Last summer, I had the opportunity to dig deeply into the letters of Paul and John and Peter for what they had to say about the things that build up Christian community as well as what they had to say about what tore down and ate away at it.
Probably none of us should be surprised that they all had quite a bit to say about how we should live, but what made a great impression on me was what was at stake for them. They didn’t set out to make a list of hoops for Christians to jump through. What was at stake for them was the very integrity of the message of the church about Jesus. They saw that this message was supported or undermined by how Christians treated one another and how they related to their neighbors. Actions speak louder than words, and the church community is the place the world got to see if this was for real or not.
Love is the summary of all that the apostles had to say about how we were to treat and view one another. Love not as an emotion but love in action – love that seeks the very best for the other person, whether or not that person is a friend or an enemy, or someone easy to love. It was not intended as an unreachable standard, but a guiding and driving force behind all that we do, that in the midst of our messy lives, people watch God’s love changing us, and see us strive for demonstrating love, and mercy, and grace and truth in our interactions with one another.
That’s probably not an earth-shaking revelation. But we also need to see the opposite of love, the underlying attitudes which destroy community and damage the witness of the church. The apostles wrote of rage and slander, selfishness and envy, bitterness and selfish ambition. These are the bitter fruits of contempt: the dismissal of someone as being worth less than we are, less than fully human, and therefore deserving of whatever we might say or do in rejection of them.
Contempt looks down on someone else; it encompasses them in a label and neatly packages them away. It can be seen in relationships that have been broken; contempt keeps a record of wrongs, it insists on its own way, it is boastful and irritable, quick to take offense and slow to see anything good in the other. It is glad to see the other stumble and get caught on it. Contempt cannot see the log in our own eyes.
Sadly, contempt toward one another is far too easy to find: in marriages and friendships that have been wounded, and in our neighborhoods and communities and nation. Emotions run hot during an election year, and it seems that contempt toward one another is at an all-time high, our ability to disagree strongly while holding on to love for and respect for the humanity of one another diminished.
In a few short weeks, this election will be over one way or another. And while many on both sides have insisted that the course of our nation is at stake, there is something even more important at stake for us as Christians. We belong to an eternal kingdom, and serve an eternal King. Will we, in our conduct toward one another, sacrifice the eternal for our temporary concerns? In a few weeks, many will talk about winners and losers, but in our actions and speech, will we rise above this in order to be a living witness to the Gospel of Jesus’ transforming love?
Thoughts for the journey,