by Jared Johnson
“There are no Lone Ranger Christians.”
“Community is messy.”
Yes. We know. But don’t we all, at least sometimes, hole up and avoid others? Don’t we, even as church leaders, sometimes choose isolation? We’re in the people business!
I’m sympathetic. Just temperamentally, it’s easy for me to clam up verbally and withdraw emotionally. And even if you’re an extrovert, who, in today’s cultural climate, could be blamed for withdrawing or avoiding at least a little bit?
I just finished a book titled So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed (author Jon Ronson). Really – just the fact such a book exists shows our dysfunction. It’s a worthwhile read, and similarly, if you haven’t looked up Dr Brene Brown’s sociological work on shame please do so. She has interviews and TED Talks on YouTube and has written several books.
In our default climate of outrage (real or fake) and divisiveness and fault-finding, might it be wise to just not engage? Perhaps. But at least within the Body/Bride of Jesus, as Paul told us in 1 Cor. 12.31, “there is a better way;” in fact, multiple translations express that verse as “the most excellent way.” And I expect we all know how thoroughly Paul then goes on to explain love in 1 Corinthians 13.
I heard many times over the years from multiple preachers and teachers that “there are 59 ‘one-anothers’ in the New Testament.” I asked a couple times where they got that factoid, and the answer was “a commentary by … oh, I don’t remember.” So I looked.
One of the more well-known is in John 13: “Here’s a new command: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you love each other” (vs 34, more or less). The Greek word usually translated “each other” and “one another” is ah-lay-lown. There are fully 100 uses of it in the New Testament. A number of those are irrelevant to living in a faith community, or even negative. (Matthew 24.10 and John 4.33 are a couple good examples.) Click here for our list of 55 community-related uses.
Still: one hundred times. It’s quite a theme. “If it’s repeated, it’s important.”
No doubt many of you have heard sermons on many of these commands (many are commands), or even preached them yourselves:
- Love each other; delight in honoring each other. (Rom. 12.10)
- Owe nothing to anyone – except the debt to keep loving one another. (Rom. 13.8)
- Make allowance for each other’s faults. (Col. 3.13)
- Think of ways to motivate one another to love and good work. (Heb. 10.24)
All the individual statements and commands are challenging enough. But taken as a whole, the message can’t be clearer: be with people! As a quite comfortable introvert who would rather people-watch than people-engage, that confronts me. There are no Lone Ranger Christians. Sigh. Ok.
Living in community gets messy, even painful. Who wants that?
- Fool me once – shame on you. Fool me twice – shame on me.
- Once bitten, twice shy.
The world’s way is withdrawal, protecting ourselves, separating from and walling off those who “rub us the wrong way;” we “get out of Dodge.”
But… “God’s way is perfect.” (Both 2 Sam. 22.31 and Ps. 18.30 in part.)
“Share each other’s burdens and in this way fulfill the law of [Jesus],” (Gal. 6.2). We can’t get “shy” after taking a blow. “’How often should I forgive someone – seven times?’ ‘Nope. 77 times.’” (Matt. 18.21-22)
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your Heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. …you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” (Matthew 6.14-15, 7.2 NLT)
It will hurt. So be it. If Paul could persevere through the litany he enumerates in 2 Corinthians 11 for the sake of people – even difficult people – I can stick it out through the trivialities people throw at me.
Rather than “once bitten, twice shy,” let’s remember a phrase we sometimes see posted by a sink. God expects us to stay with people. He would tell us: “lather, rinse, repeat.”