Life in Community | Loving and Serving One Another
Community | by Justin Keogh
The Life in Community series highlights aspects of our life lived together in community through a mixture of theology, vision, and personal stories. Cornerstone Communities are the primary means of forming meaningful discipling relationships where we can be known, encouraged, and challenged by brothers and sisters in our body, and live out the “one another” commandments in our daily lives.
For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another…. By this we know love, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:11, 16-18)
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:19-21)
There is a direct relationship between our relationship with God (our “vertical” relationship) and our relationship with others (our “horizontal” relationships). How we love our brothers and sisters horizontally reflects our understanding and beliefs about how God has loved us vertically in Christ. This was not immediately apparent to me in my early days of faith – I claimed to love God, but that love did not result in love for my fellow Christians. It was in my freshman year of college, during a Bible study on 1 John, that God drew this to my full attention by His Spirit and through His word.
There I was, thinking I had a right understanding of God’s love – to which God called me a liar. I saw the stark contrast of my horizontal relationships which lacked any tangible grace, forgiveness, or love with the extremely tangible peace, forgiveness, and love of God to me in Christ. Thankfully, by God’s grace, this led not only to a deepened understanding but wholehearted repentance, which still to this day shapes the way I see my brothers and sisters in Christ. If you struggle to love your brothers and sisters in Christ, I encourage you to reflect on the ways in which God has (and does!) loved you in Christ, the depth of the forgiveness he has for your sins (i.e., all of them), and the abundance of his provision for you as co-heirs with Christ.
As the understanding of God’s love for us has hit home, and we desire to love and serve others as Christ has loved and served us, some very practical questions quickly arise. Here are four of the most common questions that frequently arise as we seek to love and serve one another in our communities.
1. What does it look like to love others “in deed and in truth”?
In contrast to “loving in word or talk,” we see that loving others is an action. On this topic, James writes: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16). We see throughout Acts – there was practical and tangible care for one another that included meeting material needs (Acts 2:45; 6:2). In our context, this could be as simple as picking up the bill for a shared meal for a friend who doesn’t have the same financial means, or it could mean rallying together as a community to help someone in your community pay rent and make ends meet when they are in between jobs.
2. What if I don’t have the financial means to help others? Or, what if the needs of others are not financial?
In either of these scenarios, we can still meet the practical needs of others. We have all been given a unique set of time, talent, and treasure from God to steward, which varies by his providence and grace. These gifts not only differ from one person to person but also from season to season. Therefore, we should not expect that there is a ‘one size fits all’ way to serve. Meeting material needs is not the exclusive way to love and care for others. How then? Well, it depends on the unique needs of others and your gifts of time, talent, and treasure. A family with young kids might have their material needs covered, but need a babysitter so that they can get a date night. A single young professional might have their material needs covered, but need Godly counsel and guidance. Together, they might form a mutually-edifying relationship where they meet each others’ needs and grow closer in the process!
3. How do I prioritize who to serve?
There are more people in the world with greater needs than you will ever be able to meet. Thankfully, God has not called us to be the savior of the world, but to love and serve those whom we are able – with the gifts that he’s uniquely given to us. The bible doesn’t give us a prescription on how to split our efforts, but rather principles on how to love our family in Christ and our neighbors. Knowing that I have to prioritize and choose whom I will serve, here are a few of the questions I prayerfully consider:
Who has God sovereignly put into my life already?
What are their needs?
What does the balance of my time, talents, and treasures look like this season?
Have I sought to love both my family in Christ and my neighbors?
Are there folks who cannot repay me, that I might serve unconditionally (cf Luke 14:12-14).
Very often, I don’t have to think long before I find God’s Spirit directing me to those around me – in my community, my church, my workplace, and my geographic neighborhood.
4. What if I’m the one in need?
We all have needs, and there is no shame or condemnation for being in need (Rom 8:1). Even so, we don’t generally like to be in need. For starters, by definition, it means we’re lacking in something. Secondly, asking for help from others can be a huge (albeit good) blow to our pride – fighting our social norms of individualism and our self-made images. Yet, we know that God has given us needs that we might depend on him and come to receive what we need for his glory and our good (cf. John 9:3).We want our Cornerstone Communities to be places of authentic, loving, discipling, and mutually-edifying relationships. This means that they need to be places where we can share our needs and our time, talent, and treasure to meet one another’s needs. It takes a humble vulnerability from the person sharing the need, and a compassionate action from those around the person sharing the need – but as this happens, people’s needs are met, we grow closer to each other, God is glorified, and the world around us sees a glimpse of the Kingdom of God (cf John 13:35).
If you’re part of a Cornerstone Community, I invite you to prayerfully consider who is in need around you that you are uniquely gifted to serve this month.
If you’re not yet part of a Cornerstone Community, sign-up for the next Foundations class to get started.
Director of Communities & Mercy Ministries