenging.