My family and I have lived in community for over 50 years. Marti and I met at a training course where the leadership, teachers and students, less than 30 in all, lived in one old hotel. We prepared and ate our meals together, and travelled through the Middle East together, living in tents for three months. What a way to get to know a potential life partner! There was no way to consistently look our best (or even smell our best) as we crawled out of sleeping bags, packed up tents and crammed into four, old Volkswagen vans for another day’s journey.
During the next few years in the 1970s, as the number of our children grew to four, we continued to work with teams and to travel on outreach trips and field-trip experiences.
Decades passed and for some short periods we rented a house of our own, but mostly we lived together with team members in large hostels or old country homes where we lived with 40 to 100+ people. Bathroom queues, noisy dining rooms, hurt feelings, public apologies, and confessions with the aim of reducing strains and healing relationships were well known to us.
The past three decades have been different from the first two decades; we have lived in a single-family house on a property with many houses, most of which are divided into apartments (or flats). It is still community, but less intense for us than the first 20+ years. We worship together, we share common vision, we have joint responsibility for stewarding the large community property, we meet regularly to keep up with all the developments and we are all committed to sacrificial mission projects in the UK and globally. Finally, we all engage in training others, which is our means of increasing our fruitfulness in the Kingdom of God.
There is a parallel relationship between the second law of thermodynamics (everything tends to run down or degrade) and community living. Even very deeply committed communities, perhaps begun in a revival atmosphere, tend to lose their way and the quality of their relationships. Like a physical energy system—let’s say a hand operated water pump—it can only keep pumping if someone consistently puts more energy into the system by moving the pump handle up and down, against the resistance of the water down in the well.
Human beings were made for communities. By that I mean families, villages, neighbourhoods, churches: even schools and clubs. We must be aware that they will “run down” unless more energy is applied to what holds them together.
I think strong and enduring communities are held together by a glue that is made by mixing three elements together—vision, values, and relationships.
In our community at Highfield Oval, Harpenden, UK, we set aside a few days, twice year, to add more of that positive energy into our community. (We are about 150 people including all our children. With trainees, we can be over 200 on a 50-acre site on the edge of the town.)
I was recently struck by the timely relevance of Romans 13 and 1 Corinthians 13. We have embarked upon a season of digging deeper into these passages and letting them dig deeper into us!
Romans 13:8-10 Don’t owe anything to anyone, except the debt of mutual love. If you love your neighbour, you see, you have fulfilled the law. Commandments like ‘don’t commit adultery, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t covet’ – and any other commandment – are summed up in this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to its neighbour; so love is the fulfilment of the law.
We realise that the commandment to love one another requires a common understanding of what is right and what is wrong—what expectations we have of one another. Because we are from many different nations and languages and cultures and because we are multi-generational, some of our expectations of one another can be unspoken and might be quite a long way apart.
Little things like opening a door for someone, or letting an older person go first, or labelling your belongings in the communal refrigerator, can be offensive to some and normal to others. One way to see that is the way Paul presented it in his letter to the Romans. He points out in Romans 7 that they all know the law. That probably means that the believers at that stage in Rome were all from synagogue background in one way or another. As a result, they had some expectations of one another in common.
Elsewhere he says where there is no law, there is no offense. So, if I don’t know another person’s expectation and I fail to meet it, I cannot be charged with intentional offense. But the other person doesn’t know exactly what I know and doesn’t know what I don’t understand. That’s why 1 Corinthians 13 has stand alongside Romans 13.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love’s great hearted; love is kind, knows no jealously, makes no fuss, is not puffed up, no shameless ways, doesn’t force its rightful claim, doesn’t rage or bear a grudge, doesn’t cheer at others harm, rejoices, rather in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, love hopes all things, endures all things. (NTE translation)
These two scriptures, when taken together, provide us with a description of how the Kingdom of God is worked out in this life—and they are an apt description of “the age to come”.
We are urged to get physical health check-ups regularly for our well-being. There are countless stories of people who had a regular check-up and caught a developing problem in time, before it became life-threatening.
Our relationships deserve the same, or better, care!