Beyond Tolerance

abolished law

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 92; 149, Numbers 11:16-17, 24-29, Ephesians 2:11-22, Matthew 7:28-8:4

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians addressed the concerns of a church whose members were divided over the issue of circumcision. Jews practiced circumcision as a sign of the sacred covenant between God and their people. Greeks did not practice it. The church had members of both cultures, but many Jews felt circumcision was a requirement to enter into the faith of a Jewish Jesus. Paul taught them both ways were acceptable, because through Christ they had been made into one humanity.

More than a lesson in tolerance, this is a lesson in the artificiality of boundaries.

One modern parallel is the current division between self-identified liberal and conservative Christians. Another is the structure of denominations. If Paul is right, being one body doesn’t mean “conservative and liberal Christians have equally valid viewpoints” or “Presbyterians are just as Christian as Catholics.” It means those divisions … simply … don’t … exist.

We want them to exist though. We like to be able to point to our “tribe” of like-minded individuals for support and affirmation. While we should certainly stand firm on our principles and beliefs, those principles and beliefs can’t be about creating division within the Body. Nor can they be about bending people to our will. When we let that happen, it’s not long until we think we’re qualified to decide who is “in” and who is “out” of the Body based on tribal affiliations rather than personal commitment to Christ.

Labels exist to divide us. They say, “I am this and you are not,” or “you are that and I am not.” What starts as an objective naming of qualities inevitably devolves into a dangerous, tribalistic mindset that declares: “We are worthy and you are not.” When our allegiance to a label takes priority over our allegiance to the Body (and just look at American politics to see how that plays out), we suffer from a kind of spiritual auto-immunity, attacking parts of our own Body and destroying its health.

Tolerating each other is not the same as loving each other. The first reinforces division, and the second helps to erase it.

Comfort: The existence of other people’s beliefs does not threaten yours.

Challenge: Be sure to recognize the difference between being persecuted for your beliefs, and not being allowed to persecute others for your beliefs.

Prayer: Loving God, help me to love my neighbor as your child, and to remember we are both equally beloved by you. Amen.

Discussion: What social boundaries have decreased or increased in importance for you?

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