Saturday, February 07, 2009
My sermom for Sunday, a sneak preview:
All things to all people: 1 (Corinthians 9:16-23)
When it comes to people, most of us live with a range of attitudes. We need people to share our lives, to socialise with, share insights and information, and to interact in ways that shape our lives and theirs. Family and friendships are very important. We are naturally social animals. On the other hand, if we are honest, there are people in this world that we have no desire to be with. With some, even minimal contact can be difficult and to be avoided!
Sometimes, the distinctions we make are personal. We just don't like some people. Sometimes, the distinctions we make are social. With some people, we feel as if we have no common ground on which to build a relationship. This isn’t anything new. Jews had no dealings with Gentiles. Greeks considered themselves superior to Barbarians. Today, Palestinians and Jews live in the same land but in a relationship marked with fierce violence. Modern British society is made up of many different cultures and traditions, many of whom never meet or experience one another as friends. Thankfully class division and racism are less pronounced than they were but they still exist. Middle class will often mix with middle class, working class with working class. I am including myself in this. How many upper class people can I call a friend for example? Our paths just don’t cross very often, we are culturally separated. Our occupations and age can also classify us and separate us from one another. In our current looks led culture, young people are often encouraged to make judgments of others purely on their appearance. We hear more and more about even children becoming obsessed with losing weight, having cosmetic surgery, spending money they don’t have on ‘looking good’. The reasons given are so that they will be popular, have lots of friends and fit in. Sad but true. Looking good has replaced the God given desire to ‘be good’ or more accurately to attempt to emulate Jesus.
It isn’t just the young who have to conform to social stereotypes and post modern cultural rules. All age groups look for certain commonalities when forming deeper friendships. This isn’t wrong in itself. It is however a problem when we develop a tendency to exclude certain kinds of person from our circle because of preconceived ideas and assumptions, without actually knowing anything about them.
In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul speaks about his attitude towards other people and how he relates to them. His words in verse 22 have often been misinterpreted to mean a sort of spineless, two faced kind of attitude. I don’t believe for one minute that this is what he is getting at. Paul doesn’t mean that he wants Christians to be lovely to some one’s face and then criticise them mercilessly behind their back. Unfortunately this is a definite human trait and one that we as Christians need to be watchful of.
Instead, Paul states that he is free in verse 19, he has no obligation to anyone, he isn’t forced to behave in a particular way, or to be nice to someone just for the sake of it. We know that he was a strong character who wasn’t afraid of challenging authority, being imprisoned and ultimately he gave his life for his faith.
No, his words here refer to how he feels we as Christians should relate to others, in order that they may see God in us. As Christians we should want others to get a glimpse of God when they look at us. I have to ask myself, how often though does my attitude and behaviour fall short of that ideal?
How do we as Christians respond to one another in our day to day lives? How do we respond to different viewpoints or to different ways of doing things within the church? Are we prepared to “become all things to all men, that I might by all means save a few” In other words, are we aware that sometimes what is the best and most obvious way of being or doing to one person will not be the best and most obvious to another. We live in such an eclectic society, with the best will in the world, you can’t please all of the people all of the time and we certainly can’t all be the same, nor would we want to be – that would be pretty unexciting!
How then does the Bible teach that we should behave as individuals? Thankfully, we’re not on our own. Jesus modeled the way for us to be. He was totally at home in a range of situations and relationships. He taught the high ranking men of the synagogue (aged 12), he challenged Pharisees and Sadducees about their theology, he ate with the despised and marginalised, the tax collectors and sinners. He spoke to women, not something which was accepted or expected in his day. In the way that he related to those around him, he was ‘all things to all men’. He embodied Paul’s words. He never compromised that which was really important, but he was always ready to relook at practices which were taken for granted and turn them on their head - healing on the Sabbath for example.
Above all, to the vulnerable, Jesus was approachable. All strata’s of society felt comfortable in his company.
Approachable people exhibit the following characteristics:
1) Personal warmth; they truly like people and generate personal warmth toward those they meet each day.
2) Their moods are consistent. Approachable people are usually the same every time you see them. They may not always feel like this inside, but they work hard not to take out their moods on others.
3) Sensitivity toward people's feelings. Although approachable people are emotionally steady, that doesn't mean they expect others to be that way. They recognise that good people have bad days; consequently they tune their moods to the feelings of others and quickly adjust how they relate to them.
4) Understanding of human weakness, and exposure of their own. Novelist Ed Howes said, 'Express a mean opinion of yourself occasionally, it will show your friends that you know how to tell the truth.' Approachable people are honest about their abilities; and their shortcomings. They embrace the old proverb which says: 'Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves, for they shall never cease to be amused.' And because they can admit their own faults, they don't have a problem allowing other people to have faults as well.
5) They show an ability to forgive, and are the first to ask for forgiveness.
As Christians we need to take these concepts really seriously. Those outside of the church will look to us when they are searching for God. If we respond well to them and really show care and consideration for them, they may be more disposed towards us and may listen to what we have to share. Ultimately our hope should be that through us, they find faith for themselves. In doing so we will be living out Paul’s final words in the passage:
I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share in its blessings.