Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.
Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?”
Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” (Luke 5:27–32 NLT)
In his book A Fellowship of Differents, Scot McKnight writes, “The church is God’s world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together are designed by God to be.” As much as we like to celebrate the diversity of the early church, this dynamic of people from different backgrounds, ages, and lifestyles didn’t simply come into being in Acts 2. It began when Jesus gathered his disciples, personally calling out to them to join him on his mission.
Just look at Levi and Simon the Zealot. It’s hard to imagine them getting along, especially in the beginning. There isn’t much in the New Testament concerning Simon, but given that Luke differentiates him from Simon Peter by calling him the Zealot, he was clearly someone zealous for God and upholding the law of Moses. It could also point toward him being a political activist of some sort, someone who sought to overthrow Roman control of Israel. Either way, it does not seem wise putting Simon in the same group as Levi, the tax collector who worked directly for Rome in a job that was considered by many first century Jews to be traitorous.
Yet Jesus does it. And it worked! With Jesus at the center of this group of twelve, their common love for Christ, the Kingdom of God, and each other was the gravity that kept them united.
“Friendship is built upon a common love. Tribalism is built upon a common hate,” says singer and songwriter Jon Foreman. “I fear that in our attempt to find some form of community, which is so strong – especially in this time where we all feel lonely and alone – this pseudo-community of tribalism, finding a common enemy, has replaced the true community of friendship, which is built upon love. And the danger is, it feels very similar. ‘I hate that. . . . Oh, you do too? Then we’re the same!’ But it’s darker, and it’s twisted.”
This desire for community and commonality can push us to sacrifice unity – which is hard – for uniformity. A group that seeks unity will work through the differences of opinions, experiences, and personalities to build a new kind of family centered around a common love that grows to become mutual affection toward one another. In contrast, a group that seeks uniformity seeks to stifle the differences that make us unique in an effort to prevent conflict.
Look at the communities you’ve found for yourself, whether they are at church, in your neighborhood, at work, or online: Are they driven by friendship – common love of coffee, of shared hobbies, of Jesus – or are they based on the common hate of tribalism? Do they seek unity or uniformity? Are there communities or groups you should step away from because they are not driven by love or unity?