Friday, November 20, 2015

Rude Christians?

"...love is not rude..."
1 Corinthians 13:5

A few thousand years ago there was a small but growing church in a thriving metropolis within the Roman Empire. The city of Corinth was cultural diverse, had a swelling population, and had proven itself to be a great place to make a small fortune if one had a mind for business. It was also known as a moral cesspool. Yet in the middle of all these a group of Christians gathered together to worship Jesus and learn from his word.

The problem (or at least one of the problems) was that the believers who were part of the church at Corinth didn't seem to like each other very much. They were openly critical of each other and even some of the apostles (for example, most didn't like the apostle Paul very much). Some were even openly involved in sexual sin, while others considered themselves more holy than those around them. Some, while truly saved, nevertheless hadn't grown very far in their faith and were trying to insist that everyone adhere to the Old Testament laws. Others, confident in the grace of Christ, were forcibly insisting that those "weak Christians" were just being dumb.

The conflict just wasn't during the Sunday morning service. It was destroying relationships. For example, some believers felt the freedom to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. After all, it was good meat and since they believed in Jesus, they could care less where the meat had come from. They also felt the freedom to drink a little wine now and again, in moderation. While this was perfectly within their rights as believers (as Paul makes very clear in 1 Corinthians 8 & 10, and Romans 14), they were also being arrogant and pushy. They started to flaunt these freedoms in front of people who were offended by them. In other words, "you must also practice my list of 'do's' for me to accept you and be nice to you."

Then there was the group who took offense to those behaviors. Instead of just quietly having their own personal opinion, they made it their personal quest to make sure everyone in the church lived according to their man-made standards: no meat, no booze...and whatever other rules they decided to come up with. This isn't to say that setting personal preferences is wrong or that choosing to forgo certain activities is legalistic. We have that freedom, too (and my wife and have said 'no' to a great many practices other believers take part in). But these believers were essentially saying "obey my list of don't's for me to accept you and be nice to you."

In 1 Corinthians 13:5 Paul tells us that one of the marks of love is that "it is not rude." The King James Version says "it does not behave unseemly." We are rude when we behave in such a way that is offensive, indecent, or dishonorable to others. It's not so much about breaking social norms and customs (i.e. wiping your feet before entering a home, calling before stopping by someone's house, etc) but more about the hurt that we cause when we neglect to show honor and decency towards someone else.

Paul was telling the Corinthians who felt they were "strong" in faith not to shove their sense of Christian freedom up the noses of those people offended by those behaviors. That's being rude and therefore isn't love. But he was also telling those offended by such behaviors not to go to war with a fellow believer on the (un)holy hill of one's own petty preferences. Jesus said something similar when he told us "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:31). In other words, true biblical love values relationships and it treats others with dignity and respect. 

Some time back I was talking to a group of Christian men when another man approached us. While most of us engaged him joyfully in conversation, I noticed one man was clearly agitated by this man, even to the point of refusing to return his greeting. 

After the man walked way, I turned to the brother and said, "hey I couldn't help but notice there was a problem. And if you'll forgive my frankness, I also couldn't help but notice you seemed a little rude." 

He replied, "I have no respect for that man and I refuse to even speak to him!"

With a smile I put my hand on his shoulder and said "Let me tell you a story. A few thousand years ago there was a small but growing church in a thriving metropolis within the Roman Empire...."

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