How to be CONSTRUCTIVE
I will begin this chapter with a question; Does freedom encourage or discourage constructive behavior? I think the answer is “maybe.” Freedom is an ideology that is defined differently by different people. Your idea of freedom may not be identical to my idea of freedom and due to that fact you and I will most likely differ in some ways on whether or not our so-called “freedoms” as Christian Americans motivate us to behave in a constructive manner. Maybe you feel free to do anything you choose to do without restrictions or maybe you feel free to do almost anything you choose to do as long as it is within the confines of any perceived perimeters. To be constructive may require first the freedom to be…without expectation or limitation. Freedom with imposed and/or pre-supposed guidelines may not promote constructive behavior. On the contrary, it may promote destructive behavior. In the New Testament, both Jews and Gentiles found themselves having to adjust to the new freedom found in salvation through Jesus Christ. Do you remember when Paul wrote about how he confronted Peter for his hypocrisy? Let’s look at the book of Galatians in the second chapter. It says, “But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned. For he regularly ate with the Gentiles before certain men came from James. However, when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, because he feared those from the circumcision party. Then the rest of the Jews joined his hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were deviating from the truth of the gospel, I told Peter in front of everyone, If you, who are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel Gentiles to live like Jews?” We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, and yet because we know that a person is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we ourselves have believed in Christ Jesus. This was so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified. But if we ourselves are also found to be “sinners” while seeking to be justified by Christ, is Christ then a promoter of sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild those things that I tore down, I show myself to be a lawbreaker. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.”
Growing up I was taught, not only by my parents, but by my pastors, teachers, coaches, my friend’s parents, and practically everyone I knew that I can accomplish anything I want to accomplish in life if I am willing to work for it. Sure, there will be obstacles that will stand in your way but these obstacles can be conquered if only I am diligent and hardworking enough to persevere and if, by chance, I confront a particularly persistent obstacle that prevents me from accomplishing my dreams then I have the right to fight for what I want and what I believe in. That is what it means to me to be free…but that is not everyone’s experience of freedom in America is it?
Some people grow up having their potential influenced by their ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, social-economic status, or other factors. They often face road-blocks in their pursuit of their dreams which exceed that which can be described as obstacles but would be better defined as opposition. Let me describe the difference this way. Let’s say I was participating in a triathlon with swimming, cycling, and running. Now, as a white man, I recognize that completing a triathlon takes a lot of preparation. My culture places a high level of emphasis on the work involved in preparing for a goal and many would say that an individual’s inability to successfully finish the triathlon would be due to either injury or lack of preparation but let’s look at the many presuppositions present.
First, I would assume that the rules would be the same for everyone. Second, I would expect that the water would be safe and free from dangerous obstructions. Third, I would have a bicycle that was comparable in quality to the ones everyone else was riding. Finally, I would think the course I had to run would be the same as everyone else. If I began to triathlon and discovered that some of the other participants were given a shorter course and additional time to complete it I would feel some kind of way. If when I jumped in the water to swim there were triathlon police who interfered with my progress while letting other’s swim without interruption I would be pissed and you had better believe somebody would hear about it. I wouldn’t have to worry very much about having a quality bicycle for the bike course that was equal to the quality of the other participants because I would have the money to go to the local bike shop near where I live and buy one. I wouldn’t be hassled if I couldn’t pay for it all up front. Most likely, there would be financing available and I would have no problem getting approved.
I can only imagine how I would feel if after swimming and riding my bike for miles I got to the starting line of the running course and was told that I would have to run a different course, one that was longer and more difficult. By this time, I would be discouraged, dismayed, and disinterested in finishing the race. I would not feel like I was participating in a triathlon that was designed to challenge me and help motivate me to push myself to do better and finish something that is difficult. Instead, I would feel like I was participating in a triathlon that was designed to keep me from finishing. True freedom is the opportunity to succeed or fail based on one’s own efforts. It is not freedom when success or failure is determined by someone else. No one wants to fight for that. No one needs to fight for that.
For the Christian, the fight is not so much for freedom as much as it is a fight to respond to tyranny appropriately. Just this week, the world watched as Minnesota police pulled George Floyd, handcuffed, out of a car parked across from Cup Foods, and walked him over to the side of a building. Video taken by a bystander, now seen around the world, shows a police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for approximately five minutes as he struggles, telling officers he can’t breathe. Three other police officers stand by. Bystanders plead for police to let up on Floyd, who eventually goes limp. Minneapolis Fire personnel arrived to find Floyd had been loaded into an ambulance. An off-duty firefighter who witnessed the end of Floyd’s struggle with police, had seen him go from struggling to unresponsive. Members of the fire crew got into the ambulance and found Floyd without a pulse. Attempts to revive him failed and he was pronounced dead at 9:25 p.m. This crime, committed by those who are paid to enforce the law, is one of far too many examples of how freedom for some people is determined by someone else. Peter’s freedom, however, was a choice. It was his decision to eat with Gentiles until his fellow Jews showed up.
Peter had an option whether or not to do something constructive on this occasion. Whenever he saw these individuals deviating from the gospel he didn’t confront them. Paul wrote, “I told Peter in front of everyone, If you, who are a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel Gentiles to live like Jews?” Paul confronted Peter on this occasion because he was being hypocritical not constructive. It is hypocritical to take advantage of freedoms meant for everyone and not be proactive to oppose it when they are denied anyone.
Paul poignantly addressed an issue with Peter that illustrates the mental shift we all need to make. He said, “we are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, and yet because we know that a person is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we ourselves have believed in Christ Jesus.” If those of us who run the triathlons of life with no interference, able to ride the best bicycles, and never have to take the most rigorous courses, fail to recognize it when others don’t have that privilege and refuse to do something about it when we do we have missed out on a big opportunity to be constructive.
Christians are not to be hypocritical. Do you know what being hypocritical means? Notice the word, it is made up of two smaller words, “hypo,” and “critical.” “Hypo” is a medical term that means “under,” like “hypothermia” or a “hypodermic needle,” and “critical” means “apt to criticize.” In other words, to be hypocritical means to be beneath the standard of expectation while having the tendency of criticizing others for not meeting that same standard. Peter was enjoying the freedom of no longer being under the demands of Jewish laws and customs, because of his relationship to Jesus Christ, but on this occasion looking down on Gentiles for not keeping them. It is hypocritical when we as Christians do not hold ourselves to the same level of behavior and accountability as we expect of others.
I would want my fellow Christian, and fellow man and woman for that matter, to join me in my fight for justice if my loved one was treated unjustly by someone in authority. I would want there to be a major change in how society operates and what some people are allowed to get away with if my son was murdered in the street. I would do everything I possible could to do something about it if I had to worry about my son, grandson, nephew, or brother every time he left the house. When I criticize others for doing the same I am being hypocritical and being hypocritical is not Christlike. Being Christlike is doing my best to make it possible for everyone to enjoy the grace I have access to. Being Christlike is being diligent to expect of myself at least as much as I expect of others. It isn’t really about fairness, equality, or even justice. It is about gratitude. A grateful person isn’t a selfish person. A grateful person is a sharing person, that is why we give thanks as Christians before every meal, because we recognize that what we have has been given to us and not earned. Therefore, Christians do not expect others to earn that which we were freely given. On the contrary, Christians advocate for those who have not yet received the same grace we have received. It is called evangelism and it is time the Church started to evangelize with more than just our songs and sermons, with more than stained-glass and steeples. It is time for Christians to be constructive and do what we can to make the good happen for others that God has made happen for us.
The rest of the passage says, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.” I have said that “God never wastes a tear,” and that is true. It is also true that God never wastes a life. Jesus was unjustly murdered and there was enough reason to believe that there would be a social outcry about it that in Matthew 27 the Bible says that Pilate had guards placed at the tomb to secure it. Many people in our church and community are outraged, discouraged, and frightened, and for good reason. In the wake of injustice there is a demand for righteousness but for Christians righteousness does not come through the law, righteousness comes through faith. The law cannot justify. The law cannot change people’s hearts. Ultimately, the law is incapable of justification. Only faith in Jesus Christ can do that!
Romans 3: 21-25 reminds us “But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed, attested by the law and the prophets. The righteousness of God is through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented him as the mercy seat by his blood, through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed.” There are clear injustices in our society and social issues that we as Christians should be willing to advocate for but while doing so let us not forget who we are and let us not behave in a way that contrary to who we say we are as followers of Christ. That is hypocrisy and that is not Christian. Instead, let us be diligent in our efforts to make happen for others what God has made happen for us!
Apostle Wiley Hughes
Sunday, May 31st