Hello Church Family, this is Pastor Phil!
Last Sunday, my family stopped at our favorite little Mexican restaurant in Akron for brunch after worship. They have the most amazing enchiladas with salsa verde! While we were munching on tasty food, I was watching a news broadcast playing on the tv in the corner. The news broadcast was talking about how to deal with people that don’t agree with your political ideology. The newscaster then went into basic communication theories on how to talk to people, including: listening to what other people are saying, finding commonalities among the differences, and actually talking to each other in person. All good stuff, stuff we were supposed to learn in kindergarten, but good stuff to review. But then the newscasters spent the last minutes of the segment talking about how to unfriend people and cut them out of your life. They said just go ahead and cut them out ultimately if they don’t agree with you and that’s okay; there’s nothing you can do about it.
I was tracking with the newscast pretty well until that point. I really couldn’t believe what they were saying. First of all, if we cut everyone out of our lives that we disagreed with, we’d be all alone because no one agrees with anyone else 100% of the time. Also, what about the importance of diversity of thought and challenging ideas to allow personal growth? I like to say that I don’t know what I don’t know until I know it. If I’m only thinking and hearing my own ideas, how am I going to know something else that I don’t have a context for? Finally, when we cut everyone out of our lives that doesn’t agree with our particular views and only listen to the people who do, we basically create an echo chamber of our own voice and it’s the only thing we hear. How narcissistic and egocentric can you get?!
So obviously, I had pretty strong feelings about all this. But then I caught myself and realized that I was doing in my head exactly what I was raging against. Not being open to listening to someone that felt it was important to cut people out of their lives that didn’t agree with them and getting curious about why they might feel that way. (Of course, if they cut me out of their life, I’ve lost that chance to listen anyway.)
So, I started to think about the Christian’s role in all of this, and in particular, what does God say in His Word about how He desires for us to interact with others, especially those that don’t hold the same views as we do? I started with the Gospel reading today from Mark 1:23-24
“… and immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out,“What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”
What caught me in particular was the vehemence in the demon’s voice; you can almost hear the sneer, “what have you to do with us, Jesus…” Hear those words with all of the arrogance implied there. Hear how the demon makes it very clear how much he believes he is above Jesus and has contempt for anything he has to say. I wonder if that is the same voice that is used when people talk about unfriending other people and tossing them aside. When I’m tempted to just cut someone off I’m having a hard time with, it is that same demon voice I hear in my own head. For me the lesson is simple—don’t be like the demons.
Then I came to our Epistle reading today from 1 Corinthians 8:1-3. The first part isn’t in our reading today but is vitally important:
“Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”
In this passage, God’s Word gives us a distinction between knowledge and love. The word that is used here to describe what knowledge can do to someone is physióō. It means to puff up, like having a big head, like an egotistical person spewing out their arrogant thoughts. Notice, in this, it’s not knowledge itself that does this, but the attitude with which knowledge is perceived and used. It really is the “I know more, I know better, I’m smarter than you are. Nah na na nah na” kind of attitude. This isn’t the best way of treating others, but unfortunately it is again becoming a very common way of doing so. But this attitude runs counter to not only how our Heavenly Father interacts with us, but also how we as Christians are called to interact with each other.
Philippians 2:6-8: who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Compare the puffed-upedness and arrogant attitude in how sometimes we treat others to how Jesus treated us. If anyone can be considered to have knowledge it is our Heavenly Father. The word we use for God’s knowledge is omniscience—knowing all things. But our God did not choose to come to us in puffed up arrogance (if anyone has the right to it is God), but instead our God chose to sacrifice that knowledge to become one of us so that some of us might be saved through grace.
Living then in the way that our God has lived for us, not considering our knowledge a reason to feel superior to others or to ostracize them from our lives, as Christians we are called to see every interaction with others as an opportunity to share the good news of Jesus.
That’s where the Epistle reading is ultimately taking us today. I Corinthians 8:11-13:
“And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”
We’ll put this into contemporary terms. Not everyone knows that politics is not the most important thing in the world. Many people do think this and act accordingly by blocking people that don’t believe politically the way they do. Politics and pretty much any other opinion ultimately is not that important when compared to knowing, being with, and sharing the hope we have in Jesus. When we act like the world and block or unfriend others who don’t agree with us politically or otherwise, what we are showing them is that politics is more important than love; politics is more important than relationships; and, ultimately, that politics is more important than the opportunity to be a witness of our savior, Jesus.
As Christians, in this heated and crazy world, we are called by our Heavenly Father to keep our heads screwed on straight and to remember what actually matters most, not politics or disagreements, but the opportunity to show and share the love of God in Jesus.