Misfit Disciples in an Orthodox World

Misfit Disciples in an Orthodox World
"You had better be a round peg in a square hole than a round peg in a round hole. The latter is in for life, while the first is only an indeterminate sentence." – Elbert Hubbard

Learning to Love

Monday, August 1, 2011

One of the most valuable assets that a Christian can posses is the ability to resolve conflicts. Evidence for this can be found in just a cursory reading of the New Testament. The teachings of Christ on loving one's neighbor; the Apostle Paul's admonitions toward unity within the churches he established, all show a consistent preoccupation with the subjects of love and unity within the New Testament. Jesus prayed that we would all be one (John 17:11-13); Paul told the Philippians to have the same mind as Christ who gave up his life for the good of others (Phil 2:1-8) To exist together in love and unity, giving of ourselves for the benefit of others, is a clear, consistent, and resounding biblical priority.

The problem lies in the practical aspects of this: the divide between what we know is right and how we choose to behave. I mean, none of us would argue against the ideal. Surely, most of us can see the beauty and value in this way of life and would hardly argue against. However, it is something that is not natural for most of us. And, outside of the church and the Kingdom of God, in the real dog eat dog world where we spend allot our time, it's just not something we witness or experience on a consistent basis. The world simply walks to the beat of a different drum.

The ethos of Kingdom of God, however, is to embody and possess (to slightly modify and borrow a phrase from liberation theology) a preferential option for others. But, even in the church, and in our intimate relationships with friends and family, we tend to fall short of this ideal because it's not natural for us. Most of us operate with an innate fight or flight response; we have a built in mechanism that causes us to fight to protect ourselves. And, it's not always a given that in any particular situation we'll just automatically prefer others above ourselves, sacrifice our desires, dreams, and aspirations, for the good of someone else. Especially when we feel justified in not doing so.

With this said, for the Kingdom within to be what it's supposed to be, for us to emulate Christ in his lifestyle of sacrifice and concern for others, we have to be transformed. I think this is what Paul was saying when he admonished us to put on Christ (Ro 13:14), not being conformed to the world and its standards, but to be transformed by the regenerating of our minds through the power of the Holy Spirit (Ro 12:1-2). It's hardwired into our DNA to protect our own self-interest. But, the Spirit of Christ can re-write this code, reprogram our natural propensity toward self-preservation. This will allow us to truly love our brother as ourselves, emulating Christ who laid down his very life for his friends (John 15:13). 

Recent events in my life have reminded me of these truths and how important it is to live with other's in mind. It is so easy to forget these things and live our lives with little to no perception of what our actions and words are doing to others. And, I tend to appraise people's perception of me based solely upon how I feel about it. I mean, if my wife has a problem with something I'm doing but I don't see the harm in it, I am more likely than not, going to continue the behavior. But, that's not really how Christ would lead me to behave, is it?

It should be enough that our actions hurt someone else, without having to make them defend their position and argue it in such a way that convinces us that we should change. Obviously, this can be taken to an extreme, and we should all live reasonably. But, Paul was essentially talking about the same thing in Ro. 14 when he was addressing the idea of eating meat sacrificed to idols. I may be able to pull up to the table and enjoy that piece of perfectly cooked Prime Rib, and there may not be a single thing inherently wrong with doing so. But if my brother is offended...

This is the heart of the gospel. Everything Jesus did, he did for others. He was led to the cross, not because of his own offenses, but for ours. He stepped into our domain, clothed himself with the frailty of our human flesh, suffered the full range of human emotion and indignity, and he did it all for us. He did it to show us how were are live; how we are live our lives in love and sacrifice, esteeming the needs of others above our own. 
The Sacred Heart of Jesus*

By this will all men know that you are my disciples, because of your love one for another (Jn 13:35). That's so much more than just saying, “I love you.” It's the giving of ourselves, wholly and completely, for the good and benefit of others. Such love is visible to those outside our communities of faith. It's a tangible and concrete expression of love. It's love that compels others to desire to partake of what we've got. It's this kind of love and sacrifice that is the very heartbeat of Christian community!

It is this kind of love that behooves us to resolve conflict, to lay aside division and embrace one another, even when we disagree and have valid reasons to dislike one another. This love enables us to bury the hatchet, lay aside our entitlements, and fully clothe ourselves with the disposition of Christ.

May God helps us to this end! 

*The Sacred heart of Jesus represents the unmitigated love, compassion, and long-suffering of the heart of Christ towards humanity. 


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