A Hypocrite for Christ
Now that we have covered what Paul meant by love and all that it entails and have looked at the importance of empathy with those who do not share our opinions, we now get to the hardest part. It is here where I think these two things come together, presenting the greatest challenge but also the greatest good. It is the greatest challenge because it requires that we forget ourselves. It is the greatest good because of its potential to win the trust of even those who would otherwise hate us the most. Strange that we are working backwards through 1 Corinthians, but I stand by it. Go here to read the relevant passage. It is brief.
Now. This passage comes in the middle of a discourse by Paul defending the way he carries out his ministry, which had been under scrutiny for how cavalier he was in associating with and taking up the cause of those on the outside of the Jewish heritage and claim to righteousness. To Paul, whatever it took to win the trust of anyone for the sake of sharing the gospel of Christ, without sacrificing his integrity, he was willing to do.
This often meant breaking with social norms, long-standing traditions, and things that were taboo, even if they weren’t out-and-out “sinful.” It meant learning customs of different groups of people, making concessions for their cultures when doing so didn’t fundamentally betray the teachings of Christ, and basically allowing his identity to be shaped by Christ in whatever way was necessary to reach people on the outside, even if it meant letting go of certain allegiances to his own Jewish heritage.
In other words, he wasn’t concerned with how the “righteous” viewed his actions if the lost could benefit from the way he showed Christ’s love. It’s strange that anyone who knows Christ would have a problem with anyone else doing what was necessary to bring others into the fold. C’est la vie.
What I am dancing around here is that often, we cling too tightly to any kind of identity except our identity in Christ. We will compromise on the latter more often than on the former, either because of how others might perceive it, or because we have a misplaced sense of loyalty. Sometimes, it’s both.
All too often, I’ve seen people twist and contort Scripture to justify positions that they hold in an effort to show that the Christian faith is actually on the side of their political ideology. To put it simply, let me just say that if your allegiance to a political party or political cause informs your faith, then you have it the wrong way around. Following Christ means that you start with the teachings of Jesus and work your way out from there, and there is simply no way that you can be a die-hard Republican or a die-hard Democrat and still be 100% in line with Jesus.
What this may mean is that your own Conservative or Liberal views might have to move in one direction or another if they are to comport with what you say you believe about Jesus. The challenge here is that we value our friendships and we value the image we each cultivate as we speak and act in our circles and we don’t want to be viewed as hypocritical. The problem is that when the love of Christ motivates you, it can look a lot like hypocrisy. What do I mean?
Let’s say you have a friend who is a vegetarian, and you yourself are not. One night, you throw a dinner party and among the friends you invite is a vegetarian. You might cook a vegetarian meal so that your one friend does not go hungry for the evening while everyone else is enjoying their supper. To some, it may look like virtue signaling, or that you are pretending to care about vegetarianism when you have never spoken about it before. But the reality is that your care for your one friend has motivated you to make an accommodation that you might not ordinarily make.
Or you might have a coworker who is in recovery from substance abuse. You yourself may not have this struggle, and so having a drink with some friends does not hurt you or cause you to spiral into dangerous places. But one night, a bunch of your friends go out after work to celebrate the end of the week, and your sober friend comes along. You might abstain from drinking in order that the one person who is struggling would not feel out of place. Some might see this as strange, particularly if you have been out with them before. Maybe you’ll look self-righteous to others, but to the one who needs the encouragement of a sober friend for the evening, it means the world.
Or again. A few months ago, there was a trend of posting black squares on social media as a means of solidarity with African Americans in light of some particularly troubling events that had taken place in black communities in the country. This caused a firestorm of heated discussions, as anyone reading this is sure to know. And depending on where you’re standing, there might be any number of reasons to have gotten on board with it or to have been troubled by what you think it represents.. But whatever other opinions anyone might hold about the politics involved in the conversation, the act of standing in solidarity with a group who feels disenfranchised should not be something that we think twice about, even if we have to think twice about the larger conversation.
You can be politically cohesive at all times, but you will likely sacrifice appearing as a person of Christlike love and kindness. Or, you can be a person motivated by the example Christ’s love and kindness, and appear to be an ideological hypocrite to others. I’ll let you decide which is the better avenue.
Look. Here is my point. Right now, as always, people everywhere need to know that they are cared for and that they are loved. Not love in the sentimental, feel-good sense, but love in the hard, struggles-when-others-struggle, weeps-with-those-who-weep sense. If one member of the body suffers, all suffer together.
Crafting a clever argument to win a debate and shutting down a conversation because you don’t like what someone has to say about it is not love. It's not even edifying or satisfying for any longer than it takes for the smugness to wear off. And for myself, I am less and less concerned with that sort of victory. Not that I love perfectly or am always above the fray, because I definitely don't and I definitely am not. But more and more, I find that I just don’t care for looking like the smartest and most savvy person in the room if I come across as a sarcastic or cynical ass to the people on the other side of whatever discussion is at hand. If it means that some people think I am hedging on a social or political position, then so be it.
As a pastor, I serve in a church full of people with a variety of perspectives and experiences. If I make a political statement that has the effect of alienating half of the people in my congregation, then their trust for me and my ability to care for them will be forever damaged. But if I show genuine concern for the things that concern all of them, then at least I have the cohesion of trust. How I vote should never be grounds for not caring about the hearts of the people who vote differently. The greater part of love and ministry for Christ is winning the trust of others through compassion and empathy, even if it means trading in the currency of looking better in the eyes of people who can’t actually judge my value in the first place.
William Barclay wrote of this passage by Paul that becoming all things to all people “is not a case of being hypocritically one thing to one person and another to another. It is a matter of being able to get alone with someone. Those who can never see anything but their own point fo view and who never make an attempt to understand the heart of others will never make pastors or evangelists or even succeed as friends.”
If my political views ever come in conflict with my duty to love my enemy and my neighbor, if they ever create friction with my call to weep with those who weep, if they make it harder to show the love and care of Christ to those in need, then my politics can go to Hell. Becoming all things to all people might make me appear wildly inconsistent to some, but if the unifying theme of all I do is the underlying motivation to love and serve others regardless of what social capital if may cost me, then I am okay with it. Christians are not to be known by their political savvy, their wokeness, their virtue, their rhetorical prowess, or their influence.
In Christ’s own words, the mark of those who follow Him is by how well we love one another.
Y'all take care and good to one another.