…why do we kick people?
In the auditorium of my church’s main building, there is a side door in which you can enter, walk down a slightly curved aisle that cuts in front of the stage, and come to another side door to a storage room. In the midst of your journey, you pass by a table used to house the Lord’s Supper and other items. Unless you are just not paying attention, you step around this table.
Because running in to it would hurt.
In fact, when you first step into the auditorium, if your eyes are open, you see the table and your brain instinctively begins to calculate your moves. You cannot go through the table. You will not walk atop the table (unless you’re doing parkour, I suppose). You will step around the table without much thought. This thanks to the fact that from a very young age you have been exposed to the reality that running into things hurts.
Especially things with sharp, pointy corners.
More than this, you won’t walk up to the table and give it a swift kick. Maybe if something suddenly makes you mad and you’re not thinking clearly, but that’s just it…you’re not thinking clearly. You know this because you have kicked solid objects before and though you may have done some damage to them, it hurt you more.
Therefore, we have respect for objects. We have respect for objects that one day will break, fall apart, end up on a trash heap, or be burned.
Why is it that we lack the same level of respect for people? We’ll avoid the inanimate object; but when it comes to people made in the image of God and made to spend eternity somewhere, we’ll inflict harm. Maybe, unless we lack all levels of self-control, we won’t run up and kick them. However, we will hurl abusive words, we’ll grow bitter and withhold love, we’ll fight and argue, we’ll try to bring a person’s reputation to ruin, we’ll demand our own way, we’ll… And in all of this, we are delivering kick after kick in an emotional and spiritual sense.
Maybe we think it is different because we don’t feel the pain. It’s not like shattering the bones in the foot with an ill advised boot to unyielding wood. We forget, however, the impact such bitterness, hatred, and anger has on our own emotional and physical wellbeing. Many times a person does not even know they have upset us and though I have cursed them in my heart, the only one suffering is me. And let’s not forget that Jesus said such attitudes are incompatible with the grace of salvation (Matthew 6:14-15).
And why do we do all of this?
Because sin makes us dumb.
In Ephesians, Paul reminds us that if we are in Christ then we are no longer under the curse and power of sin. Being saved by grace through faith and not by works, we are new creatures—the workmanship of God, created in Christ to walk in good works (2:8-10). The grace that imparts such change tears down every barrier of hostility so that we are “one new man” in Christ and part of one holy temple and one body (2:11-22, 4:11-16).
The fact aside that we are to love all people, enemies included, if we go on the attack or even passively stew against one of our brothers or sisters in Christ (and especially of our own church body) then we are attacking ourselves. If you want another way to think about it: whenever we participate in dissension, strife, bitterness, grudges, anger, etc., whether we feel justified (we never are) or not, then we are playing the role of an autoimmune disease working against our own body to our own demise.
Forget kicking a table, we’re trying to dig our own grave.
In Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul wrote this:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
A few things to note: first, unity and love flow from God and his gospel. Paul wrote about our calling. This is a term that Paul used frequently in his letters talking about the very thing he described in passages such as Ephesians 1:1-14 and 2:1-10. If we are in Christ, through faith, we have life. This isn’t reanimating our old selves, for we are completely new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17, also: John 3:1-16). We have undergone a new birth. We are blessed in Christ, chosen to be holy and blameless, adopted into God’s family, redeemed from and forgiven of sin, lavished with grace, and filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 1:3-14).
God is love. He is Father, Brother, Helper, Sustainer, Lord, and Savior. God is three persons, eternally and perfectly existing as one being with no hint of strife within himself. Out of the glorious reality of his nature, he has made us one and called us to be one (John 17:20-23 and Ephesians 4:4-6).
God is infinitely better than sin. In Christ he has brought us out of that darkness that we might dwell eternally in his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). He has made us different, he has called us to a different life.
So let’s live differently.
The manner worthy of your calling means that you exist to live a better story than what the world sees and knows. Peter said that the time past (our time on earth before we knew Jesus as Lord and Savior) was sufficient to act like the world (1 Peter 4:3), and in part that means to “love one another earnestly,” to be hospitable to each other “without grumbling,” and to serve one another for the glory of God (4:8-11).
This won’t be easy. It’s hard enough to wage the battle of self-denial, which includes letting go of our anger and letting God worry about the justice of vengeance when someone else has hurt us. It’s even harder when that old kicking and screaming, yet crucified sin nature of ours tried to fight back with temptation. It’s harder still when the world looks at us and decides to hate us because we are in Christ.
Yet Paul did not write as a theorist. He was a prisoner of the Lord at the time, suffering because he was a new man with a new attitude and a new message. God’s grace was sufficient to empower him to persevere in faithfulness and it is sufficient to empower us (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Second, new lives in Christ result in new attitudes towards others. What does it mean to “walk in a manner worthy” of our calling? To be humble, gentle, patient, and loving.
Paul gave an outstanding description of humility in Philippians 2:3-7. We strive to live with the same attitude and heart that Jesus had. Jesus is God, worthy to be worshiped and honored by everyone and everything. Yet, God humbled himself by becoming a servant to us—this not because he had to, but because he chose to. So, we, following in the footsteps of our Savior-King, are to lay aside selfish ambition and count others more significant than ourselves. This does not mean we have no concern about our own interests, but we strive for a balance where we also concern ourselves about the interest of others.
Humility is the choice to joyfully serve another for their benefit, regardless of background, standing, situation, etc.
Gentleness is an attitude of care and concern, a sense of tenderness in caring for another and sharing our lives (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8). It is a kindness and respect that seeks to build up another, regardless of their strength or lack thereof spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
Patience is a refusal to become annoyed at the real or perceived slowness of another. Patience understands that as God’s workmanship we are all works in progress. A patient person is still willing to push another when they are going (or growing) slower than they should be; but combined with gentleness this push is like the nudge of water and fertilizer to help a plant grow as opposed to uselessly poking it with a stick.
And then there is love, but not just love. Paul wrote, “Bearing with one another in love.” I contend, based on 1 Corinthians 13, love is the commitment to another’s good through all the ebbs and flows of associated emotions. Bearing with indicates more of the ebb than the flow.
Yes, sometimes people are jerks. They do things that annoy us or hurt us. They’re stubborn and hard to be around. It is true in our families, among our friends, at work and school, and even at church. Sometimes we do think that unlike the table they need kicked. We’re to love them anyway. And, guess what? Sometimes you are a jerk. Sometimes you annoy or hurt other people. Sometimes you are stubborn and hard to be around. You still want to be loved and treated with kindness. Even better, God still loves us through it all. Perfectly.
Our love won’t be perfect, but since God bears with us and we want other people to bear with us, then we should strive to bear with others in love—even when we think they are unbearable.
Third, all of this is to produce an eager pursuit of unity. Paul wrote that our unity is of the Spirit. So again, it flows from God and it flows from God within us. There are two ways we can pursue unity. The first is tentative. “I don’t really like them, I don’t really want to be around them, but I have no choice so I’ll put up with them.” That is not godly unity and it is doomed to fail. If our hearts are not in something we will not pursue it for long. The second is eagerly. “They’re not perfect and I’m not perfect, but we are brothers and sisters thanks to a perfect God. I am going to love these people and do everything I can to have deep fellowship with them because we are part of one big, eternal family.”
Eagerness desires to be with our fellow followers of Jesus to grow together in Christ.
And when we set out with that attitude, then we will celebrate our Godly differences (the diversity in our unity that Paul described in part in 4:7-16), we will be quick to forgive failures and hurts, and we will seek to reconcile and move our relationships from moments of sorrow to celebrations of joy.
Let us also remember that this unity of God’s people doesn’t mean that we are clones. God gave us different personalities. Yes, they need sanctified just like everything else, but that doesn’t mean we all end up with the same four letters on a Myers-Briggs test. God gave us different talents, gifts, and ministry foci. How I serve the body of Christ will not look exactly the same as how someone else serves. That’s a beautiful, godly thing. God gave us different tastes. It’s not that we all have the same preferences in musical worship or the likes, but that we build each other up with a variety of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. God also gave us different cultures and backgrounds, and all of these will be represented in eternity as people from every tribe, tongue, and nation dwell with each other and with Jesus forever.
Unity is of desire. We all seek to do all things for the glory and love of God. Unity is of purpose. We are all here to live as growing disciples of Jesus who help make and help grow other disciples of Jesus. Unity builds itself on the essentials and shows charity in the non-essentials. No one will have perfect theology until we are face-to-face with Christ, but we spur each other on through a commitment to learning, knowing, and doing the word the best we can.
Humility, gentleness, patience, love, unity.
We don’t kick tables…
 This illustration was inspired by and modified from a statement made in an interview I watched of the lead singer of the band Twenty One Pilots.