Over the years, I have traveled to many parts of the world. During these travels, I have discovered the need to educate myself in the proper behavior of various cultures. "Do not put your hand in your pockets." I was told about Germany where hands in the pockets while talking is considered a sign of being uncaring of others. In Turkey, I was told that when I finished a meal I should belch out loud. It was a sign of respect for the lady of the house and her great cooking abilities. I have to admit, I enjoyed that trip!
At the end of one very grueling trip, my wife and I were waiting for our flight by relaxing in a sitting area of an airport. We had elevated our very tired and aching feet. Unexpectedly, a man approached us yelling loudly with some words in English and others in another language. After a few uncomfortable minutes, we realized the issue and placed our feet firmly on the ground with the soles of our shoes facing down. You see, in that culture exposing the soles of your feet to someone was a sign of great disrespect and dishonor. To us it was a sign of exhaustion and longing for home.
These stories illustrate various proper behaviors as defined by different cultures. When you are a natural part of a particular culture, you automatically know proper behavior. You observe what is accepted and are taught by your parents. When you change cultures, proper behavior must be learned. At times the learning curve is dramatic and completely foreign.
Jesus tells us that we are in the world but not of it! Paul tells us to live as children of God in a crooked and perverse generation! In other words, as we identify with Christ, we are redeemed people living in an unredeemed world. Believe it or not that’s the easy part! The hard part is the specific behavior and treatment we have toward one another. Unfortunately, there are times that the Body of Christ chooses to relate to one another according to the World's standards! As Christians, we must realize we are now living life in a foreign culture. Our redeemed citizenship is in God’s kingdom not the World’s. Acceptable behavior in God’s kingdom is different from that of the World. We must take our hands out of our pockets, quit belching and plant the soles of our feet firmly on the floor! Well, sort of. In other words, you and I need to learn how to relate to each other and to the world around us! If we do not, we will continue to injure each other, continue our disrespectful attitudes toward one another and push others away.
Live as Citizens of Heaven
Philippians 1:27-30 (NLT)
27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. 28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. 29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. 30 We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.
Paul stresses that we are “in the struggle....together.” Together. Yes, together. My wife still says I can’t belch after a meal because I do not belong to that culture and my Lord tells me I can’t relate to my brother in Christ a certain way because I do not belong to the World’s culture. My citizenship must direct my behavior! Jesus even says that the World will know He is the “real deal” because we love one another! Our kingdom message is greatly hindered by our treatment of one another! After careful consideration, you will notice that Paul doesn’t even demand that we all agree on every detail.
Unity Through Humility
Philippians 2:1-4 (NLT)
2 Does your life in Christ give you strength? Does his love comfort you? Do we share together in the Spirit? Do you have mercy and kindness? 2 If so, make me very happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and having one mind and purpose. 3 When you do things, do not let selfishness or pride be your guide. Be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves. 4 Do not be interested only in your own life, but be interested in the lives of others.
As we step back and really consider the scriptures, we realize that an enormous amount of its content deals with how we relate to one another! The way we treat each other is extremely important to the Lord. Are we living as citizens of His Kingdom or of the World’s? Are we adopting the behavior of His Kingdom or that of the World’s? Figuratively, does the Lord teach and allow for belching after a meal and resting our feet after a long journey? Just what kind of behavior is acceptable to Him? He really does have an opinion!
To make it more personal and applicable, what is acceptable behavior in our relationships in a local church setting? How are we to interact and live together in unity? Do we have to believe the same things about every detail of our faith to embrace each other? Have we developed a local church culture that is merely a place we all gather once or twice a week or is it a true family? The answers to these questions are not rhetorical! They must be answered. Most of us have our opinions; and in many of us, they are strong and tightly held. Do we hold to our opinions more tightly than we do our brothers and sisters? If we do, as time goes by and our opinions change, we will awaken to the fact that we have lost both our pet beliefs as well as our brother! If, on the other hand, we humble ourselves and value others more than certain personal beliefs about of our faith, we will enjoy the fullness of life in the Lord!