Happy chatter filled our van after the first day of school. I heard all about new teachers, my eldest’s first private locker, and the need for two book covers as we made our way home. It was when I attempted to merge into highway traffic that the subject abruptly changed.
When it became obvious that the person to my left was not going to adjust her speed or change lanes to accommodate my entry, I adjusted my speed to merge as seamlessly as possible.
Not seamlessly enough, apparently, as my efforts were met with her horn’s resounding objection. My eldest, hearing this, asked why I had honked my horn. I explained that I was not the honker but the honkee.
Instead of continuing our conversation about the first day of school, I found myself explaining lane mergers and highway etiquette.
I pointed out the speed and movement of traffic and how it’s meant to keep flowing. I went on to explain that traffic on the highway has the right of way, but it’s best to accommodate merging traffic when you’re able. If you can move to another lane or alter your speed to help others merge safely, you will help to keep traffic flowing.
I added one final thought: merely honking your horn in protest is not very helpful.
It was then that it hit me (not the car — an analogy).
One of my spouse’s favorite questions before proceeding in a course of action is “what do you hope to gain?”
Fellow believers, what is it that we hope to gain? What is our goal on this journey?
If it’s to know Christ and to make Him known, I contend that merely making noise is not very helpful.
Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, wrote,
“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:19-22, ESV).
Notice that he did not write:
“Servant? Do you know who my parents were and by whom I was educated? Do you understand who it is that I represent? No. I refuse to become as a Jew. Been there done that, and it’s just not who I am anymore. And I refuse to become as one under the law. I mean, it’s so restrictive. And, since I would never break the law, I see no point in becoming as one who would. I don’t associate those kind of people. Have you seen some of them? Besides, what if John sees me? And as far as becoming weak, I have never been nor do I have any intention of letting people think that I am weak.
The fact is that I have the right of way and you don’t, so I’m not going to alter my course just to suit you. I don’t need to consider where you’re coming from or where you hope to go. But, hey, I’ll tell you what I will do. I’ll make some noise at you as I pass by.”
The contrast is stark.
Lest you think that altering one’s course translates to altering to truth, I’d ask you to consider that Paul did not alter truth to meet people at their point of need.
He altered his approach.
In the famous love passage found in 1 Corinthians, we read that if we speak without having love, we become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. I don’t know if you’ve had the distinct pleasure of hearing a child bang two pot lids together, but I assure you that the sounds that emanated from our kitchen when my toddler “played cymbals” more closely resembled nails on a chalkboard than Mozart.
Consider the weight of that Scripture and ask yourself, before I open my mouth to speak to Barbie or Ken, have I examined my heart and found a genuine love for her or him there? Is my speech motivated by a heart full of love or a head full of knowledge? Now, don’t get me wrong. It helps to have knowledge before speaking, but love — not knowledge — should be our motivating factor.
Paul understood that talk can be cheap. He understood that people need more than to merely hear about truth. They need to see and experience truth in the context of trusted relationships and genuine love. He understood our need to see and experience truth lived out in concert with love, mercy, and compassion.
And, to that end, Paul willingly yielded his personal right of way to help others merge into the flow of the Gospel.
Are we, the body of Christ, willing to do the same?
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:13-15).