Counter-cultural community

Home for Good’s Theologian in Residence, Tim Davy, shares some reflections on community from the book of Romans.

Being a follower of Jesus means we find ourselves in the big story of God’s reconciling work in the world, and we find ourselves in community.

Community in the Bible is a rich and varied topic. Although the Bible sometimes hones in on particular individuals, the main focus is on the communities in which these people find themselves. After all, to be human is to be in community; and so it is assumed that Christians will be in community.

The thing is, though, communities – including those drawn together by shared faith in Jesus – bring together all kinds of people, cutting across multiple lines of difference. This is both a glorious display of the power of the reconciling Gospel and a challenge to daily living as we navigate being together with people we would not normally choose to be with.

In Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome, he outlines a vision of the Gospel, working through our need for forgiveness and reconciliation with God (whatever our starting point in life) and the wonderful and glorious gift of Jesus Christ, the one through whom we may come to God forgiven and reconciled. As a very individualised, Western believer, I tend to read the letter in terms of ‘me and God’. Although this is an important thing to consider, Paul is desperate for the letter recipients to be thinking beyond just themselves, and about what this means for community.

As we reach Romans 12, Paul is turning his attention to ‘so what?’ questions: how do we live out the Gospel in our everyday, community-soaked lives? In the first two verses, he charges the Christian community, in light of God’s mercy, to live together in a counter-cultural way, shaping how they live out a renewed mind, which is fundamentally reoriented around God’s love, His character and priorities.

Paul then points out in verses 3-8 the nature of the Christian community: it should be a place of honour and humility, giftedness and difference, variety and belonging. These gifts are practiced in the context of belonging to one another. They are also distributed by God – not bestowed by an elite committee after a rigorous search process. So, says Michael Gorman: ‘Implementing this reality would certainly prove to be a challenge in any culture, ancient or modern, where community participation is normally dominated by those with status or means, or both.’

We then reach a series of instructions in verses 9-21 related to community life together. How do they relate to one another? How do they relate to those outside their own community?

Try this exercise for a couple of minutes: have a look through this list of practical deeds of community-in-action, found in Romans 12. For each one consider two things:

  1. How is the quality of Christian community enriched or diminished depending on the extent to which this thing is practiced?
  2. Can you think of a time when when you have experienced this kind of nitty-gritty, everyday mutuality?

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.

11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.

12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (NIV)

A couple of things strike me about what Paul is assuming in this passage. The first is that practicing Christian community can be hard. After all, why would Paul need to ‘exhort’ if everyone was practicing these virtues in the first place?! The second thing that stands out to me is that none of this is particularly glamorous. This is everyday, ordinary stuff that we can all do to some extent, with plenty of opportunities for us to do more.

We could write a whole article on each line of this passage. To pick one verse – what a powerful community instruction it is in verse 15 to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice’ and ‘mourn with those who mourn’. This speaks of deep fellowship – belonging that is embraced rather than at arm’s length, where members of the community experience life together in all the joys and difficulties. Christian community invites us to enter into one another’s lives and not hide our weaknesses and struggles but enter into them with one another.

Home for Good exists because we believe that local church communities are brilliantly placed to respond to the needs and opportunities around them. It’s a beautiful and powerful thing to see this picture of community realised in our own network.

We journey with individuals who welcome children or teenagers into their home through fostering, adoption or supported lodgings; drawing them into a place of welcome and belonging.

We hear stories of those who are waiting for the right match, like Jules and Tom, whose community have stepped close to them in their waiting with words of encouragement and kindness.

We’ve heard from families like Tracey’s whose older children help care for the fostered or adopted children in their home with games, songs and cuddles.

We know so many church families, like Sharon’s, who show love to little ones by remembering their names, by sparking up conversation.

We hear of communities offering practical support – like Donna’s friends dropping round a lasagne to keep in the freezer for a busy day.

We know that across the country there are kids leaders, youth leaders and others who have made little changes that make a world of difference to families who face barriers to getting involved.

We can testify that community can look like celebrating with families in the wonderful moments, and offering a shoulder to cry on when things are more difficult. It looks like listening, sharing a coffee and cake. It looks like advocating, adding volume to the voice that speaks out when things aren’t as they should be. It looks like help with everyday tasks – laundry, homework, school runs. It looks like doing life together.

What a beautiful reflection of that picture of counter-cultural community Paul painted for the Church in Rome.

Further reading

Michael Bird, Romans (Zondervan, 2016)

Beverly Roberts Gaventa, When in Romans: An Invitation to Linger with the Gospel according to Paul (Baker, 2016)

Paula Gooder, Pheobe: A Story (Hodder & Stoughton, 2019)

Michael Gorman, Romans: A Theological and Pastoral Commentary (Eerdmans, 2022)

David M. Kasali, ‘Romans’ entry in Africa Bible Commentary (Word Alive, 2006)

Dr Tim Davy

Date published:
March 2023



You might also be interested in

Back to school


Back to school

School, and the return to it after the summer holidays, can be particularly challenging for children who have had a difficult start in life.

Read more
Home for Good’s manifesto asks for the next General Election


Home for Good’s manifesto asks for the next General Election

Our five asks to help the next government commit to systemic improvements to children’s social care.

Read more
Joe Swash: Teens in Care


Joe Swash: Teens in Care

Here's what stood out to us in Joe Swash: Teens in Care.

Read more
The Dutchie Pot and Injera flat bread: two stories of hospitality


The Dutchie Pot and Injera flat bread: two stories of hospitality

Simon shares of two encounters that taught him the true meaning of hospitality

Read more

I would like to find out what is
going on in my area

Join our mailing list for the latest Home for Good news and ways to get involved.

Together we can find a home for every child who needs one.

Other amount
Other amount

£25 per month could help us create and collate inspiring articles and blogs that encourage and inform the families and communities who care for vulnerable children