They sound really good.
The video of the guy explaining how some people aren’t worth your time and encouraging you to cut these people out of your life so they don’t bring you down. The list of things you don’t have time for anymore because they’re sucking your energy and mood and aren’t furthering your growth. The variety of affirmations that you can, and should, avoid people, situations, places, and objects that don’t have your best interests at heart.
People regularly share these messages on social media, and understandably so. Scripture speaks of the danger of certain people (1 Corinthians 15:33), certain places (Proverbs 7:6-9), and certain thoughts and actions (Colossians 3:1-10). We inhabit a treacherous world, and our common sense bids us avoid unnecessary hardship and pain. And in some instances, such as when people abuse or exploit one another, we are right to flee.
Even so, many posts like those referenced above make me uncomfortable. At times, the pendulum appears to swing too far, moving from the pursuit of health to the pursuit of comfort as these messages assert that people or things that do not value us, affirm us, support us, respect us, or serve us are not worth our time. With these shared statements online, we justify our avoidance of certain people and our condemnation of certain ideas. The danger, however, comes subtly as we begin to place ourselves as the highest priorities rather than recognizing that we live as ambassadors of a king. Taken at face value, the messages we share may lead us to flee from some of the suffering necessary to our growth in godliness or the difficulty included in ministry, oversimplifying and generalizing relationships and situations that may be more nuanced.
Consider Paul, for example, who seemed to embrace suffering. He wrote of a desire to share the sufferings of Christ and to identify with his death in order to know his Lord (Philippians 3:10). Elsewhere, Paul described the varied sources of pain and difficulty in his life, boasting in his weakness because it provided an opportunity for Christ to show himself strong (2 Corinthians 11:23-12:10). Paul was no masochist. Indeed, we read earlier in 2 Corinthians that he acted in order to avoid suffering for himself and the church (2 Corinthians 2:1-4). Yet he recognized suffering to be a necessary component of the path of Jesus, an unavoidable and worthwhile component of obedience. Though he did not seek out pain, he did not shy away from it if he encountered it in his work with people. The mission of God and the goodness of Christ enabled him to endure and to serve selflessly.
Paul, ultimately, learned his perspective from Christ himself. In Philippians, Paul sets forth the standard set by Jesus:
[Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Jesus did this for sinners, those who did not value him, seek his good, encourage him, support him, want him, love him, or serve him. Paul draws from the Old Testament writings to show that we sinners are far worse off than we know (Romans 3:9-20). Still, Christ came for us. He stepped into the mess we made, bore our hatred and mockery and beatings, offered forgiveness to those who denied him, and gave his life to save his enemies. We had nothing to offer him, no merit by which to appeal our case, no excuse for our sin. We stood unrepentant and condemned before holiness, hopelessly lost. “But God shows his love for us,” Paul writes, “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We have peace with God because he did not cut us off, did not dismiss us, did not demand we earn his love. If Christ took some of the advice we offer each other, we would not know Jesus as Lord, God as our Father, or the Spirit as our helper.
Some circumstances do require a breaking of fellowship, but they appear to be cases of last resort (Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13; Titus 3:10-11). Further, they appear to seek the health of the church over all, dealing with unrepentant believers rather than the lost. Loving our neighbors as ourselves requires self love, but love finds its greatest expression in giving its life for its friends, in loving as Christ loved (John 15:12-13). So rest. Take care of yourself. Be wise as you walk around the world. But do not trade the model of Christ for the idol of comfort, and don’t mistake subtle selfishness or hypocrisy for wisdom or health. Let our love be selfless, sacrificial, and reflective of our Savior.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Thanks to Atley, Jamie, and Maci for their feedback on today’s post and for helping me think through this topic.