I have been a part of several community groups over the years; perhaps you have, too. Some of my favorite community groups have been book clubs in various cities where I have lived. Reading a book and meeting with others who have taken the same literary adventure is a delight. Coming together to explore the intricacies of the characters, unravel the plot, and express our varied opinions about the book fosters a delightful exchange.  There is unity in sharing the book-reading experience that makes the discussion enjoyable.

As Christians, we experience a connected and unified community far beyond lifestyle bonds. We are united by the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ. Our unified group is marked by one characteristic we share – love.

Countless community groups unify over many different activities or pastimes. Some groups unite over a love of hiking and go on beautiful walks through a forest or in the mountains together. Some groups unite over a passion for knitting or sewing and mark their time together by sharing patterns and working side-by-side. When my children were young, I spent time with a play-group community where we met at different parks for our children to have playtime together. Each of these groups is identified by a characteristic its members share: the enjoyment of reading, an appreciation for hiking, the skill of knitting, or the life season of rearing young children.

As Christians, we experience a connected and unified community far beyond lifestyle bonds. We are united by the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ. Our unified group is marked by one characteristic we share – love.

Jesus told his first disciples that love would be the characteristic that marked their unity when he said,

“…just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-34)

In his first letter, Jesus’ disciple, John, explains how we can love others well.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

Anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love. (1 John 4: 7-8)

As Christians, when we accept the gift of Salvation that Jesus offers us freely through his death and resurrection, we are given his Spirit. Empowered and unified with the Spirit of God, we love because he is love. Our hearts begin to ache for those who are hurting and in need. We feel a deep love for our brothers and sisters that calls us to respond to their needs. We don’t feel this because we’re good people. We love because God has empowered us to love as he loves.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

We didn’t deserve or earn God’s love. One of the most amazing wonders of God’s great love is that he sent his Son to pay for our sins before we ever loved him. We were so lost in our selfishness that we were incapable of loving him, and yet he empowered us to love by loving us first.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:11-12)

How do we respond to God’s love? We love. We love each other. We love our neighbors. We love strangers in need. And how do we act on that love? We give. We serve. We help. Like a book club, we often come together and read God’s loving Word, the Bible. Like a hiking or knitting group, we often live our lives side-by-side, helping each other over hurdles or working to serve each other and others. Like a playgroup, we continually support and encourage each other through different seasons of life. But there is a unifying thread that runs deeper than the activities we share.

We are unified with Christians from all over the world, whose faces we have not yet seen, whose needs we do not know. Joined together by Jesus Christ, we experience a profound sense of unity as brothers and sisters, all cherished children of our Heavenly Father. This unity compels us to extend our love beyond the boundaries of familiarity, enabling us to serve and uplift even those we have not met. We eagerly await the day when we will be joyfully and physically united with all our brothers and sisters in the glorious presence of our Father, perfected by his love.