Monday, 29 April 2013

Excellence in behaviour - reflections on 1 Peter 2

"The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle." - Brennan Manning

 "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." - Mahatama Gandhi

"Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation." - 1 Peter 2:11-12

After the most recent sermon at City on a Hill, I've been pondering these two verses as I think about leading two different study groups.

Scott McKnight in his commentary points out that they readers of this book may have been people who lacked Roman citizenship, and hence really were aliens and strangers in their context, lacking the rights the citizens did. But what is more, their identification with the Messiah marginalized them even more.

Now there was much in the ancient world that was considered normal that was ungodly. Imagine if you had to offer incense to the emperor as divine before going into the market, or worship him as divine in allegiance to serve in the army or as a public official, or worship some patron deity to be part of some artisan's guild? What if not worshiping these other gods got you labelled as an atheist? Or calling fellow Christians brother and sister made you guilty of incest? If taking part in the Lord's Supper made you a cannibal, eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking his blood? Perhaps being faithful to your wife and not taking a male or female sexual partner outside of marriage made you a prude?

In other words, there were things that Christians did that saw them as being evil in the sight of broader culture, yet were in the end good things. Of course the New Testament is replete with examples where the church was involved in fleshly lusts; 1 Corinthians is full of them.

But I want to focus on modern examples of where we might go against the grain, and how to make sure the accusations we suffer as evildoers are for making well based judgment calls on moral issues without making 'tools' of ourselves in the process.

Take ANZAC Day for example. The day we honour those who died in war. What do we make of it? In one corner we have the popularist, militarist, modern civic religion that it forms part of with the Mecca of ANZAC cove. In the other extreme with have the howls of patriarchy, hierarchy, etc. In the middle we need the recognition of bravery, mourning of loss and attitude of never again. We need to proclaim the Prince of Peace even when pragmatism tells us and on occasion demands the lesser of evils [as a side note I'm not a full-blown pacifist, but killing is killing is not an ultimate good]. Perhaps one of the hardest roles in this context is military chaplain, one who tends the spiritual and emotional needs of those damaged by the horrors of armed conflict, and upholds the ultimate peace through death on a cross.

A second example is the rampant sexualisation of culture. From looks that are too long and too searching, to porn, to endorsing sexism - there are plenty of ways in which Christian men can satisfy or deny fleshly lusts, and in the end be seen as an evil doer, a prude. Yet hopefully too seen as upright, embracing the physical and sexual (just our wives) in positive ways, and speaking out more broadly when needed. I once posted against the Lingerie Football League online. Not sure how I was perceived by some, but deep down such a 'sport' deeply objectifies women, and you'd hope such a stance stands out as a good deed.

Finally, there is work. Men are expected to hold down good jobs, be good at them and work hard and long. Yet what of family, wife and kids? What of the fact that money and success are idols? That global capitalism (and yes Marxism too, but we live in Australia so...) is responsible for slavery, environmental degradation and the destruction of community as we work longer, harder, faster, etc. Jobs are good, making things people need is good, being warm and fed is good. But clearly things in the West have moved beyond that. If you have a nanny, a gardener, a cleaner and often eat out - things are broken. Try leaving early or taking time off for sick kids in some work places. Try working part time - it will affect which projects you get given. Maybe what you have your Super invested in or what sort of work your company does needs scrutiny? Or how people get ahead needs comment (nepotism, sleeping to the top, etc)?

So Mars, Aphrodite and Mammon are alive and well in 21st c. Australia. Our 'flesh' craves to worship them, but in resisting so and risking being called evildoers - unAustralian, unblokey, wowsers - so long as we are pursuing them in the right way, the hopefully our good characters (as opposed to self-righteousness) will shine. The goal of course is not merely personal satisfaction but witness in deed so that God might be glorified when Christ returns at his visitation - the resurrection of the dead and the renewing of all things.

No comments:

Post a Comment