I was in college, three hours away from home, and I didn’t know a single person. Yet, in the course of six months, God had brought several of us together in a unique way, bonding us through our mutual love and passion for Jesus. Decades have passed and hundreds of miles separate us, but I continue to share a close connection and affection for this group of friends. How are these relationships different from any other?
Remembrance of You
In Phil. 1: 3-11, Paul’s letter to the Philippians takes off with an emotional start. Paul’s closeness to the Philippians is evident.
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy.
How I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Perhaps Paul was reminiscing about their common experiences? Surely, he felt gratitude for the support the community had shown him by sending him one of their own, Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25), to encourage him. But in this passage, Paul twice makes reference to their shared relationship and partnership in Christ.
…thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.
…for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
One thing is certain. Paul and the Philippians share a tender affection that most people can only wish for in their lives. Can we experience this? Can a faith community realize this?
The Secret of Christian Friendship & Community
Parish leaders use some common tactics when they want to build a sense of community. One is the social event. We bring people together to share a meal and time together and hope we also grow closer. We use “Coffee and Donuts” get people to mix after Mass. We encourage members to join a small group, enabling them to meet and know others in a more personal way. All of these help reduce barriers, bring people together, and open opportunities for friendships. At the same time, I don’t often observe these measures connecting people in the way Paul is connected to the Philippians. What was their secret?
#1 They shared Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Conversion to Christ touches us at the core of our being. We experience love, joy, peace, healing, and purpose. To share not only this experience, but to share an ongoing relationship with the person of Jesus Christ, bonds us in a way like nothing else. And it’s not a only one-time past event, but a continual, life-changing encounter. Not only do we enjoy our friend’s company, but when we’re with him, he points us back to Jesus.
#2 They shared in Christ’s mission.
Some people take the Great Commission the same way nurses take a doctor’s standing orders for treatment. They give purpose and direction for the time-being, but they’re hardly anything to get excited about. What if the same orders were personalized and called on our unique gifts and characteristics? What if we recognized these as life-changing; even world-changing? What if they tapped into our core purpose in life? If they did, we would find them profound and we would connect with others who shared in that mission.
#3 As new creations we have a new way of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
Being the broken people we are, we spend much of our energy seeking someone or something to satisfy our ego needs. Christ changes that. He frees us so we can be transparent and authentic with others. He changes our hearts so we can genuinely care for others. These relationships, in turn, make us more alive.
What is the secret of Christian community? It’s Christ. To the extent that He is the center of our lives AND we allow Him to continually work in and through us, our relationships become authentic and energized. I believe that’s what happened between Paul and the Philippians; between myself and my college brothers and sisters.
When Christ is not at the center, it does not mean we can’t have deep and meaningful relationships, but having tasted the zest of a Christ-centered relationship, we may walk away a bit disappointed.