Sometimes other people are the worst. They can be annoying and hard to deal with, demanding when I’m busy and tired, stretching me when I don’t want to be stretched. But for some reason they’re everywhere, and Christ loves all of them, so as the Body of Christ we’re forced to figure out how to be together. Our first and best example of how to function as a community is the Trinity. They really are “the three best friends that anyone could have.” They always get one another, are always there for each other, always on the same page. What can we draw from their example to learn better ways of being in community?
Let’s think about the moment of Jesus’ baptism, the first time that we see the whole Trinity in the same place at the same time.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matt. 3:16-17
First we see that their Triune community was a blessing and an encouragement. Jesus through the Incarnation is an ambassador of God’s glory and presence living and walking with humanity. As both fully God and fully human Jesus is an earthly extension of God among us. That experience had to have been lonely and isolating for him at times. None of the people around him could have understood his experience and what he was going through, and no one fully understood his power and authority. So at this moment of baptism the Spirit falls with fresh encouragement and fellowship, and God the Father affirms his identity as a Son with full authority.
And then secondly, what is the impact of their relationship? The Trinity’s community with one another results not only in a blessing to each other but in blessing to all people. Jesus doesn’t receive from the Spirit and the Father and then they just keep hanging out together indefinitely. Everything that they do as a community is for the purpose of bringing other people in. There is no self-serving element of their friendship and kinship, it is always flowing outward.
For those of you who are blessed with a good group of friends, you have felt the temptation to keep your group exactly the way it is. It takes intentionality and emotional energy to bring a new person into an established group, and we often avoid doing so because it can take work. Now there are definitely times when we need the rest and rejuvenation that comes from just being with a close friend or being alone. Jesus withdraws by himself to pray on a regular basis, when he does that he was recharging with his close community. But then he always comes back to welcome more new people. It’s a continuous cycle of receiving and sharing that never stops with just him.
And here’s the crazy thing we learn from Jesus: sometimes community is wildly inconvenient. Sometimes we have to extend ourselves in uncomfortable ways in order to welcome other people, because we serve a God of hospitality. There’s no greater expression of inconvenient hospitality than the incarnation. Jesus left the comforts of heaven and pure divinity to join with the discomforts of earth and humanity. He could have just kept hanging out with his two best friends and their angel squad, but instead he became flesh and dwelt among us so that he could bring us back with him and reconcile us to God for eternity. Paul summarizes this powerfully in Ephesians 2:13-20
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
We don’t pursue close relationships so that we can be insulated in our perfect group and stay there. We invest in community to build each other up and to send each other out to welcome more brothers and sisters into the Body of Christ.
If you are in a season where you have been gifted with a strong group of friends and community, then rejoice in that as a beautiful reflection of God’s purposes for all of humanity. What you have now is a Kingdom glimpse of the New Jerusalem, a signpost of God’s ability to unite all peoples for all time. Like Jesus and the rest of the Trinity, don’t keep that to yourself. Look around you and pray for Christ to shape your heart into one of overflowing hospitality. Stay close to the One who brought you near when you were the one who was far off.
If you’re in a season of isolation, of anxiety over who in your life is trustworthy and genuine, don’t give up. You cannot give in to the temptation to withdraw behind masks and walls. Satan loves it when God’s children feel alone and he will do everything he can to tell you that no one cares about you and no one will ever love you for who you are. The truth is that every moment of every day, Jesus knows everything about you and always calls you friend. And what’s more, He died to bring you into eternal friendship with the Trinity and with the whole community of faith.
The truth is that you are never alone because God’s Spirit dwells inside you and you are always in communion with the great Three in One. With that assurance, keep trying to connect with Christian community. Strike up some awkward conversations and just see what happens. Think of some good questions that will help you get to know a potential new friend and start creating situations where others can get to know you too. It may take a while so keep praying for courage and patience. You were not meant to be alone, don’t be satisfied with fear and facades.
None of us can be the perfect friend and community member on our own. It requires risk and vulnerability, time and energy, love and sacrifice. Other people will hurt us and let us down, and we will do the same to them. Community is simultaneously very beautiful and very hard. But we do it because we’re all meant to be together. Every day we can extend ourselves to others in response to a God who breaks down all barriers in order to make us one.