Loving Well

Posted: February 16, 2009 in Bible, church, equality, missional

I haven’t blogged in a while, mostly because our family has been so busy setting up office and house. In addition, I had to hit the ground running here in Redwood City. It seems that life doesn’t wait for you to get settled.

On the preaching front, this past Sunday we began an 8-week study of the book of Philippians. I thought a good while about what to preach in these early days and I landed on a prison epistle. I can’t yet articulate all the reasons, but I do know this: How people treat one another is terribly important to Rochelle and me. We believe that Scripture bears this out. At the heart of the Bible is God’s deep concern for how people treat one another. In many ways, it is at the center of Jesus’ teachings and it is clearly at the root of much of what the apostle Paul writes. As Christ’s disciples, we are not free to treat one another just in any old way. 

I’m sickened, but rarely surprised, when I hear Christian folks — especially leaders — compare their treatment of others with how non-Christians treat one another. This has become especially true lately as I’ve seen any number of clergy -men and -woman “eliminated” or “downsized” or have their “support ended” or “decreased” in the face of our national economic down turn. Supposed Christian leaders have said, “Well, at my work, they would give you 15 minutes to gather your things and leave.” Another friend was told, “Well, ministers don’t get severance.” The list of the absurd goes on. 

I’m not saying that these kind of things happen. People get dismissed or fired. What I take exception to is the idea from Christians that extending even the smallest kindnesses during a difficult circumstance is somehow above and beyond their call to duty. 

Which brings me back to Philippians.

Philippians calls us  “to consider others as better than ourselves.” In plain terms this means we should search ourselves concerning how we would like to be treated and then go beyond that.

A friend of mine has a child with long term physical difficulties and he was recently released by his church. It took some friends to step up and say, “Hey, we’ll help cover your medical expenses,” which is a beautiful gesture, but one that shouldn’t have been needed. My friend’s church was willing to support and “love” him until times got tough, then Christianity went out the window in order that the budget could be met.

Now a smart person is saying, “Well, this gesture by his friends is Christianity. It is what Paul is talking about.” I say, “Yes, you’re right.” But I also say that as long as our churches continue to count on small confederations of people of good will to do the right thing, then most of what we do will be small. And, I say, Christian institutions should be more Christian than institution.

I once wrote, “How a church treats it’s most “insignificant” member is an indicator of how it will treat anyone. Paul is calling us to more than that. He is calling us to embark on a journey wherein how we treat one another holds primacy in all we do. In short, relationships matter. And as much as we like to talk about theology and ecclesiology, we might have missed this business of “doing unto others.” 

My prayer is that I can become the embodiment of treating people well. And I pray that those I worship alongside can treat others well too.

  1. Dean says:

    The absence of Christian compassion and integrity is too often not the fault of the “church,” but its leaders. That’s where the attention needs to be focused. Those who surrounded your friend to help with medical expenses were the church in its truest form. Those who callously ignored his need were invariably the church leaders (what a tragic irony!). Somewhere along the line churches are going to have to throw off the yoke of unspiritual, unChristian leaders and expose them for what they are. As long as the church passively witnesses the hostility and abuse directed toward ministers from church leaders the church will continue to, justifiably, decline. After all, why would God want to bless such hypocritical and uncharitable behavior? This “elephant in the room” will continue to destroy the lives of many hard-working and dedicated ministers as long as good people remain silent and refuse to address this long-standing problem. “Mercy without justice is mere sentimentality.”

  2. Sean says:

    Amen, Dean.

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