A month or so ago I attended the anniversary of a couple whose wedding I conducted 25 years ago. They came from two different cultures. In a day when the world is splintered into us and them, conservatives and liberals, democrats and republicans, straight and gay, white and black, Asian and African; to gather at an event celebrating harmony is wonderful.
It’s encouraging to rejoice in the life of two who love each other and talk to each other rationally while all around us people are shouting and yelling and calling each other names. Certainly, in politics and international relations, civility seems to have disappeared. Civility and respect is even rare on our highways.
The apostle Paul, echoing the example of Jesus Christ, has some advice about our need to get along. He writes in Romans 15:7; Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
How did Christ accept us? In Romans 5:8 we read that God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we are all sinners we should be able to accept brothers and sisters who share our faith in Christ. Where? On the ground beneath the cross. The cross where Christ died for our sins is the only really common ground beyond the fact of our shared humanity. Clearly, Christ received us before we could get our act together.
A high degree of wealth, education or power generate pride and foster exclusive classes of people. By contrast, Paul clarifies the raw material from which God created the Church. “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things…so that no one may boast before him” (1 Cor. 1:26-29).
Dumb, ignoble, poor, foolish, weak, lowly, despised; this is the raw material God chose to use in creating his Church. Truly, God saved us through Christ without regard to our station in life. Do we see any class distinction here? Any preferred race? Any colour of hair or physique?
Can we relate to this truth about you and me? Or do we feel that God is very fortunate to have us in his Church? Among those called in the early church we have fishermen, hated tax collectors, doubters, prostitutes, demon-possessed men and women, and legalistic, self-righteous men like Paul who had to be humbled by making him blind.
We need to remember who and what we were when called. We were accepted on the basis of the cross, not because of anything in us.
An astounding passage in Philippians reminds us to pattern our behaviour towards others after the example of Christ who left the glories of heaven, set aside the independent exercise of his divine attributes, and came as a helpless baby. He grew up among us so He could identify with us. He was tempted in all points like we have been.
His example exhorts us: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped [held onto] but made himself nothing taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness…became obedient to death—ever death on a cross” (Phil. 2:3-8).
Shouldn’t we have the attitude of Christ when we consider those with a different political bias, race, degree of education, parental upbringing, or less financial success? All of us who are saved, are debtors not to the bank or the university but to grace. No wonder Paul writes; I am determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Now, we must admit that some people have very annoying habits which make them hard to accept. And there are people who promote heretical ideas or a licentious lifestyle. Must we really accept everybody? Let me tackle that question in the next blog.
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