It's a funny thing to me how lessons seem to weave themselves into our lives at seemingly 'random' points in time (which, of course, shows me that they're not random at all). Over the past eight weeks or so, as I've been preaching through James, I've been amazed at how clearly he contradicts our contemporary worldview and way of looking at life. In our culture there are no black and white issues, only greys. Members of PETA, who say it's wrong to kill for food, probably still smack mosquitoes. What's wrong in one situation may be okay in another. There are all kinds of greys.
James, however, continually teaches by setting up worldviews as opposed to each other. Either you're steadfast or you waffle, either you are a doer or a hearer only, either you have a pure religion or a worthless religion, your source of speech is either a fresh spring or salt water, your wisdom is either from God or from Satan, and so on. You're one or the other, black or white. There is no middle ground, no fence to sit on.
The funny part about all of this is how I've been growing in my understanding of the many issues where thoughtful, biblical, Jesus-loving Christians disagree about moral issues. Do you drink or not? Do you do home-school, public school, or Christian school? What kind of language is okay and what is not? What type of guidelines should we use when we dress? These things are anything but black and white, and real Christians really disagree.
So what do we do? Do we respond with insisting that there is a 'black and white' answer for every issue? Do we argue incessantly about it until people see it our way? Do we just stress privately because everyone else is wrong?
I think the answer of humility is found in a passage like Romans 14:
Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgement on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgement on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
In other words, your brother or sister who sees things differently than you isn't your servant, and you're not his or her judge. They do have a master and a judge, but you're not him. To judge them as if they need to give an account to you is to contend for supremacy with God. It's pride.
Not judging is only the beginning, however. More than not judging, we must also be careful to be proactive in love:
Therefore let us not pass judgement on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.
To flaunt your freedom is the opposite reaction to judging and condemning, but it's equally unloving. 'If your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love.'
The admonition comes again: 'Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.' What Paul is saying here is that when we value our freedoms so much that we're not willing to give them up for the sake of loving a brother or sister and 'not grieving' them, then we've valued our own freedom more than we've valued one of God's children.
The humble, Christian response to the 'greys' is to lovingly refuse to judge, and then to lovingly resist the urge to flaunt our freedoms in front of others who don't enjoy the same freedoms.
This calls for love and humility all around. On different issues I've found myself sometimes being the one tempted to judge, and sometimes being the one tempted to stumble. I can say from experience that neither side is easy. But Christian community is a beautiful thing when, by the power of the Spirit, Christians are walking in this kind of self-denying, self-sacrificing love, living out humility. It's been a delight to see it in action at GFC, and I can only pray for more.