Sermon delivered by David Hughes, pastor of First Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Mar. 29 2009.
Matthew 5:14-16; 7:12; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; Galatians 6:2
Last week over a dozen members of our church wrapped up a study of a book about evangelism written by Bill Hybels entitled, Just Walk Across the Room. We served as a pilot group that will hopefully lead the way for a church-wide conversation about evangelism in the fall. (Stay tuned for more about JWAR!)
In his book, Hybels relates a story about a waitress who is part of his church. This waitress wrote Hybels a five-page letter about what it was like before she became a Christian to wait on tables in a restaurant where many Christians eat after attending worship services.
“Please let me convey a few things about Christians from a non-Christian waiter’s perspective,” her letter began. “It’s quite well-known among wait staff that when tables of Christians get seated in your section, it will be anything but a positive experience. Christians are demanding. They tend to stay at tables a long time. They often try to push literature. And they rarely tip generously.” Serving the Christians was so bad, she explained, that the waitresses she worked with finally arranged a rotation system so that the same server would not always “get stuck with the Christians.”
I have to admit this story hit me between the eyes. I’m keenly aware of how bad Christians can look when they get mixed up in politics, or go overboard on Christian television. But I’ve not reflected much on how badly we can come across in venues like restaurants. Which is telling, because the truth is we often give far less thought to how we impact other people than we should.
This Sunday I’m keeping a promise I made earlier this year. You may remember that when we celebrated communion in January I promised I would reflect on roughly one-fourth of our church covenant during each of the four Sunday morning communion services of the year. Today on this second communion Sunday, I’m dealing with the second fourth of our covenant.
In January I said the simplest way to think about a church covenant is as a collection of promises, based upon scripture that we make to God and each other about what we will do and how we will do it. And at the risk of over simplifying seven sections of our church covenant, the simplest way to think about this part of our covenant is as a collection of promises to make a Christ-like impact on others. In fact, if I could revise the title of today’s sermon, it would read, “Our Covenant: To Make a Christ-Like Impact on Others.”
Just a cursory look at this part of our covenant verifies our strong focus on “others”. We’re called to win others, both at home and abroad, to a relationship with Jesus Christ. We’re called to consistently present a Christ-like example to others (especially waitresses!), treat others with Christian love, serve others with Christian compassion, disagree with others in a Christ-like spirit, and care for the children of others as though they were our own. In a word, it’s all about others.
Now why should we care so much about others? That’s a good question when you think about it. Our culture, and our own basic human nature say life is all about me and my needs, or at most, all about my loved ones. Beyond that, others will just have to fend for themselves.
But God, and God’s scripture say something very different. We are to care for others because every single person we meet, no matter how different, is a creation of God, shaped in God’s image. Every person we meet is someone deeply loved and cherished by God. And every person on the face of the earth is someone for whom Christ died.
So what does this mean for how we should treat others? Every scripture cited in this part of our covenant, including those used in today’s service, speaks to this question. We’re to share the Light of the world with a world cloaked in darkness. We’re to restore broken relationships between people and God and between estranged people and each other. We’re to bear the burdens of one another as we struggle through the tough times of life.
What Jesus says in Matthew 7:12 sums it up well—So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
We’re so familiar with this expression of the “Golden Rule” we no longer think much about it. But what Jesus said that day in his Sermon on the Mount had never been said before, at least not in this way. The Jews, Greeks, and Romans all had negative expressions of the Golden Rule that went something like this—“What you do not want done to you do to no one else.”
Now you might think there’d be no difference between the negative and positive expressions of the Golden Rule, but you’d be wrong. The negative expression of the Golden Rule takes a passive stance, and basically says, “Don’t harm others.” And that’s not bad. In fact, that’s a real improvement over “Kill others before they kill you.”
Returning to our waitress illustration, the negative form of the Golden Rule says, “Don’t harm your waitress. Don’t trip her when she walks by. Don’t insult her as she waits on you. You can ignore her if you want. Just don’t hurt her.”
The positive expression of the Golden Rule is active and asks for far more. It says, “Go out of your way to help other people in the name of Christ.” It’s not enough to do no harm. Our standard of behavior if we’re Christ-followers is to go overboard as we serve others for whom Christ died.
So, it’s not enough for our church to sit on the corner of Fifth and Spruce in our holy huddle and do no harm to our community. We’re called to go out of our way to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and be an example of Christ’s love. It won’t do to hang out with people just like us. We’re called to reach out and serve people very different from us. It won’t do to barely tolerate people with whom we disagree, or remain estranged from people with whom we’ve had words. We’re called to bridge barriers and heal broken relationships at every opportunity. It won’t do to just love our own children. We’re called not just to love our children or other church children or even other American children, but Iraqi children and Iranian children.
If I had to take these sections of our covenant, and the related passages of scripture, and boil them down to their essence, here’s what I’d come up with:
· Do unto others as Christ has already done to you. And…
· Do unto others as you would have them do to you.
So what would that look like with our waitress? By his own admission, Bill Hybels comes from a Dutch heritage and is a real tightwad with money. But on many Monday mornings, he goes to the same diner, orders a four dollar breakfast, and spends a couple of hours working on his upcoming sermon. For those two hours, his waitress will refill his coffee and keep him comfortable as he pores over his sermon notes. When Bill gets up to pay his bill, he routinely leaves a five-dollar tip for a four-dollar breakfast. And he goes out of his way to thank his waitress for her good service.
When we treat people inside and outside our church that way, we too will be fulfilling the law of Christ. And we too will be changing the world by impacting others for Christ.
Please join me now as we stand and read our covenant together:
Winning Others By example, kindness, visiting and witnessing, as I am able, I will seek to win everyone I can to a saving knowledge of Christ. (II Corinthians 5: 18-21; John 1:40-42)
Example I will be mindful that my example at home, in my neighborhood, at work, at school and in recreation is far more influential than all my words. Accordingly, I voluntarily commit to seek God’s continual help to “keep growing up into the likeness of Christ” in all things, seeking to conduct myself in every activity, as I believe Jesus would have me to live. (I Timothy 4:12; Matthew 5:16; Matthew 7:21)
General Treatment Of Others Ever mindful that my love of God shows itself in love of neighbor, I will seek to treat all people, regardless of race, sex, social standing or personal prejudices, as I believe Jesus would have me treat them. (Matthew 7: 12; Acts 10:34-35; Ephesians 2: 13-22)
Helping Others I will seek to comfort the sorrowing, visit the sick and share the burdens others may have which with God’s help I can share. I will grow in my concern for the social ills of mankind and seek to relieve those ills whenever I can. (Galatians 6:2; Matthew 25:31-46; James 1:27)
Tolerance I will not expect others to agree with me on every point of religious doctrine or personal behavior, nor will I condemn others if they do not agree with me. Rather, I will spend more effort seeking to mend my own ways and to help others than in criticizing them. (Matthew 7:1-5; Romans 14:1-23)
Concern For Global Missions I will strive to give my best to the winning of this world to Christ through mission causes at home and abroad. In accordance with this commitment, I will be willing to serve in some mission cause if God calls me to do so and will pray for those in my family to serve if God calls them. (Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:8; Isaiah 6:1-8)
Concern For Children And Youth By prayer, example and teaching, I will try to lead children and youth who come under my influence to life’s most important decision, a commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior. I will look forward to nothing more eagerly than their profession of faith, baptism, church membership and a life of Christian usefulness. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Ephesians 6:4; Mark 10:13-16)