We live in a culture of isolation. We have elderly people who can go days without talking to another person. We have young people who have moved for jobs and do not have family around them. We have parents without a support network to raise their children with. Many people do not know their neighbours or the people on the street. People are expected to live their lives as islands; not to impose on others, to solve their own problems and to do it alone.
There are places where this doesn’t happen, places where instead of isolation there is real community. It can be seen in a crisis, when a community or country draws together in support of those in need. But on the whole, across the country the feeling of isolation is a reality.
One place a culture of isolation should not exist is within our churches. Jesus commanded us to “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34) and also to “let your light shine before others” (Matthew 5:16). Our churches should demonstrate a culture of community between one another and that shines out beyond the membership of those who attend on a Sunday.
“Let your light shine before others”
This culture can be created in a multitude of ways; in our welcome of people, in our prayers, in practical and emotional support in times of need, through our encouragement and our desire to spend time together.
But, when we look at how Jesus really loved, we realise that it is more than being loving and kind but requires sacrifice and honesty as well.
Jesus went outside of his natural/expected friendship group. He loved and spent time with Romans, Samaritans, people who no one else went to and people who on paper had very little in common with him. Many people feel isolated and we are called to draw people into real community, regardless of the age difference or seeming differences in experiences or needs.
It can be as simple as inviting someone round for lunch who would normally be eating alone or standing with a parent whose child is playing away from where people are gathered.
Jesus sacrificed his time and made time in his schedule to help others. When word came to Jesus that Jairus’ daughter was dying (Mark 5:21-43), he left what he was doing and went to her. He didn’t rush off continuously, but when he was needed he made the space to be there. We are called to be involved in each other’s lives and support one another. Acts of kindness are not restricted to when we have time, people’s needs don’t wait for when you have a space.
It might be doing something outside your natural circle or inviting someone in. It could be sacrificing a conversation with a friend to talk to someone having a tough time. It could be creating time in your busy schedule to cook a meal for someone who is having a challenging week.
Jesus had close friends who he shared his whole life with. He travelled with the disciples, they discussed faith and shared meals. When Jesus was nearing his death, he went with his disciples to pray and shared with three that his “soul is overwhelmed” (Matthew 26:38). Jesus did not hide his thoughts, his future or his anguish from them. God created us to desire friendships that have real depth. We might meet with someone regularly, but that is not the same as sharing our personal and spiritual questions, challenges and fears.
It is a choice to speak more openly and honestly about your life with those you are closest to. It is a step of trust and confidence in the other, that can develop a deepening spiral of openness, trust and understanding between you all.
Jesus cared enough to challenge his friends. He saw them as God saw them and the people they were called to be, so he held them accountable for their thoughts and actions. He raised them up by encouraging, teaching but also challenging them. A friendship with deep honesty creates opportunities for accountability and growth. Ultimately it is about walking together towards God.
It might be a willingness to discuss topics you disagree on, with the aim of understanding the other’s views and opinions more clearly. It may be asking the tough questions about each other’s faiths and lives. It might be encouraging and holding the other accountable for changes they wanted to make in their lives (and wanting them to do the same in return).
Jesus told us to love like him. It is no easy challenge but one that can transform a person and a community. In a society where many people are isolated and alone physically and emotionally, a church that loves as Jesus in these ways brings people together in a culture of love and community that shines out. There are things you already naturally do and others that you will find challenging.
- How are you already showing love like Jesus?
- Who is loving you as Jesus loved?
- What area is the biggest challenge? How can you begin to show love in that way?