Western individualism has so severely distorted the communal emphasis of early Christianity. Popular to common belief, Christian faith is not “all about me”, about my “personal relationship with my personal Saviour, Jesus Christ.” The Church exists as a forgiven and forgiving community (cf. Colossians 3.13). Our distinct identity is marked by our love for one another, as Jesus said:
“A new command”–remember that phrase–”I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13.34-35
This is not some abstraction or sentimental mushiness; the apostles recognized that the love characteristic of Christian community is expressed in the midst of difficulty, and is not always reciprocal.
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12.10). “But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” (Galatians 5.13). “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4.2).
Devotion. Honour. Service. Humility. Gentleness. Patience. These are unnatural characteristics that are essentially antithetical to the autonomy and self-centeredness so characteristic of individualism. They must be constantly nurtured by turning our eyes to gaze on the Selfless One, the Crucified God, whose great act was one of passivity, self-sacrifice–in short, love of another. This act alone can justify the command, “Love one another.”
I ask that we grasp the preciousness of Christian love, as shaped and practiced within a community of faith. The apostle John, writing fifty years after the ascension of Christ, gives this instruction:
“And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another” (2 John 1.5).