The Olympics are supposed to be a time to showcase unity and camaraderie among nations and within nations. In each Olympiad, there are wonderful expressions of sportsmanship and mutual respect among athletes and fans.
Yet isn’t it disappointing when an event which is meant to bring people together also widens divisions? National leaders grimace at simply being in the same arena. Athletes use their new stardom as a platform for their opinions. News commentators make one poorly-worded comment and enrage entire countries.
Human beings are divisive creatures. But let’s not blame the Olympics. The Olympics is just one more time and place where our divisiveness is revealed. All of us make divisive comments or assumptions about people on a daily basis.
Obviously this happens when politics or current events are being discussed or considered. Yet there’s plenty of divisiveness in church life as well. What labels do you apply to yourself? What labels do you apply to other Christians? What “camp” do you proudly claim to inhabit? What camps do you accuse others of belonging to?
I’M a ____________ pastor/Christian/Lutheran. THEY’RE a ____________ [insert whoever you happen to disagree with or dislike].
What labels do you put in the blanks?
I think there is a time and a place for some labels. They can provide clarity and distinguish what people believe and the choices they make. But what about when we can’t see past these labels? Labeling that other guy as a ____________ [insert some political or social or churchly term] prevents you from seeing him as a person. He’s just a____________. He’s less than you because he’s not a ____________ like you.
I’m guilty of labeling people like this. It provides a convenient justification for us to look down on others.
Scripture has plenty to teach us divisive creatures. Here are just a few verses that come to mind:
“The righteousness of God [is] through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift.” (Romans 3:22-23) The common label that God’s Word applies to us all is sinner. Like it or not, all of us deserve that same, serious label. None of us lives up to God’s expectations. No exceptions. The distinction made here is between the believer and unbeliever, those who trust in God’s work of justifying us sinners (declaring us righteous for the sake of Jesus), or those who reject Jesus’ saving work.
“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17) Paul writes to people who lived in a world of stark labels: Jew or Gentile, upper class or lower class, slave or free. He’s telling Christians to put aside these labels and learn to see people through Christ’s lenses. Those who are in Christ by faith are new creatures. Old labels no longer apply. Those who have yet to believe in Christ, are more than the labels that the world applies to them or that they apply to themselves. They are people for whom Christ died, people He greatly desires to reconcile with God.
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'” (Revelation 7:9-10) The book of Revelation features many “trailers” such as this for the life in the world to come. The Lord showed John this preview of the saints gathered before God’s throne: the saints all share the same white robes, symbols that their sins were washed away by Christ, yet the saints retain some of their creaturely differences. John can tell just by looking at the multitude that it includes people of all sorts of backgrounds.
Tribes and languages are just two of many ways that people have long been divided in our world. While some of these distinguishing features will apparently remain in eternity (but no longer in divisive ways), the one label that matters is saint. Saints are God’s holy ones, those who are baptized in the holy name the Triune God, repent of their sins, and trust Christ their Savior.
If you’ve read this far, may I suggest a challenge for you today? See that lady with her grocery cart piled high in the line ahead of you? Remember, she’s one of God’s wonderfully made creatures! See that fellow Christian who’s sometimes a little obnoxious? Remember, he’s a saint in Christ! See that neighbor who wants nothing to do with church? Remember, Christ also suffered and died for him!
You’re so much more than the labels the world may apply to you or which you might apply to yourself – and so is the next guy.
Thank You, Lord, for calling me Your beloved “saint.” Teach me to see those around me through Your eyes. Amen.