When Making a Point Misses the Point

There’s no need to go into details, but I saw it again this week. Christians who, in an attempt to defend what they thought was right, reacted without full consideration of the impact or consequences of their actions. Out of impulsiveness and zeal, we can launch into a response that, in the end, does more harm to innocent parties than it does to those with whom we disagree. In a desire for the right argument to prevail, we too often let words fly that carry the sting of disrespect and the undertone of hatred. Like Peter swinging the sword in defense of Jesus, we are willing to hack off some ears if that’s what it takes to win the debate.

Of course, we justify it all with the fact that we are on the right side of the argument. We want to believe that somehow excuses our hurtful words or destructive reactions. After all, every battle has its necessary casualties, right? As long as we are defending truth, the occasional innocent victim of “friendly fire” is seen as unfortunate but inevitable. Being right about something has become our form of diplomatic immunity, allowing us to respond in whatever fashion we choose without concern or accountability.

But does being right ever free us from the call to be like Jesus? Does defending the truth excuse the damage we may cause – damage to others and to the witness of Christ’s Church?

Our ultimate goal, it seems to me, is not to win arguments, change policies, or prevail in elections. We are called, as the followers of Jesus, to grow in His image and reflect that image to the world around us, inviting everyone into a grace-filled, life-changing relationship with Him. If I win the argument, but fail to reflect Jesus in doing so, then I have lost the greater argument. I can defend the truth, but if my attitude drives others away from the One who is truth, my defense is empty of purpose. I can make my point, but if I hinder the gospel, then I have missed the point.

Peter was on the right side when swinging his sword, but Jesus told him to put it away. We see in Jesus, and we remember in this Lenten season, that His kingdom does not come the way earthly kingdoms do. It does not overcome by force, it does not prevail by money, position, titles, or debates. This kingdom comes by way of the cross, the path of sacrificial love. And Jesus didn’t call us to follow him by winning arguments. He called us to be like him, to follow by denying ourselves and picking up the cross of love.

In the variety of conflicts, issues, and debates that constantly surround us, it is never enough to simply be on the right side of the argument. We have a greater call and higher purpose:  to be a reflection of Jesus, even to those with whom we may disagree. As we embrace that higher call, we come to realize that the only “casualties of war,” so to speak, should be ourselves as we willingly lay down our lives in love and service to all those for whom Jesus died.

Name Tags That Matter

A few weeks ago I attended a conference, and in typical conference fashion, I was handed a tag to write my name and where I’m from. You know the kind – the generic printed “Hello” or conference name with the blank space beneath to put “Doug – Miamisburg, OH,” or whatever name and city you would like to supply. I guess they’re helpful as a conversation starter, but a name tag or label will never truly capture who I am, where I belong, or more importantly, who I belong to. For some reason, though, we seem to think that labels equate to all of those things, that there exist particular tags, seen and recognized by others, that will make us significant. So, we spend a great deal of time and effort trying to create name tags for ourselves, shaping an image to wear that hopefully will make us seem of value in the opinion of the world. But rather than giving us what we so desperately need and desire, the labels we create serve to isolate us, sending us on a never ending search for a better and more significant name tag to wear.

The Gospel of John gives us a glimpse into the final moments Jesus spent with the disciples before the crucifixion. The picture is one of contrasts. On the one hand, we see the disciples, so often masters of missing the point and plagued by a tendency to argue about who was the greatest. They all wanted the tag that read “Most Important.” But their desire and quest for that label of significance in the eyes of others did not result in a sense of fulfillment or satisfaction; it always seemed to erupt in conflict, division, and jealousy.

But there’s another person in this picture – Jesus. The one who truly is the greatest and could, without argument, claim the name tag that says “Most Important Person in the Room.” This same Jesus quietly gets up from the table, wraps a towel around his waist, pours water into a basin, and begins to wash the feet of the disciples. The most important person in the room, unexpectedly, takes the place of the lowest servant. Rather than battling for position and recognition, we see in Jesus nothing but the willingness to love and serve. To a world that chases after tags and titles of significance, it just doesn’t make sense.

There’s an interesting statement, though, that leads into this act of humility on Jesus’ part. John tells us, “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.” (John 13:3-4) Jesus knew who he was, who he belonged to, where he was headed, and what truly mattered. So, he was completely free to love and serve. Without the need to fight for identity and significance as defined by the world, Jesus was free to embody true meaning and purpose as defined by God’s kingdom.

Like the disciples, we often find ourselves battling for labels and tags of significance in the eyes of the world and the opinions of others. But our battle never leads to peace and a real sense of value; it leaves us in bondage, always fighting for one more achievement, one more recognition, one more person to praise us. We are not free to rest in our true identity or to live a life of of genuine meaning.

Knowing who I am and who I belong to brings freedom. Like Jesus, I can give myself in love and service without the need to fight for recognition in the distorted systems of this world. Confident that I belong to the Father, I can embody the values of His kingdom, liberated from the compulsive need to measure myself by the opinions of others. When the grace of God’s acceptance takes hold, the self-obsessed chains of image and status are broken and I am released to live in humility, grace, and love.

The tags and labels the world slaps on us, not to mention the ones we give ourselves, will leave us empty and constantly fighting for something more. Jesus reminds us there is another way to live, a meaningful and significant path of sacrificial love. The freedom to walk that path is discovered when I realize that the only name tag that really matters is the one the Father gives me.