I recently read an article about 10 habits that would dramatically improve my life. Always, interested in progressing, I read it. I found myself most intrigued by the most crucial habit in the author’s estimation: “Stay away from people who erode your quality of life.”
My immediate thought was, “I would have to quit the ministry!” Isaiah and Jerimiah obviously should have!
My second thought was, “But the Bible does tell me to withdraw from people at times.” The bottom line: the Christian life is far more nuanced than a self-help article!
The truth is, we are influenced by the people around us. An explicit warning from Scripture is pretty clear: “Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals. Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.” (1 Cor. 15:33-34) A knee jerk reaction would be, “Stay away from unsaved people!” I think I have known some parents who taught that to their kids!
However, in the same letter to the Corinthian church we read: “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.” (1 Cor. 5:9-10) Being a hermit is not a viable option!
Too many Christians pass their lives as spiritual tourists: looking with interest at the world around them (taking a few pictures), somewhat suspicious of the locals, and amassing memento trinkets of no lasting value. The result is no effort to make a difference, just avoiding contamination until arriving home (Heaven) where we will be “safe.”
The real task before us is to live as an ambassador, representing a foreign power whose priorities are based on a different value system. We attend all the events in which locals participate and befriend them over time, but always with the agenda of making a difference and winning them to the superior life authorized by the authority we represent.
In that role, we find that we are complimented when called “a friend of sinners” even while keeping ourselves “unstained by the world.” That is a self-investment strategy rather than the self-protection mindset that stays away from people who erode my life. It is grace in action like the humility of Jesus who stooped to our need when we had no resources to contribute to meeting it.
A tourist is just taking a stroll, while an ambassador has a job to do and frames everything around that responsibility.
So, as ambassadors of Christ, we will be associated with people who seem to erode our quality of life, so we can reach them for Him. We put up with people like the 12 sorry rascals Jesus called to be with Him! We are kind to the worst of sinners— for His sake.
At the same time, we do not continue “business of usual” when a professed ambassador (someone who bears the name “brother” – 1 Cor. 5:11) betrays the role they should fill in Christ. That betrayal comes in several forms:
- Persistent, unrepentant sin (1 Cor. 5)
- Divisiveness over disputable matters (Titus 3:9-11)
- Idle busybodies (2 Thes. 3:10-12)
- Paragons of the end-times lifestyle (1 Tim. 3:1-5)
We have to cut off normal relations with people like this, always with regret, but decisive action needs to be taken! In those cases, the issue is not the quality of life of an individual (“me”), but the quality of the mission of representing Jesus Christ in the world (“us”).
Therein lies the tension for stewards of grace. We are thankful that Jesus extended that kind of amazing grace to us. Now we have to appropriate that grace to be just as amazing in the way we relate to the world around us. We like Jesus, will be tested in all points like everyone else, and cling to grace so we can hopefully do it without sin.
Let’s commit ourselves to extend grace while protecting ourselves from the subtle betrayals that have always hamstrung the cause of Christ.