I used the word tolerance a couple of days go. It is important how word usage and language has changed over the years. Looking back in a dictionary from the 19th century tolerance meant “the power or capacity of enduring or acting”. In the early 20th century it added “endurance of the presence or actions of objectionable persons, or of the expressions of offensive opinions”. The first definition in modern dictionaries states that tolerance is “the willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own”. The meaning has changed from endurance to acceptance. This has given Christians a serious problem by bringing on the charge of bigotry when we oppose certain behaviors accepted in modern society. Being bound by God’s holy word we cannot accept sexual practices contrary to God’s design. We cannot accept the human sacrifice of killing the unborn. But at the same time we are not against anyone. Our Lord died for all mankind, and it is not our place to condemn anyone, and we don’t. By not accepting actions contrary to God’s word, we are simply trying to say that, within God revealed will, He is offering the fullest life possible. People are very complex beings. That’s the way God made us. So, each person has individual cares, and needs. Each must be treated with God’s love and compassion even if we don’t agree with their manner of life. Our opposition in areas that God declares to be wrong is not bigotry. It is love seeking to share God’s best.
There has been a lot of publicity in the last couple of weeks about one of the presidential candidates off color and degrading comments about women. He has tried to justify it as “locker room talk”. Unfortunately it is not that easy to push aside. For all their lack of practice, Christian values are still called upon by public officials. Both candidates profess their Christian faith. We should be able to expect Christian values to govern their lives. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”(4:19) Lewd comments, even off handed and off the record, should not be a part of one who professes Christ. Jesus went even further saying, “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come–sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.”(Mark 7:20-22) Course speech, lies, deception, justifications, and excuses have marked this election cycle more than any in recent memory. I have no advice, and I support no candidate, but, as Christians, we must be guided by the values of our faith, and seek to uphold those things that bring honor to our Lord.
Poland has the strictest abortion laws in Europe. Their parliament just rejected another law that would have made them even more strict, and with greater penalties. An interviewer was asking about the rights of women to make their own choices in the matter. One of the legislators responded with a question, “Are there some values that are beyond the choice of the individual?” That is a powerful and difficult question. Clearly society has said that there are. Otherwise we would not have laws against premeditated murder, driving under the influence, or others. Of course we can violate these and other laws, but they have still been established for the good of society. The question is, which values are beyond individual choice? And a companion question, what is the source for establishing those values? Now there is conundrum that occupies many volumes. Yet it is one we must all think about in order to set the values by which we live. And God’s revealed word can’t be left out of consideration.
My wife and I had the privilege of sharing in a family reunion on Saturday evening. It was not our family, but one we have known and loved for more than 40 years. They are an old farm family with roots at least five generations deep in the community. Devoutly Christian, their faith has been passed down through each generation, and has sent out into the world’s harvest fields a number of missionaries, evangelists, and pastors. Farming is no longer their central occupation, but common values and a love for Christ still continue to bind them together. The reunion was also the occasion for laying to rest the ashes of an elderly aunt who had been a missionary in Costa Rica for years, and had had a deep influence on all the family members. We live in a world where many of these values have been lost to our modern liberal culture. But there are places where they still exist, and maybe it is something all should give some though to. Our Brave New World cannot top the values and way of life that our Lord has given us in His Word.
I will tell my story again about buying a brand new automobile. It was designed and built by a team of very smart people. It was delivered to me in perfect condition. What a beauty. It comes with an owners manual telling me its maintenance schedule, and how to properly care for it. It takes a certain kind of fuel. The oil goes in a certain place to lubricate the engine. The water goes in the reservoir to cool the engine. I am a man who like to make my own choices. And after all, right now diesel fuel is cheaper than gasoline. I’ll put that in the tank. And the of course the water reservoir is easier to get to than the oil fill. I’ll put the oil in there. That is my right. This car belongs to me. All true, but we also know that the car is not going to go very far, and will have some huge repair bills. Is there not some parallel here to the most complex machine ever made? Our own body, soul, and spirit. Does this not have something to say to the vast changes society is trying to make to gender as God created them? “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (I Corinthians 6:19-20)
In yesterday’s paper the International Monetary Fund reported that two trillion dollars is taken out of the economy by graft and corruption. Unfortunately, in many areas, this has become a way of doing business. It is certainly a problem, and not limited to a few foreign dictators. Theft, large and small, has become a way of life for many. “Borrowing” from the company stock room, expecting payment to get an inspection approved, unauthorized use of copyrighted material, padding insurance claims, the list is endless. We have a hundred ways to justify it. “It’s not so bad.” “Everyone does it.” “They are rich and have a lot more than I do.” But that is just the problem, justifying it. God has given us values by which we are to live. Values that are for the good of us all. Take a simple look at the Ten Commandments. They talk about killing, misuse of sex, theft, lying, coveting. We bend each of these by our self justifications, and many suffer because of it. Maybe we should take another look at that list God gave Moses, and see what we can do about it.
Most people want to fit in, to be accepted by the larger group, to be thought well of. Whether by conforming to current dress codes, or thinking and speaking along “party” lines, many do what the group currently requires – which has a nasty way of changing week to week. It is certainly true that we need the support and care of one another. However, our Scriptures calls us to be different. We are to live by a higher standard than the culture around us. Our desire is to please our Lord, and grow in His grace. That doesn’t mean we present ourselves as better than everyone else, but we do believe that we are following a better way of life, and we desire to share that better way with others. Our desire is to truly be in fellowship with all people, but we must not do that by conforming to the lowest common standard. Being different can be costly in worldly terms. Yet, it is a life that is pleasing to our Lord, the only one we really need to please, and it has a way of bringing us into bonds of friendship that are deeper and richer than anything conforming to society’s values can offer.
Yesterday I wrote about our call to be different, living by Godly values. The problem is that society generally rejects any absolute values. Everything is conditional upon how we feel, what we think we need, what we see as right at any given time. So absolutes are rejected. But I find this interesting because there are some things that are universally considered wrong. I don’t know anywhere where willful murder is considered good. Heterosexual marriage has been devalued in recent years, but no one really approves of adultery, or cheating on one’s partner. We sometimes make exceptions for theft, but we don’t accept stealing as a good thing. Ah, so maybe there are some absolute values after all. Where did these come from? Did they just evolve? Or were they built into humans when they were created? Maybe there really is a God, an eternal Creator, who does know that there is a better way for the people He made to live. And if that is true, then maybe we should take another look at some of the other values He has said are for our good.
Throughout the history of ancient Israel God called them to be a different people. God is concerned for all people, and wants all to understand His nature and life. But this had to happen through a people who were set apart, and not just a mixture with all the world’s values and idolatries. The New Testament continues this same idea. Paul writing to the Roman church said “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”(12:2) God has given us a way of life that is for our best good. We are to grow in an understand of that life, and desire to follow it in all we do. The problem is that the society hates anything that is different. Christians who seek to live by Godly values in business, in renting property, in life in general are said to be judgmental, and are called bigots. It is not for us to condemn anyone. In fact, just the opposite. We are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. But loving doesn’t mean approving everyone’s values. It means living life in such a way that we help others find the best life God has for them. If that means we are called bigots, then so be it, but the best life anyone can live is in helping others see and want the best life God has for them.
Taking the Bible as a whole, the complete revelation of God’s will, we realize a couple of things. That the values of society change over time compared to those the Bible holds true. But Scripture also makes clear that God does not change. The Prophet Malachi recorded the Lord’s words, “I the LORD do not change.(3:6) and the New Testament writer of Hebrews said, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”(13:8) Orthodox Christianity holds to the truth that, from the beginning of creation, God has given certain absolute values for the good of all mankind. I’m not talking about sacrificing lambs, and cleaning pots in a certain way. There is a way of life given by God for men and women that is for their best good as God created beings. Those values do not change with the changes in society. This is the very thing that most today deny. They live by a variable standard that conforms to human will, rather than seeking to live by our Lord’s absolute standards given for our good. Certainly, none of us lives perfectly according to God’s values. It is why our gracious Lord sent us a Redeemer in Jesus Christ. We have God’s forgiving grace when we turn to Him in repentance, but we do not try to change God’s values. Modern man finds it far easier to change the standards than follow God’s revealed will, but then we also ultimately suffer the consequences of our choices. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.”(Galatians 6:7)