The Individual and the Group

(family, state, society, church...)
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After God created Adam, he said, “It is not good that man should live alone.” Every person lives in continuous conflict between these two concepts of life. We are individuals but we are created to belong, as free, yet dependant. We are engaged in this tug-of-war from birth until death. Consider the following areas of our lives:

Identity – Belonging
Teenagers try so hard to be different – to be recognized as individuals, yet they also want to belong. It is difficult to determine which characteristic is strongest.

Our mission and a German evangelistic association founded what is now the largest Christian school in Europe. I served on the Board of Directors of Black Forest Academy in Germany 12 years. When the matter of school uniforms came up, I said that the students already had a uniform – jeans. We never introduced uniforms but drew up dress codes.

All of us feel comfortable and protected in a group, be it our nationality, family, community, club or church. At the same time, we fear being swallowed up by the group, so we seek to create and protect the privacy in our lives.

Independence – Dependence
No one wants to be a burden to others, yet all recognize their dependence upon others. Perhaps no other living being is dependant as long and as much as humans. Many (frogs etc.) never see their parents and other animals become largely independent from parents within a few weeks or months. Partnerships in marriage, the work place and in other areas of life demand sacrifices. The greatest potential for strife lies in relationships with those we love and appreciate most, for it is here that the tightrope walk is most difficult.

Social Life - Everyone needs fellowship but there is no way we can enjoy fellowship without sacrificing some of our privacy. Most people simply adapt to their environment and then look for ways to be different or stand apart from the rest. A large number of women seek equality with men in just about every area, yet they call themselves “feminists.” Teenagers all wear jeans to belong, but then rip out the knees to be different.

Trust - There are matters which we need to discuss with someone, but will it be kept in confidence?
Giving - Each of us has the need to love, serve and give, but will recipients be thankful or will people take advantage of us?
Receiving - We all need help at times; we need to be loved and appreciated by others, but will others misuse or abuse us?

There are certain risks involved in each of these areas of life. Some people cannot handle it and become schizophrenic, developing split personalities. Or they react by crawling into a shell. Others simply let themselves go in a devil may care attitude, hoping for the best.

The Individual and God - (church, fellowship)
When we give our lives to Christ, conflict situations usually multiply, but from this point onward we are no longer independent individuals, but partners with Christ. Independence and privacy become less important. Because we are channels of God’s working in and through us, we don’t need to fear the reaction or rejection of others. We can always trust God to protect, comfort and sustain us. This gives an entirely new perspective to life, to relationships and to the way we see ourselves and others.

Identity – Belonging
Because I belong to Christ and He belongs to me, I also belong to other believers and they belong to me. This is what the church is all about. Of course there are unspiritual Christians and perhaps even unsaved persons in the church. Again, we may have problems with relationships, but as long as our relationship with the Lord is intact, these can be mastered.

Independence – Dependence
We often hear it said, that relationships are a matter of give and take. Christian relationships do not involve “give and take, but rather “give and receive”. There is a vast difference! Agape love is giving without expectation.

Social life - Because each member of the church is ideally a member of the body of Christ with godly interests and motives, we can enjoy more areas of fellowship without sacrificing privacy.
Trust - For the same reason, we feel freer to confide and counsel with our brothers and sisters, knowing that this will be kept confidential. Giving - Realizing that we have all things in Christ (I Cor. 16-23), we can love, serve and give freely without fear of losing what we have. “We love because Christ first loved us”.
Receiving - We still need to be loved and desired by others, but because Christ loves us, we are no longer dependant on love and recognition from others.

We can successfully overcome in this tremendous conflict between the one and the many in Christ. This victory does not rest in our cleverness, or strength, or experience, or natural abilities. Our relationship with God is the basic criteria for mastering relationships with others. Even painful and unjust actions or criticism can be digested and overcome. The stronger the church, the more these relationships are felt in the surrounding world.

Example in Albania
In 1999, Serb forces began to devastate Kosovo, robbing, killing, raping, mutilating and driving them out of their homes and homeland. Well over a hundred thousand Kosovo refugees poured over the border into Albania, one of the poorest countries in Europe. The local mosque was locked and guards placed on duty around the clock to make certain that no refugees could get inside. Some Albanians recognized their opportunity to get money and offered to rent rooms to refugees fortunate enough to smuggle money out of Kosovo, but the small group of Christians in Kukes responded differently. As soon as they heard of the approaching refugees, they drove to the border with water, soup, fruit and whatever else they could find. They immediately notified Christians in Western Europe of the needs, who sent money for needed goods. An efficient supply chain of every imaginable need from diesel fuel for tractors to milk powder and diapers for infants was organized and the 20-30 Christians worked around the clock in shifts to meet the most urgent needs.

Try to imagine this if you can: The Kosovars, who are nearly all Muslim, enter Albania, which is also a traditionally Muslim country. Yet the first and only real help they receive during the first week of the crises came from a small group of self-sacrificing Christians! Because the Serbs are professing Christians (Orthodox), this caused quite a lot of questioning. By the time the large international relief organizations got set up, the Christians had already established camps, food lines and a miniature “factory” for warming baby formula and filling it into baby bottles.

As hundreds of large trucks began to arrive, bringing all kinds of relief goods, the Mayor of Kukes insisted that the Christians be entrusted with the job of distribution. “Otherwise,“ he said, “the relief goods will wind up on the black market or in Albanian homes.“ A reporter asked if no Christian would succumb to the temptation to steal relief goods. The Mayor replied, “Perhaps, but you can count on the other Christians to take that person to task.”

Police, border guards, public officials and even some relief workers became notorious for demanding bribes and helping themselves at the expense of refugees, but the small group of Christians maintained an impeccable reputation. The city of Kukes was recommended for a Nobel Peace Prize based on the city’s response during the refugee crises. The Mayor, however, said that it was that small group of Christians who deserved the prize.

Ralph V Harvey