Community is a tricky concept to understand and definitely complicated in practice. Everyone wants some form of community (even introverts) when it comes down to it. Community is a place where we get to gain and offer the one thing that any person in isolation cannot offer:
Alone, we will always be limited by our inability to see and experience life from beyond our own point of view. Yet when we can share what is happening in our lives with the safe people around us, then we begin to move beyond our limitations, and gain insights that only people on the outside can offer. This process ultimately brings about grace when we are being too hard on ourselves, and truth when we need it most.
While this is just a basic principle on the value of being in relationship, it is a starting point that spurs us on to more important questions: What difference should Jesus make in the way we do community? What is distinct about Christian community? There’s one that jumps out at me that I’ve been appreciating a lot lately:
As we share in our sufferings we also share in the comfort of Christ.
One of the key messages throughout scripture is that life involves suffering. The story of Job is entirely dedicated to a man’s intense suffering and how he wrestled with God over the concept of pain. What we ultimately find is that God is not distant from us in our suffering, but instead draws near to us.
But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction. (Job 36:15 NIV)
In the same way, Christian community should mean drawing nearer to one another to share in our sufferings, so we can then share in the comfort that comes from God. We can’t hope to be comforted by people around us if they have no understanding of what’s going on.
And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:7 NIV)
Second Corinthians is a letter addressed to early Christians being persecuted in extreme ways (often death) for their belief in Christ. I want to be careful not to equate the hardships we call suffering too closely with the suffering we read about above. That being said, the concept of sharing in suffering is important regardless of severity. We can share in suffering both in having endured similar circumstances, or by being open and honest about our personal difficulties. As we do this, we have an opportunity to share in the comfort found through God who is near to us in our suffering.
This process is usually terrifying. What if people are dismissive of our pain? What if they are judgmental of how our suffering came to be? It may not always go well, but the alternative is an unshared life resulting in less comfort and less community. See what one moment of vulnerability can do to increase comfort in your life as well as the lives of the people around you.