Lord, consider my thoughts, guide my words and make them understandable to those I would reach. Amen
Have ever watched little kids playing soccer? They run around all over the place, usually in a pack. They don’t follow the rules because they don’t know the rules, and nobody cares because the objective is for them to have fun. However everything changes once their coaches tell them the rules. Then they have to follow the rules because they know them. And, boy, does it feel good when they score the first goal but they get penalised if they ignore the rules.
Well, it’s the same for us. If, as adults, we profess to be Christian, we are held accountable for behaving as Christians. We may or may not tell people we are doing something because we are Christian but the point is that we no longer have a choice; we have an obligation to behave as Christians. This is proactive, not passive. And we too have help. We have God’s support, through the Holy Spirit. And, boy does it feel good when we do things that make a difference to others.
Paul talks about our responsibility to behave as Christians, so I’m going to pick up on that.
We have a responsibility to behave correctly because we cannot plead ignorance the rules of Christian behaviour. As Paul said, “My friends, you must never tire of doing right.” Nobody says it is easy, or always fun, or that we are perfect at it. But “By standing firm you will win yourselves life.”
I want to use a number of examples. Some behaviour is illegal, but still we stray into it, even though we don’t think of ourselves as criminals. Some behaviour is just plain wrong, though not illegal. And sometimes it is not our behaviour but that of others. Then we have to act as “our brother’s keeper.” In this case where do the limits lie? What is help and what is interference?
I said that some behaviour is illegal, even though we don’t think of ourselves as criminals. What about drinking and driving? Many of us grew up in a time when the law about drinking and driving was much more lax than it is now. The consequences were less and the likelihood of causing someone harm was much lower. Or was it?
Anyway, we drank and drove. It is easy to continue these habits into current times when the laws are stricter and the consequences much greater not only for ourselves but also for others. We have all seen the newspapers when judges, movie and rock stars and our political leaders get caught in the trap of drinking and driving. Our kids don’t do it the way we did and we are supposed to be models for our kids.
What about not paying taxes? During the Presidential campaign in the US, this became an issue because Trump had not paid taxes and said this was smart. Defrauding the government in little ways is seen as innocuous but it really is only the thin end of the wedge. We are sometimes close to the edge of the law, even without really thinking about it. As Christians we should think about it, because not only do we know the rules of the land but we also know the “rules” of being a Christian.
Most misbehaving that we deal with in our daily lives is not illegal, but something we shouldn’t do but we do it anyway. Or something we should do and don’t.
I remember when I was at the seventh game in the Bruins/Canadians series back in 2007. Before the game I was delighted to see Canadien's fans going over to the occasional Bruins fan and welcoming them to Montreal. That I thought is truly the right thing to do, so I did the same. I would have preferred to have thought of it myself because that would have shown a natural Christian reaction, but as I said earlier, none of us is perfect. The other side of the coin? After the game, which we won, I was horrified to see Canadians fans taunting, chasing and hounding Bruins fans.
Not so long ago a good friend of mine, a single, white man of my age, lets call him Joe, started going out with a black woman half his age. They had been going out for a couple of years when one of his friends, lets call him Fred, forbade Joe from bringing her to dinner at Fred’s place. Pretty hurtful and I told Joe exactly what I thought of Fred. I don’t know Fred very well but he went a long way down in my estimation. What did I feel I could do? Not much, except to assure Joe that his girlfriend was welcome at our house.
We are in a period when fear of people different from us (Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims, those with different values) has been stoked by politicians who either believe that is right or who think they will gain votes though it, and they are often right. It has happenedrecently in the US, in Canada at the last election and in Quebec a couple of times in the last few years. And yet, as Christians, we have a responsibility to be “our brother’s keeper”.
We have to take the risk of suffering for doing good particularly if that involves helping people who need our support. Behaving well is its own reward; we feel good. But sometimes there is a penalty for behaving as a Christian. Sometimes there is a penalty for even saying you are a Christian. In that case, how much better to suffer for doing the right thing than for isbehaving!
When I worked in Montreal, I got to know the cleaners in our office quite well because they came around about 6 each evening when I was often there and the telephone was not ringing. They were quite chatty so we often discussed the events of the day. One year, I told them we would be open on Good Friday and closed on Easter Monday, a very secular approach to Easter and not one I preferred personally.
The cleaners’ reaction was to say that they did not practice their Catholicism any more, that being open on Friday was fine with them and if any priest wanted to tell them otherwise, they would have some strong words for that priest.
For a very short while, I thought about whether I should tell them I was a practising Christian and uncomfortable with staying open on Good Friday. I opted for social convenience and didn’t tell them, but I reflected afterwards over whether that was the right thing to do. I probably should have continued the conversation with my own beliefs and dealt with their reactions.
Now that was not a very serious event, but what happens when your friend says he is just about to do something seriously wrong. Do you give what you think is good advice even when it is probably unwelcome. As a good friend you should, even though that is tough.Helping them includes showing them that what they are doing is harmful.
Cheryl and I have a friend who drank too much. He and his then wife were in circumstances where a lot of drinking was going on, his wife was already an alcoholic and he was probably headed in the same direction. We debated long and loud how to handle it because they lived several thousand miles away and we had no opportunity to say this to them face to face. My relationship to the husband was the strongest in the two couples, so in the end I wrote to him, saying that I recognised that my letter could cause the end our the friendship, but that was a risk I was prepared to take to try to help him and his wife. The reverse occurred and we became closer friends. It took him some time, but he slowed down. I didn’t tell him that I was helping him as a Christian, but being a Christian certainly reinforced my feeling of obligation to help him.
So what is my conclusion from all this?
Like Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians, I have used some examples to illustrate when we have not just the choice but the obligation to act as Christians. Sometimes we stray into illegal behaviour even though we don’t think of ourselves as criminals. Sometimes we just plain misbehave, even if it is not illegal. And sometimes we have to act as “our brother’s keeper,” even if we are unsure of the consequences. These are just examples; what is the message?
If I am unaware of what Christian behaviour is, because I have never been taught it or because I don’t profess to be a Christian, then I cannot be held accountable for it. But if I say that I am a Christian, then I should be prepared to say to non-Christians that I am a Christian and that is why I behave the way that I do. I don’t have to be like Paul and broadcast my faith through letters to the international community but I do have an active responsibility to behave in a Christian way.
If it is true, as many would profess, that being a Christian is more about how you live your life than what you believe, then how you behave is the ultimate test of your Christianity.