I wrote this about two and a half years ago and just stumbled on it. Hope you like it!
How could it be that a plain paper bag communicates part of Christ’s message more clearly than the church? Sometimes we’re all too eager- I’m all too eager- to revert to our “highlighter Bible,” in which we’ve underlined all the passages that we like. We focus on the verses that speak to us, while inadvertently neglecting everything else. But, Jesus’ message is not for us to edit. He meant what he said and we had better start living like we believe that. Yes, we need to narrow our focus on specific aspects of following God throughout our lives, and in that sense our “highlighter Bible” serves us well. However, we cannot turn our eyes from the all-encompassing nature of Jesus’ message.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expounds on the Old Testament teaching to “love your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:18) by instructing the crowds to “love your enemies” (Matthew 9:43). Jesus explains that loving the people who love you is not remarkable because anybody can do that. But what will make people take notice is the way Christians love all– especially our enemies.
Rather than preaching Christ’s message to love all, sometimes it seems as if the church communicates a message of “scrutinize all.” We are hesitant to love all, because some people just aren’t too loveable (at least by our messed up human evaluation of them). So, we look for reasons why we maybe don’t really have to love everyone. We condescendingly look down on people who are gay or women who even consider abortion. We vocally oppose homosexuality and rally against abortion with cries of pro-life. But where are our cries for pro-love? We toss around the cliché of “love the sinner, hate the sin,” but we’re looking so intently at the sin that we can’t even see the sinner!! Jesus acknowledges our tendency to scrutinize others in the Sermon on the Mount when he told the crowd: “do not judge.” He seems to express that this tendency comes from our eagerness to ignore the plank in our own eye, by pointing the finger at someone else. Perhaps we need to “take the plank out of [our] own eye” so that the sin of our brothers appears as only a speck and we can see the person for who he or she really is (Matthew 7:1-5). Only when we can see people, not just their sin, will we be able to love them.
In most cases, serving others is not viewed as a desirable thing to do. Sure it might be cute to visit people at a nursing home or serve at a soup kitchen once or twice. But in those situations, we’re serving on our own terms. We choose a date on our calendar that fits conveniently with our schedule. We decide where and who we want to serve. We clock in for our two hours of service, serve, and then we’re done. And then we give service awards to people to commend them for serving, communicating that we view service as an exception rather than the norm.
Even as we serve others, we want people to take notice. So, we total up the hours we’ve put in or accumulate a list of different organizations we’ve volunteered with. It’s ironic that our efforts to serve others all too often turn into an issue of pride. Simply serving others is not enough; we want to be recognized and commended. We want to be great.
It’s somewhat reassuring to know that we’re not the first to desire greatness. The Bible tells us that Jesus’ disciples argued with each other about who was the greatest. To this, Jesus replied, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). Perhaps part of the problem with our view of service is that we have separated it from humility. To us, service has become about being noticed and making ourselves feel good. But the words of Jesus convey that we must humble ourselves.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he urges them to humbly consider others better than themselves and to look to the interests of others. Then, Paul provides the perfect model of humble service in Jesus Christ. Though he was God, he “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant… he humbled himself and became obedient to death –even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:3-8). Bringing it back to Jesus, we see how humility and service are closely intertwined.
Furthermore, when we embrace humility, we will be better able to serve all. Not just the people we like. Not just the people who are easy to serve. Not just the people who are convenient to serve. Humbly, we can undertake Christ’s non-discriminatory instruction to “serve all.”
So, maybe Hard Rock Café has more to offer than decent food and a montage of music memorabilia. Perhaps we would do well to heed the 4 simple words printed on that brown paper bag: “Love all. Serve all.”