God the Redeemer
When I first got out of college I started working for a PR firm in Nashville. Publicist are known for having a certain way with words. Which is why they sometimes get labeled as “spin doctors”. Taking a hard truth and covering it with sweet sauce to make it not so hard to swallow. It’s essentially the same thing we do when we’re six and get caught pulling our sisters hair.
“why did you pull her hair?”
“there was something in it” (she’s wearing a hair-clip)
“what was in it?”
“it looked like a bug” (it was shaped like a butterfly)
“what did you do with it?”
“bugs fly away” (true but totally irrelevant to the question)
And this is how many of us are trained to deal with sin. With some sort of sterilized substitute for honesty and transparency we “admit to being sinners” but we downplay the struggle. It often comes across as if the “struggle with sin” was in a far distant land many years ago, before we “arrived” at the solid impervious faith we now maintain. And this is the bullshit that passes for “bearing one anthers burdens”.
In retrospect, the “outside in” approach to discipleship I experienced early on in my life is almost humorous. Well meaning believers love to string along pop-corned phrases from verses and hang them on a tree of “accountability”. I know because I was “that guy”. For example, growing up going to the movies was frowned upon, especially if there was a rated R movie showing at the same time. The argument was that a good christian, “is above reproach, and should abstain from the appearance of evil”.
Let’s take a min. and used my over priced theological training to do a little apologetic for my contempt of what the nerds would cal a hermanutical leap (pop-corning). I’ll start with the, “appearance of evil” line. How curious that a line often used as “loving correction” (which is spin for playing the roll of what a pastor friend of mine calls “HOLY SPIRIT jr.”) is preceded by five verses admonishing the church folk to essentially love each-other and get one-anothers back. Secondly the term “appearance of evil” is in and of itself a debatabley weak translation for the Greek in that sentence. Most translations read something more like, “avoid all types of evil” Which is reminiscent of what Jesus prayed, lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil/ the evil one”. And thirdly even if “appearance of evil” was the best translation the verses directly preceding that phrase are about prophecy and misappropriation of the gifts of the holy spirit.
1 Thess. 5
12 But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, 13 and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. 14 We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. 16 Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit;20 do not despise prophetic utterances. 21 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil.
All of that to say this. Look at the verses following our now over dissected verse 22. Who is doing the sanctifying? God. Who brings to pass the preservation of our soul, body, blamelessness and the coming of Jesus? God.
23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.
Besides all of this, who decides what does and does not “appear” evil. The answer, in case you missed it, is THE HOLY SPIRIT. You know who didn’t “abstain from the appearance of evil”? Jesus.
33 “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ 34“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
Okay, so how about that whole, “above reproach” thing?
... work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world,
The tendency is to assume that “above reproach” means “do nothing wrong” or at the very least have no appearance of doing wrong. Another skill Publicist have is interview coaching. So when the president of BP goes on TV to talk about all the good stuff the company is doing in the communities affected by the oil spill people genuinely like and respond well. There’s a fancy “industry insider” word we have for these moments. It’s called acting.
Is it possible that being above reproach is less about being perfect and more about being honest. What if we just focus on, “esteeming each other highly in love” and “living at peace” with one another. What if we stop trying to play the roll of “Holy Spirit Jr.” and allow God with love, goodness, and grace to “do a good work” in ourselves and each-other. There’s a fancy word for that one as well. It’s called redemption.