In the Spring of 2010, I walked into a small room in San Jacinto Hall, a dorm at Texas State University. The room felt vibrant and alive, with lots of smiles, laughs, hugs, and conversation. The room was diverse, from skin color to clothing style, but everyone loved deeply; you could just feel it. I was invited by my new friend, Ellen Porter, to a campus night for a student ministry at Texas State. I knew only one person, but everyone introduced themselves to me and made me feel cared for. This was the start of feeling like a part of a community, a family even, that I didn’t even know I needed at the time. When Jesus truly changed my heart and I became a follower of Jesus a month later, it was this same community that helped me walk faithfully, encouraging me, and challenging me weekly to follow Christ, fellowship with others, and “fish for men” (Matt. 4:19).
Community challenges us to know Jesus in a fuller way. The challenging part about community for me is, well… me. If you’re anything like me, I can get in my own way of relationships with others because when it comes down to it, I can let the many obstacles in life get in the way of fighting for Christian community.
The love for each other exuded in the Texas State campus ministry did not happen on its own or without challenges. It took people sacrificing themselves, caring for others, and speaking the truth in love. Community takes time and perseverance when relationships and circumstances get difficult. Reflecting on growing healthy communities of faith, Colossians 3:12-15 gives a beautiful picture of how to love others that we can glean from and grow in.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful.”Col. 3:12-15
From these verses, we can see that we are to actively “put on” these virtues, forgive each other, and love one another.
When Paul uses the imperative “put on”, or in another Bible translation, “clothe yourselves”, he is telling us to actively pursue showing this type of friendship and love to others, despite what they are giving us in return. For many years, I did not want to be the initiator of relationships because I was fearful of getting hurt or rejected. I was hesitant that someone wouldn’t be as good of a friend as I needed or that I would give more care than I received. I was shown Jesus’ pursuit of me through friends, such as Ellen, who initiated a relationship with me and showed kindness and compassion.
As I learned of Christ’s love for me, understanding that He pursued me despite my sin, I found security in His love and desired to show that love to others. I wanted them to know God’s love for them. God’s love and pursuit of me gave me the confidence to freely pursue friendships, instead of worrying about how I would be cared for in return. Now, even when a friend does not quickly respond to a phone call, a text, or me reaching out, I can give them grace and keep pursuing them, following Jesus’s example of pursuing us.
As Christine Hoover, author of “Messy Beautiful Friendship” says, “By actively pursuing others the way Christ pursues us, we extend an invitation for the friendship we desire but we also discover the beautiful and always-faithful way in which Christ relates to us.”
Despite our sin, God also actively comes after us. God’s love for us is not based on our merit (Rom 5:8) and yet Christ laid down His life for us. How can we daily “lay down our lives for others” as we pursue relationships?
Forgiving as Christ forgave
Those that we care for the most will disappoint us at times. They might even hurt us deeply. We can also hurt them, whether knowingly or unknowingly. In times like these, we are called to show forbearance and forgiveness. The word Paul uses is a special verb for forgive: canceled the debts. It’s the same word used in the parable of the two debtors in Luke 7:42. When I think of canceling debts, I think of owing nothing. In the case of forgiving others, we are saying although you hurt me or have done wrong to me, your slate is clean and you owe me nothing.
Thank God my husband is quick to forgive because I am often slow to forgive. I want to show him that he hurt my feelings, dwell on the hurt, and make him feel bad for it. He has helped me grow in forgiveness, which oftentimes means taking my eyes off of myself. When I see and mourn my own sin, I can have compassion, understanding, and patience with the sins of others and forgive them as I would want them to forgive me.
I am so very grateful that Jesus, perfect and sinless, forgave me, a sinner.
“He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him”.Psalm 103:10-11
Above all, love
God uses people to show love in tangible ways. Over the years, I’ve experienced this firsthand in the context of the local church. Through meal trains, cards, words of kindness, prayers, or a listening ear, the church has been and continues to be the living expression of Jesus’ voice, kindness, and provision for me. In short, they’ve shown me His love.
Love binds the people of God together in unity as the body of Christ. God “poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us” (Rom. 5:5) Therefore, with this love we have been given, we are used as vessels to show God’s love to others.
Throughout this season of quarantine, I keep asking the question, “How do I show love to my neighbor/friend/family right now?” During this time, these questions can be challenging and require creativity. I personally do not feel comfortable simply walking across the street to strike up a conversation with my neighbor (unless standing 6 feet apart with masks). Instead, I have to creatively love and do what I can — what I feel safe with. Love can look as simple as a text, phone call, online chat (I know, lots of those right now!), outdoor hangout, grocery delivery, prayer, or card. As my husband Josh puts it, value the conviction to show love over the method. So what does all this mean? Well, try not to overthink it like I tend to do. You are not going to do it perfectly, but do not be afraid to risk pursuing others wholeheartedly. Receive Christ’s forgiveness and give forgiveness. Show love to your neighbor, friend, coworker, and anyone in need. We can pursue, forgive, and love because Christ has and continues to pursue, forgive, and love us first.