Relationships can be hard. This is true when our connections are marred by envy, anger, and the like. It can also be true when everyone brings their best intentions to the table. I find it comforting, then, that the scriptures do not romanticize community. Yes, the call to healthy community rings loud and clear from the pages of the New Testament, but so also does a realism about the difficulty of that call.
I think here of passages like Colossians 3:12-14:
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 one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (NIV)
Notice here that healthy community doesn’t just happen. Instead, it is the product of the purposeful obedience of God’s people. We are to clothe ourselves with community-building virtues. This means that we are to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, and patient on purpose. We put these attitudes on. We weave them into the fabric of our lives.
And notice that the passage assumes friction and fault. We wouldn’t need to “bear with each other” if we didn’t sometimes drive each other crazy. Nor would we need to “forgive one another” if we never got things wrong.
Colossians, then, does not romanticize community. No, community here is maintained by our purposeful embrace of Christ-like virtues, and it is restored when we choose to bear with and forgive one another. This isn’t a romantic picture of easy relationships. It is a realistic call to do the hard work of loving one another. Love, after all, is not just a feeling of good will. It is also the continued conviction to seek the good of those in our lives. Sometimes this conviction is easily lived out. Sometimes it is not. How comforting, then, that the scriptures do not gloss over this second reality. No, they call us to confront it head on by shaping our characters and bearing with and forgiving one another.
The question of Christian community is not whether or not things are perfect – they won’t be. The real question of Christian community is whether or not we will choose it. After all, it doesn’t just happen. It is the product of the purposeful obedience of God’s people.