Scripture: Eph. 4:15-16; 2 Tim. 2:24-26
Leading Question: How can we overcome deeply-rooted negative attitudes?
Galatians 3:28 lays out the agenda for those of us who follow Jesus: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (NRSV).
Our most stubborn prejudices seem to be rooted in the impulses which Paul mentions in this passage. Especially crucial in our day are those attitudes that come under the heading of racism or sexism. Identifying negative attitudes is one thing; changing them is quite another. This week we want to focus on the process of actually overcoming those attitudes. And here the relations between Jews and Samaritans provide a good case study for us.
The story of the Samaritan woman in John 4 comes up frequently in our discussions this quarter. How did Jesus model relations with a woman and a foreigner? Providence brought them together at a famous Jewish site, Jacob’s well. The disciples were shocked to see Jesus speaking with her. After Jesus sent her back to bring her “husband,” having revealed the woman’s history to her, she raced back to the town and spread the word, “He told me everything I have ever done” (John 4:39, NRSV). The people came pouring out of town to see him.
But after listening to Jesus themselves, they added: “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world” (John 4:42, NRSV).
Question: How long did it take for racist impulse to subside in the minds of the disciples?
Comment: Scripture doesn’t tell us how long it took for the racist impulse to subside in the hearts of the disciples. The Gospels are peppered with instances where they had to confront the issue. Among the more notable ones are the stories of the good Samaritan who helped the Jewish victim attacked by robbers on the Jericho road (Luke 10:25-37) and the Canaanite woman with the demon-possessed daughter who came to Jesus in the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon (Mark 7:24-30).
The fruits of this exposure began to come clear in the narratives told in Acts. Philip went to Samaria and was greeted enthusiastically by the Samaritans (Acts 8:4-8). When the leaders in Jerusalem heard about this welcome they sent Peter and John to follow up on the opportunity. In short, some of the hardness against Samaritans and other foreigners had begun to melt. That’s what happens when you spend time with Jesus!
Speaking the truth in love. The call to grow together in love reverberates through Paul’s message to the Ephesians:
Ephesians 4:15-16 (NRSV): “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”
The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome. For those who serve the Lord, the temptation always lurks near at hand to reprimand those who are not being as faithful as church leaders might wish.
But Paul’s counsel to Timothy is also a good word for the modern pastor who works to meet the spiritual needs of an increasingly diverse church family:
2 Timothy 2:24-26 ((NRSV): “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, 25 correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, 26 and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”
Ellen White would say a hearty amen to Paul’s counsel:
“Those who present the eternal principles of truth need the holy oil emptied from the two olive branches into the heart. This will flow forth in words that will reform, but not exasperate. The truth is to be spoken in love. Then the Lord Jesus by His Spirit will supply the force and the power. That is His work. (Testimonies 6:122-23)
A note from Adventist history: The last quotation from Ellen White’s Testimonies for the church is included in a larger comment to one of the more strident Adventists of the 19th century, A. T. Jones. He was especially good at “bashing” the Catholics. These are Ellen White’s pointed comments to him. The quote above will be included again it concludes a section:
The influence of your teaching would be tenfold greater if you were careful of your words. Words that should be a savor of life unto life may by the spirit which accompanies them be made a savor of death unto death. And remember that if by your spirit or your words you close the door to even one soul, that soul will confront you in the judgment.
Do not, when referring to the Testimonies, feel it your duty to drive them home. In reading the Testimonies be sure not to mix in your filling of words, for this makes [122/123] it impossible for the hearers to distinguish between the word of the Lord to them and your words. Be sure that you do not make the word of the Lord offensive. We long to see reforms, and because we do not see that which we desire, an evil spirit is too often allowed to cast drops of gall into our cup, and thus others are embittered. By our ill-advised words their spirit is chafed, and they are stirred to rebellion.
Every sermon you preach, every article you write, may be all true; but one drop of gall in it will be poison to the hearer or the reader. Because of that drop of poison, one will discard all your good and acceptable words. Another will feed on the poison; for he loves such harsh words; he follows your example, and talks just as you talk. Thus the evil is multiplied.
Those who present the eternal principles of truth need the holy oil emptied from the two olive branches into the heart. This will flow forth in words that will reform, but not exasperate. The truth is to be spoken in love. Then the Lord Jesus by His Spirit will supply the force and the power. That is His work. (Testimonies 6:122-23)
I suspect that Ellen White would give a warm amen to the theme for this week’s lesson, “Developing a Winning Attitude.”