I remember a basketball t-shirt that I saw other boys wearing when I was a preteen that read: “I would rather score 50 points and lose than score 0 points and win.” There’s a side of me that honestly agrees with that perspective sometimes. I like my team to win, but I like the spotlight on myself even more. God is still working on that in me.
We followers of Jesus need to be mindful of this same trap when we consume the news and pick sides on political and social issues. Our personal preferences about the way things ought to be and the solutions we think are best may be more rooted in our own personal desire to gain more for ourselves than a reflection of God’s call on our lives. Yes, I’d like everyone to talk about me scoring 50 points sometimes more than sharing in a team win. But I’m wrong when I think this way.
How does this play itself out in our current environment? My personal preference for the 2nd amendment can callously usurp the grieving we ought to feel when yet another awful mass shooting occurs. My personal preference for a certain immigration policy ought not de-humanize those who are affected in life-altering ways by my views. My personal preference for certain economic policies ought not assume that redistributing someone else’s money is the final solution to fixing our culture’s deepest problems. Often we don’t separate personal preference from the Kingdom of God’s calling in our lives.
The Apostle Paul had some very clear corrections for the church in Galatia because there were Christ-followers coming out of a Jewish background who wanted to impose circumcision upon non-Jewish Christ-followers. It never occurred to these Jewish folk that non-Jews may not want to become more like them. Furthermore, requiring Jewish identity markers upon Christ-followers undermined the entire purpose Jesus came to die, rise again, and call all people to a relationship with Himself through faith without regard for culture.
Paul says to the church: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7; NIV).
To impose requirements upon others to become more like you before becoming a “real” Christ-follower is a perversion of the gospel. Strong words. And a real danger today if we aren’t careful.
So do people think we believe that Jesus really came so that all people could be part of His family forever because of the way we talk about the pressing social issues of our day? Do they think we are willing to give up benefits for ourselves so that others may share God’s desire for justice and healing?
Jesus did not come to assume power over others; he came to serve so that we may gain at his expense. He told his followers (and us!): “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even [Jesus] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45; NIV). This clear admonition of Jesus is often lost in the rhetoric Christ-followers find themselves expressing. Myself included.
Paul tells the confused Galatians what our marching orders are: “serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:13-15; NIV).
I fear we are often biting and devouring one another at the expense of the mission Jesus gave us. He told us to forfeit power, just like he did at the hands of the jealous Jews and oppressive Romans. He did it so that we could have a new life. He gave up everything, so that we could gain. Everything.
May God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, open the eyes of His Church in America to things yet unseen. The gospel is more important than our personal preferences. It is more important than imposing our own form of “circumcision” on those not like ourselves. It is more important than scoring 50 points and losing the “game”.
The gospel is everything. Do the people around us know that?