The 5 Character Traits of Belonging
Family reunions can be fun. You get to to see all your relatives together in one place, and relive old memories of childhood. They can also be a testing ground of your character. Those childhood memories when remembered in isolation tend to fade the often harsh realities of the past. Crazy uncle Bob who was the life of the party until he had too much to drink, or aunt May who loved a good story about all the gossip in town. There was cousin Ray and his wife who came arm in arm, but eventually left yelling at one another. Of course there were the miriade of children, half who sat obediently for fear of punishment and the other half who had never heard the word disicpline. Family, the cornerstone of culture is better in black and white like the Clevers.
As followers of Jesus we belong to one another. We are a family of misfits brought together through the cross and bound together by the Holy Spirit. We bring our baggage, our hurts, our pains, our idiosyncrasies, and our sin. In the midst of all this we are expected to live together with those we like and those who irritate us to no end. It is a test of our character.
Fortunatly for us God has placed His Spirit inside of us that we might bear his fruit and develop the character necessary to live in true community. The Apostle Paul told the Colosians that in Christ the barriers of the world have been broken and as followers we are brought together under the banner of Jesus. He tells us to "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience" Colossians 3:12. These are the character traits essential for belonging.
Compassionate heart. To have a compassionate heart is to reach out to others and relieve sorrow and want. In the context of our community a compassionate heart empathizes with others pain, enters into their sorrow and does what it can to lift the gloom and despair. If you have ever lost a loved one you know the comfort of a compassionate heart; the arm around the shoulder, the tears of understanding, the prayers for strength. The compassionate heart enters into the sorrow, problem, or situation to feel along side the hurting and bear their burden. This a characteristic that followers of Jesus are to put on just as our savior did when he took on flesh, the flesh of a servant and died for us.
Kindness. Kindness is a form of grace. It bears the mark of a gentle spirit. It is the rough and strong father who who gently cradles his newborn in his arms. The character of gentleness sees the fragile nature of people's hearts and treads gently not to crush their spirits. They may disicpline but not with a club but with a soft word. "A gentle word turns away wrath" the Proverb says. In the context of community it is easy to rebuff or turn away from the family member who just doesn't get it, who keeps straying, who falls constantly into sin. "To others," Jude said, "show mercy with fear." We should always treat people first with mercy, grace, and gentleness.
Humility. It is too easy to think that we have arrived in our Christian walk. At least in comparison to other people. Surely I am not as bad as them. They just need to work harder, pray more, read the Scriptures, and well, be like me. The essence of the mind of Christ is humility.; not seeing ourselves as better than others but to realize that without Jesus we are even worse. Putting on humility means taking off pride.
Meekness. Ever see a bull in a china shop? Me neither, but I have seen people who push their way onto everyone else, and the image is the opposit of meekness. When I have a good idea I know it is the best one in the room and everyone should realize it and follow me. The reality is that few ideas are so earth shatteringly awesome that there is a need to bull over everyone else. Meekness forebears with others even when we believe we know a better way. Meekness allows God's grace to take hold and work.
Parience. Righteous indignation. That's the phrase we use to bludgeon the sinners who refuse to repent and turn to God, especially if we are the victim of their sin. Patience means to endure evil, to have long suffering in regard to vengeance. I can learn to be patient with the slow driver or pesky check out clerk, but how do I learn to reserve vengeance against those who have sinned against me? In our community we will be sinned against, big and small. God calls us to put on patience and allow for His working, and in the end leave judgement in his hands. Because when I sin against you I pray for your patience.
We belong to one another, but for our belonging to be deeper than Sunday morning smiles we need to put on characteristics that are contrary to our old nature. Clothing ourselves with the characteristics of Christ will make our belonging more meaningful and more fulfilling. That's the kind of belonging that I yearn for. I'm just saying.