My siblings and I had a game we played on road trips growing up. Okay, my brother and I had a game we played on road trips growing up, and my sister was always an unwilling participant. It was called “Can’t Bother Air.” Like the back of most vehicles ours always ended up with clearly defined boundary lines drawn between seats giving each member of our family their own personal space. These lines were to be respected and protected at all costs.
My brother and I took full advantage by torturing our sister by allowing her free reign of her seat, but by taking up as much of the air around her as possible, and every time she’d get frustrated, be tempted to tattle, or get ready to scream, we’d simply confess.
Can’t Bother Air! Sounds fun, right? Maybe for some of us.
The problem, of course, with the game was that while it recognized the letter of the law—while it abided by the standards passed down from above (or in this case, the front seats)—it certainly didn’t help us live into the spirit my parents intended. They created a rule to help us drive from point A to point B in peace and harmony, and we followed the rule, but we forgot about the peace and the harmony. And the problem with that, again, is that the rule is hardly the part my parents actually cared about, for them it was all about the harmony.
Sometimes we like to pretend that diversity is a new thing in the church. You might hear people talk about how sad they are to see a bunch of different flavors to Christianity like Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic, the self-titled non-denominational denomination. And people say, I’m not any one of those things, I’m just believe in God and want to get back to the day when everyone was in the same church believing in God. And that’s romantic, and in a sense we all should want to get back to that. The problem is like most things in history we want to get back to, they are almost never has peachy as we imagine them, and with the church that is certainly true. You see, we may want to get to back to a day without denominations, but there has never been a church without diversity and differences of opinion and practice and even divisions.
Think about that. Paul says, I know in my brain, through logic and reason and experience that that meat is totally fine to eat, but I will never eat it. Not as long as it would have a negative effect on others in my community who have not yet come to the same conclusion. Because the most important thing is not being right. It’s not having knowledge. It’s how we love. It’s how we live with each other.
This is one of those passages that while it certainly made it’s point in 69 AD, holds as much meaning for us today as it did for them. We, like them, live in a diverse society where issues are presented to us daily, and we have to make a stand, and we have to pick a side. And people end up all over the map. Only our issue isn’t shish-kabob related, it’s gun control related. It’s healthcare related. It is pipeline vs. electric cars related. It’s mask related. We argue about parties in politics, and common core in classrooms. And in every case, everyone has a side—a side we believe to be right, and a side we are willing to defend. But in every case. In every issue, we need to be reminded that what we believe is not the most important thing. How we live with each other is.
Knowledge puffs up. Love builds up.
I know too many people—too many people just like me—who have thought through issues backwards and forwards and through education around the subjects and personal experience know exactly where I stand, and am even willing to lose friends over it. Know anyone like that? Ever been a little like that? Well, God’s message for me when I hear this passage and consider where I stand is clear (it’s also a little harsh): get over yourselves. What you personally know, is not the most important thing, most foundational piece of our community. How we love each other is.
In truth we should have known where Paul was going with his argument all along because he started it like this: Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. We believe that our knowledge will build a better society, the Bible reminds us that our knowledge will puff us up, but only love will.
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