My friend was wearing a cozy sweatshirt in her Facebook photo, one emblazoned with the word "Ubuntu" across the front. My curiosity got the better of me, so I inquired as to the meaning of this foreign word. It comes from Africa and translates: “I am because you are.” Ubuntu describes a beautiful picture of the gospel lived out, living for the sake of one another. Our very existence is defined by the context of our relationship to one another. We need and exist for one another, as an intertwined community of care and compassion.
The philosophy behind the message of Ubuntu aligns with the biblical picture of our interwoven community made possible through the death of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12-13).
This body of believers is one in which we all find belonging and use our gifts. Ubuntu is such a contrast to the values of our culture which idolize independence and individualism. I have no doubt that individualism and independence are the primary tools in Satan's tool box.
"For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).
The devil is happy to see us fixate on our independence and flounder on our own apart from the support of the faith community. Trying to manage on our own apart from the body of believers cripples our efforts. In community, we experience the richness of a wider perspective and we discover that so much more is possible when we work together.
God did not design us to exist in isolation. Following the design of our Creator, we exist in community just as God exists in the fellowship of the trinity. God knits us together as family to be dependent on one another. It is how we are shaped and grow to be more like the image of Jesus.
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17).
Our communities shape and mold us, so it is important to surround ourselves with those who point us to Jesus and encourage us to be more like him.
Our individualistic culture struggles to navigate differences as we gravitate toward people who look and think like us. We lack a greater unity that functions across barriers regardless of what those barriers might be: sexual identity & expression, nationalism & politics, cultural mores & theological idiosyncrasies. These all seek to divide, but Jesus called us to be unified as one church in him where he has taken down those dividing walls.
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14).
Our disunity breaks the heart of Jesus and is not what God desires for us. Jesus prayed in John 17 that the disciples would be one as he is one with the Father and the Spirit. We may struggle to make space for those who see the world through a different lens, but God empowers us by the Spirit to work for peace and community.
Jesus calls us to emulate his sacrificial love in how we care for one another. We don’t get to ignore the needs of others or look away from their struggles. God calls us to invest in the well being of others in sacrificial ways .
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: 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 13:34-35).
We are to embody the sacrificial love of Jesus in care for one another--it is our witness to a hurting world. Our hope is anchored outside of our struggles in the One who transcends all borders and welcomes us all in love.
Satan's ancient playbook uses the same tricks over and over again. He lacks creativity, but time and again we fall for the same old tricks. We become blind to them, leaving us in a vulnerable position. So let's call out what Satan is trying to do with things like anger and fear and individualism. They don't help us--they only hurt us. God invites us instead into community to support and care for one another. Together we partner together to advance God's kingdom and build a thriving community established with love and compassion.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Dr. Robert Ritzema