Not often do you find the word “gift” and “community” within the same sentence. The term “community” typically has a lot of negative connotations tied to it, especially when used to describe the church body. I never viewed community as a blessing. I saw the coming together with others as a very messy, drama-filled, awkward situation that I did not want to be a part of. It hasn’t been till recently that I have started to understand the concept of community and how it works effectively.
When I first came to Sterling I had a deep desire to lead a community of women. I wanted women to know they could trust me enough to come and talk to me about anything. My thought process was that I had to be strong. I thought if I was always strong then I would be someone people could rely on when times were difficult for them. My intent was always to point them back to Christ, however, by seeking this strength in my own power people couldn’t relate to me and I found it difficult to get close to others. I feared my peers would see my weakness and think I couldn’t help them with their life because my own was complicated. I was unable to truly show my vulnerability in fear of being seen as useless. I wanted so badly to be needed by others that I was willing to ignore my own needs. I put up a wall hoping others would see it as a wall for them to lean on. My thinking was skewed. This semester I have been learning what it truly means to rely on others in humility and vulnerability. It is in these things that others can be lifted up in Christ.
Within the community there is a ranking system that usually comes into effect. Sometimes this ranking is conscious and other times it’s unconscious. Example: If someone bought me lunch a month ago I would feel obligated to pay for their lunch sometime in the near future. In our culture we do this all the time, especially during the holiday seasons. Why is this? Why do we feel obligated to pay someone back for a gift? A gift should be out of the right motive. The apostle Paul shows us what community and gift giving should look like.
When Paul wrote Philippians he was in a Roman prison. In order to get food and other necessities you’re family or loved ones would typically bring these things to you. Paul didn’t have anyone therefore he was unable to take care of himself and he was lonely. The church at Philippi sent a gift with a Gentile named Epaphroditus. On the way there he got sick and nearly died. In Philippians 2:27 Paul writes,” Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.” Paul knew the gift of money would help him in prison but by sending Epaphroditus it was even more of a blessing. He helped Paul take care of his needs including the need for fellowship. Paul saw this act of Epaphroditus as a gift. This was a gift from the heart. In the same way our gifts should have pure and generous motives.
One of my professors asked our class recently, “If you need money for a mission trip or something else and someone freely gives you money, could you consider it a gift from God?” I knew God had blessed them with it and they chose to give it to me but I had never realized how direct of a gift it really was. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change”. My eyes have started to be more open in regards to the gift of those around me.
As I have discovered this semester, when I am lacking there is usually someone nearby who is stronger in that specific area. I have found this to be the case with my roommates, mentors, and friends. I have always wanted to be strong, by myself with God….but I have learned that I cannot take on life by myself. I do believe there are times that God wants us to only rely on Him. He may do this by temporarily or permanently sorting people out of our lives. Although this can be the case, He also places people into our lives that are here to help up grow along the way. The more I have opened up and stopped building up walls out of fear, the more God has been able to open my eyes and see the gift that he has given me. It could be anything. If my roommate is good with cooking then they can teach me. This is then a gift from God. God has given them the ability to teach me a new skill to learn. I then praise the Lord for the ability to learn something new. The most amazing aspect about this is that no one is greater than the other one. I often feel as though my friends are always teaching me new practical things but I don’t often return the favor. This is when I have to acknowledge that we are all equal because our God, who provides these gifts, is the same. There is none greater than another. I am beyond thankful for those around me. Rather than competing with them, rather than pushing them away, rather than feeling like I am useless in regards to the friendship, I can now be thankful for God using my weaknesses to encourage others in theirs. Our friendship then forms into one of gratefulness. Not just for their talents and abilities but instead for them as a person. Much like how Paul felt in regards to Epaphroditus, my friends are gifts from God.
I challenge you to see the ways in which God has provided for you through relationships. If the friends you have drag you down then it is a good sign that God has not intended this for you. The Lord supplies all things and He is holy and true. He desires to protect us from harm and often uses people to lead us through these times. Vulnerability and lack of strength are not weaknesses. They are used to express His power.