By Jessica DeLay
When Paul wrote Romans 12:15 - "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn," I wonder if he ever considered the impact it would have on a girl in Dallas about 1,956 years later? For me, this simple verse speaks to the core of community.
If you think about and focus on every divinely written word in that verse, one might argue that it is the perfect description of living in biblical community. But like many other things that we are charged to do and uphold in Scripture, it is NOT easy. Our natural instincts have a way of lending themselves to selfish ambition, exaltation, and preservation, despite what we tell ourselves.
This verse was not something I stumbled upon on my own. A girl in my community group shared Romans 12:15 with me during a time when I certainly didn't feel like "rejoicing" with the girls in my group. Over one summer, nearly half of them got engaged and were planning 3 weddings over a span of 6 weeks. Out came the magazines, Pinterest boards, invitations to go dress shopping, bridal fairs, music playlists, bridesmaid dresses, and everything in between. Years ago, I thought that by this age, I would also be among them and planning for a wedding. What girl in her mid-twenties doesn't think about that? It quickly came to my attention that God would need to change my heart if I was going to be able to genuinely rejoice with these girls; because at that point in time, sincere joy was not something I could muster on my own. This golden nugget of Scripture was quite honestly the LAST thing I wanted to hear from this girl. But I know that God intended for me to hear it, even if it came from someone else.
Looking into the context of Romans 12:15, I found it was tucked in the middle of a section titled, "Love in Action" (Romans 12:9-21). As I read more, I began to hear all my selfish thoughts disappear and the truth of God pour out among these words, especially from verse 10, "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves." Was I devoted to this group of girls? Yes, I thought so. But how was I devoted to them? Was it out of love or out of convenience; in deep or in shallow friendship terms? Who was I honoring when I rejoiced with them to their faces, but in my heart I knew it wasn't sincere? Who could possibly be an example of what it looks like to honor one another above themselves?
Christ. In Mark 10:45, He states the purpose of His ministry here on earth. It had nothing to do with selfish ambition, exaltation, and preservation. It was quite the opposite: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” If we are to live like Christ, we are to share in other people's joys and despairs, put love into action by honoring others before ourselves, and help others without expectation. Does that sound like what our worldly culture values? How many people do you know who genuinely share in other people's triumphs and pains among their work colleagues, weekend friends, neighbors, or their own family? Loving and living like Christ looks so incredibly different than loving and living the way our world does. And because of living in biblical community, where the girls around me were seeking their counsel from Scripture, they were able to encourage, challenge, and spur me on toward exemplifying Christ.
So here's my challenge to all of you in community right now: consider how you have been rejoicing and mourning with the folks around you. How has your devotion to your community group developed throughout your time together? Have there been moments, looking back, where you needed to resemble Christ more by seeking to serve others before yourself?
And if you are on the fence about joining a community group, I don't blame you. Maybe, in your experience, you've encountered people who are living opposite of how Scripture calls us to live in the verses mentioned above, perhaps even from folks who call themselves Christians. But without members of my community group pointing me to Scripture, I don't know how I could have stood up as a bridesmaid (3 times), given a maid-of-honor speech, and truly rejoiced with everyone else around me like I've been able to. I'm so grateful for the girls in my life who have shared Scripture with me, even when I wasn't searching for it. Through community, I know without a doubt, that God has changed my heart...not just regarding weddings, but for every opportunity where He may use me to lovingly honor and serve those around me.