At work the other day, my boss was telling me about throwing her daughter a surprise birthday party for her 16th birthday. As she told of the preparations and the many of her daughter’s friends that they hosted at their house, she made the comment that they were “learning community.” Although at the time I thought nothing of it, it has stuck with me throughout the last couple of days. Terms like “community” and “fellowship” are ones that I often associate with my church, the designated body of believers that I have entered into through a covenant membership. Although when I go out to eat with friends I ask God to “bless our fellowship,” I’m not sure I have ever truly thought about how my closest friendships, especially those within the body of Christ, are true community, regardless of whether they are formally affiliated with my specific church.
Thinking about this perspective of community led me to thinking about Paul. I have always thought of Paul as kind of a lone gunman, so to speak. Just this itinerant missionary who preaches the gospel and maintains correspondence with some of the churches he has visited or desires to visit. But get this…the Pauline epistles are filled with names of lives with which Paul was intimately connected. In fact, he mentions 75 different people by name throughout his letters. And when I read his letters, I cannot help but be struck by the overwhelming connection that exists between Paul and these people and communities. Like, how he describes his relationship with the believers in Thessalonica from both a maternal and paternal perspective in 1 Thessalonians 1. Or how he tells the Romans how he longs to see them in Romans 1. It seems evident that Paul felt a deep sense of community with individuals that was not limited to geographical proximity or church affiliation.
After hearing my boss describe her daughter’s group of friends as “learning community,” it caused me to think about my own “community.” Not my church and the fellowship I have with them, but those precious people who I share intimate connections with, my most beloved friends. Although I had never formally considered our friendships as a community, that is truly what it is: we are sharing life together; acknowledging, affirming, and appreciating one another. And much like Paul, my community is geographically scattered, but I long for them nonetheless.
Father, thank you for creating community where we can experience your grace and love together. I thank you personally for the beloved individuals you have graciously put in my life to foster community, that I might know you more intimately through sharing life with them.