On the night Jesus knew that He was going to die, He told His disciples: “A new command I give you: Love one another. as I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35). The greatest and most powerful argument for the Gospel of Jesus is the love Christians have for one another. The credibility of Christianity rises or falls on the basis of Jesus’ followers’ relationships with one another – experiencing authentic community.
For us to experience authentic community, we must understand what it takes for authentic community to occur. Romans 12:9-13 explains what is required for authentic community to happen.
1. Who? The Real You
Authenticity – “Let love be without dissimulation (hypocrisy)”
Hypocrisy is a Greek word that means ‘without a mask.’ In ancient Greek theater, all actors were males and may play multiple parts. The actor would wear a mask to portray the face of a man, woman, or child. This is the Greek word Paul used. I can never be loved unless people know who I really am – the real me, not who I”m pretending to be to gain people’s approval.
Purity – “Abhor that which is evil. Cleave to that which is good”
Most of the masks we wear are to cover up our sinful, known disobedience to God from fellow believers. Most of us ask the wrong question about sin – “How close can I get to sin without crossing the line?” The issue is not how close to sin can you get; it’s how close to purity and righteousness can you be? God’s love flows best through clean vessels. Your sin and mine doesn’t merely affect us, but it affects everyone in our relational network. Don’t think that your sin isn’t hurting anyone but yourself.
2. What? Meets Real Needs
Devotion – “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love”
This means to regard Christians as you would your immediate family – the same concern, protection, sacrifice. Can you imagine how church would change if we were devoted to one another, rather than so busy there’s not room in our hearts, no margin in our schedules to really love people that way?
Humility – “In honor preferring one another”
This is the idea of making the other person look good, to help them be successful, rather than focusing on ourself. This is what humility looks like when it’s played out in real life. It’s amazing what happens when people, from the heart, honestly long for the success of others more than their own.
The cross is the greatest example of humility and devotion in the universe. Jesus put your needs ahead of His own. He considered you more valuable than Himself.
3. Why? For the Real Reason
This means not to slow or delay in serving the Lord. Laziness is the failure to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. Closely related to this is passion or enthusiasm. Our service for God in relationship to one another is to flow out of the passion we have in our own personal intimacy with Christ. We are to serve Christ with enthusiasm. There is a tendency to go through the motions. If we’re not careful, we begin to do the right things without any heart or any passion. I believe the answer to all this is the last phrase, “serving the Lord.” So often authentic community does not happen because our motives are not focused on serving Jesus. When you serve God for the right reason, you will do it with excellence and with passion. It changes the quality, depth and sincerity of your service to others.
Here’s how you can check your motives: How do you respond when you feel taken for granted and no one notices what you’re doing? How do you respond when you don’t get the ‘thank you’? How do you respond when your sacrifice and generosity are completely ignored? Or what if you have to go the ‘extra mile’ and serve someone else. How I respond in those situations causes me to evaluate why I do what I do. If you really want to see your motives, just check your response when you’re treated like a servant.
4. How? In the Right Way
Upward focus – “Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing instant in prayer”
These three phrases refer to a mindset (hope), an action (patient), a resource (prayer). Our mindset can give us joy in light of eternity. We are commanded to hold up under stress and pressure in the midst of tribulation or difficulty. Our natural inclination is to focus inward and blame God or others. How do we have an upward focus? We continue to pray. And we don’t do this alone. We do this in an authentic community.
Outward focus – “Distributing to the necessity of saints, given to (pursuing) hospitality”
It’s easy to think we really love each other because we provide emotional support, pray with one another, and demonstrate verbal concern. But this passage goes beyond all this. Authentic community demands that your wallet must come out of your pocket. you must give financially, sacrificially, and systematically to those who have needs in the family of God. I’m not talking about your tithe or giving tot he church, but tot he needs of brothers and sisters you know (James 2:14-17). It’s a powerful and beautiful thing when people begin to reach out and meet one another’s needs.
Authentic community is the most powerful witness to the truth of the Gospel on the face of the earth. It’s the greatest need among Christians, and the greatest need for an unbelieving world to begin to believe that what we say about Jesus is true because of how we love and relate to one another Authentic community is rare and powerful, but it can and will happen when the real you meets real needs for the right reason in the right way.
Let’s stop just going to church; let’s be the church!