Community offers communion,
and communion builds community.
It’s a circular statement, I know, but my aim is to point to the circularity–the reciprocity–of relationships. Every authentic relationship grows within the milieu of mutual exchange: we speak and we listen. We listen and we speak. We care and we receive care.
Souls become bonded into a community in this free exchange, an exchange we properly refer to as love whenever the reciprocity is motivated by selfless concern and care. To love is to give and to receive. The greater the love, the greater the exchange. Jesus said as much when he called his disciples to the full measure of love: “Greater love has no one than this, that a man lays down his life for his friends” [John 15:13]. The sacrifice of one’s own life as a means to care for another displays ultimate commitment.
And this commitment is what God himself shares in his own eternal communion of love. The Father loves the Son. The Son loves the Father. And the Spirit communicates that love in an eternal reciprocity of mutual delight and glory–a mutuality Jesus celebrated in his prayer for all his followers: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given because you loved me before the foundation of the world” [John 17:24].
Jesus, of course, understood that the pathway to this shared glory came only by way of the cross! That is, the prayer of John 17 is the culmination of the promise of John 3:16, that God so loved the world that he sent the Son so we might believe in him and have eternal life. Jesus came in order to resolve the problem and power of sin by his own death. The Father’s love expended the Son’s life in order to give us the Son’s eternal life. Jesus, in John 12, spoke of this as the “purpose” for which he entered into manhood. He went on, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” [John 12:31-32].
Death, of course, could not contain or restrict the Son who is the source of Life, so this plan paved the way for our own communion with God through our union with Christ–first in his death and then in his resurrection.
By this means the community of God’s love is extended to as many as have responded to his love. The Spirit pours out God’s love in our hearts and invites us to the eternal union of joint hearts in the life of the one Spirit.
Let me return now to what I wrote at the beginning of this post about “every authentic relationship.” The measure of real relationships is God himself as he exists as the eternal triune font of relationship. Yet there is a counterfeit to that fountain. Satan, in searching for his own alternative realm, conceived of an “un”-world. He reversed all that God is and does. In that realm of death (as opposed to God’s realm of Life) a revised version of what “god” means and what “relationship” expresses was established. Unlove replaced love. Self-defined moralities replaced God’s moral realities. Adam, in becoming “like God”, adopted a version of God that Satan proposed: a God of self-interest, of monadic and non-relational will. Autonomy now replaces community as the basis for meaning.
The implications of this were and are monumental. The original Edenic reciprocity of mutual love was replaced by the assertion of contractual expectations. Relationships became functions of utilitarian exchanges–the transactions of goods and services. Selflessness was replaced by self-interest and “love” became a conditional covenant exercised by mind and will rather than in the mutual devotion of shared hearts.
These relationships are inauthentic because they operate apart from God’s own heart. They adopt self-belief, self-devotion, and self-advancement as their axioms for operation. When mutual interests among parties are being met they can even mimic the communion of God, but only as a charade. In time they fail because the bond of the Spirit’s presence–his love and life–are absent.
God’s love in Christ came to undo all of this. By pouring out his Spirit into our hearts God invites us now to be partners and pioneers in an ever-widening community–sharing in God’s spreading goodness.
So now we have access to the very love that bonds God as the One who “is love.” We begin to love with his love. And with that love we begin to impact the world by our dismissal of the world’s conditional love and it’s debilitating contractual demands. Instead we find and then share the freedom of being fully and truly loved.
If any readers recognize your own place in the conditional realm of relations, and not in God’s realm of loving relationship, let me invite you to taste God’s goodness. How? By turning away from a self-directed life–call this repentance–and ask for God’s love to be poured out into your heart. He loves to share his love!
And here’s the punchline: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you love each other” [John 13:35].
Dr. Ron Frost
Ron helped to launch Cor Deo UK in 2011, and retired from the ministry at the end of 2015. He continues to blog at his “A Spreading Goodness“. His doctoral thesis on Richard Sibbes is still available from Cor Deo and is well worth reading. For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Ron is now a pastoral care consultant with Barnabas International. In this role he provides care, coaching, encouragement, and educational services to those in overseas cross-cultural ministries. Go to Barnabas International for more information about this unique ministry and for a link that offers support options.