Deep Relationships. Now, Please.
There’s nothing better than good, deep friendships. My favorite nights are those where I spend it with my old friends from high school. By the end of the night, it feels like I did a 90-minute ab workout from hysterically laughing, and my face is in literal pain from smiling so much. It doesn’t matter what we do, we just love being together.
In high school, we all played soccer together. We spend nearly every waking second together. We’ve known each other for over 10 years now. But the question then becomes: what do we do about new relationships? Should we expect this kind of intimacy with new friends? How do we foster that? Should we just forget about being close with any one else? And what is the measure of true community any way?
In Acts 16, the author narrates how the gospel affects Philippi. The first story is about Lydia. She’s sells purple attire. In the ancient world, this makes her a big deal. She’s got some nice cash flow. She’s white-collar. Paul shows up down by a river at a prayer meeting and preaches Christ. Lydia may have thought she believed in God, but she never experienced this Christ. The Bible says the Lord opened her heart, and she was baptized. The first believer.
The chapter goes on to describe the conversion of a slave girl who has a “spirit of divination.” She was a mystical fortune teller. She brought public disturbance to what Paul was doing. Then Paul got annoyed. That’s what the Bible says. The apostle Paul was annoyed. I would have loved to see that. Anyway, he commanded this spirit of divination out of her, and it left. This mentally unstable, quasi-schizophrenic girl was now a believer in the Lord Jesus. The second believer.
This made her owners mad, because she wasn’t making any money. So they started a riot and had Paul thrown into prison. Here, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, because that’s what any one would do in prison, right? God hears them, and he causes an earthquake that breaks their bonds. Seeing the prisoners escape, the jailor is about to take his life. Paul calls out and tells him to stop. The jailor responds, “What must I do to be saved?” So Paul takes the lay-up, tells him to believe in the Lord Jesus, and the man does. This jailer is probably ex-Roman military—a man’s man, a do-er, blue collar. The third believer.
I tell this story to ask a question: what would bring these three individuals together? I mean, where can you find a rich woman, an emotional slave girl, and a rugged man together. What would cause these first Philippian believers to be in relationship—in short, to be in covenant community together?
If our answer is anything but “the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” then we are not gathering around the Gospel. This is what takes different, weird, strange people like you and I and brings them together to forge deep relationships. And listen, there are weird people in the church. And if you don’t think there are, you are that weird person. And that’s okay. I don’t have to like everybody and be best friends with everyone in the church. And neither do you. But God does call us to encourage each other with the Gospel, to meet regularly, to care for each others needs, and to love.
No other gathering can do this. Sure, we can have hobbies that bind us together. We can like the same music, or play the same sport. We can be gathered around that. But as soon as I find out that you chew with your mouth open, I’m out. There’s no commitment. There’s no being knit together in unity (Colossians 2.2).
This only happens when we gather and are bound together by a man: Jesus Christ. When he is what we gather around in fellowship, life happens. Love is developed. Grace is shared. Differences in personality or interest are put in their proper place. They are far more insignificant.
So here’s some homework: In the church, find the person you either a.) don’t like at all or b.) you just think is the weirdest, strangest, oddest, or c.) you don’t know well. Ask them how they’ve come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior, and how Jesus has changed them. You’ll find these common threads that bring us all closer together. You’ll see that they are not all that different from you, because we all revolve around the one whose created us and redeemed us. We have something in common. And it happens to be the most important thing. As we share this Jesus-fellowship with each other, we find ourselves loving each other more, actually desiring time together, and eventually showing this love through sacrifice.
It happened in the church at Philippi. Let’s pray it continues to happen between you and I in deeper ways here at Milwood.