Sunday, April 25, 2010

United in Christ or Puffed Up?

In the light of the current epidemic of polarizing rhetoric and enmity within our country and affecting our fellowship with one another, I was considering 1 Corinthians 4:6:

I have applied all this to Apollos and myself for your benefit, brothers and sisters, so that you may learn through us the meaning of the saying, "Nothing beyond what is written," so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of one against another

Paul made a deliberate contrast to the division-minded Corinthians. Paul argued that this human divisiveness is our natural state, and is spiritually immature. We easily & naturally become "puffed up in favor of one against another." Defensiveness and offensiveness to one another are our first inclinations and default positions.

The prepositions in the Greek are helpful to understand the bold portion of the passage: … i[na mh. ei-j u`pe.r tou/ e`no.j fusiou/sqe kata. tou/ e`te,rouĂ…
is used to define whom we support or identify with, "be for someone, be on someone's side." kata. is used to delineate whom we oppose, and following the antagonistic verb (fusio,w) translated "puffed up", hostility and opposition are indicated in its usage.

People who don't follow the Lord cannot perceive that Christ-followers are not operating on behalf of one or another person, and against one or another, simply because they're not following God themselves. Outside of Christ, we simply don't know what it means to submit to God, and not to submit the whims, positions, voices, words, arguments, rationalizations and actions warring within ourselves & other people.

Likewise, just as the Pharisees could not perceive the humility of Christ himself submitted in love to the Father, so those of us operating with our focus on ourselves as separated from, or contrasted to other humans also cannot perceive the humility in those following in the footsteps of Christ. When we who follow Christ speak truthfully of reality, of Christ and of God, others hear opposition to themselves. They literally – not just figuratively, not just abstractly – cannot hear love with them and for them.

This immaturity is reminiscent of the immaturity of children, and the struggle of parents to teach their children wisdom and healthy choices. When we scold or discipline our children for doing something dangerous or inconsiderate out of our love for them and understanding of life, they "hear" opposition and criticism. They don't hear "love." I blogged on that difficulty, here. Paul used the same analogy to describe the Corinthians' childish divisiveness in the previous chapter (3:1-4) which had led them to favor Paul himself or Apollos.

So, for those of us who follow Christ, Paul called us to stick to "nothing beyond what is written." Just as Jesus is God-with-us, so we who are conformed to Christ are called to be God-with-others.

We bring this immaturity into our churches. It's inevitable, because everything we've been taught in human words, deeds and education draws lines between ourselves and others. If a brother, sister or enemy speaks truth to us, we revolt against them, instead of honoring the truth, trusting and heeding the Word that is faithfully with us. It takes humility to hear the truth in the Word who convicts us of sin. We naturally want to reject the person speaking truth, rather than face that Word coming in another person's words.

I trust that we who long for the Word, the truth and the grace found in the person of Jesus Christ will humble ourselves, hear his voice, listen to the Word from whomever God uses to bring it. Some days it will be through you, other days through me, another day through our friends, another day through our enemies, and yet another day through Balaam's donkey. Humility is our posture before Godself: "My soul clings to the dust, revive me according to your word." We, in the Covenant, are companions of all who are committed to live the way of the truth and the light, who fear the Lord. We shouldn't be surprised at the lack of companionship we encounter because we're all lost and alienated without our unity in Godself. Our natural human response to such aloneness and alienation is to puff ourselves up, rather than humbly to rest with and steadfastly to love one another. Our natural response to being told the truth by a person or to encountering the truth in an obstacle is to strike out at that person or obstacle, just as Balaam struck his donkey. May our ways before God and one another not be perverse, so that our primary reaction is to strike at those whom God uses to reflect truth: "The angel of the LORD said to him, 'Why have you struck your donkey these three times? I have come out as an adversary, because your way is perverse before me. 33The donkey saw me, and turned away from me these three times. If it had not turned away from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let it live.'" (Numbers 22:22-35) The only thing missing in the story is Balaam contritely petting his donkey, giving him an extra measure of feed and rest, and apologizing profusely!

Psalm 119

57    The LORD is my portion;

    I promise to keep your words.

58    I implore your favor with all my heart;

    be gracious to me according to your promise.

59    When I think of your ways,

    I turn my feet to your decrees;

60    I hurry and do not delay

    to keep your commandments.

61    Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me,

    I do not forget your law.

62    At midnight I rise to praise you,

    because of your righteous ordinances.

63    I am a companion of all who fear you,

    of those who keep your precepts.

64    The earth, O LORD, is full of your steadfast love;

    teach me your statutes.