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Freedom from biting and devouring

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

—Galatians 5:15
My friend Mike preached an excellent sermon on the "Freedom from Biting and Devouring" a few years ago. Thinking about it a lot lately.

Our church has been in the early stages of transition. As we've seen before, we suck at it. Our elders opted to end my friend Phil's artist-in-residence position (his job, like mine, changed so many times over the years that picking any one title would be tough and incomplete) last month. Until now, we've been grieving and adjusting, which had been sad and hard. But in moving forward, we've gotten to the stage where some of our gross underbelly becomes more exposed. Thankfully, none of it is a surprise to God or outside His sovereignty, but seeing the biting and devouring become apparent is unsettling.

There's a lack of charity that's had its roots in our church for a long time. Sometimes we've seemed free of it, only to have it wake up with a vengeance when something we treasure is threatened. Then it lashes out again, and in such times it's much easer to see where its tendrils have been choking us all along—where we've refused to believe the best about anyone other than ourselves (and those who agree with us), shown no concern for those who may be different from us (even as we laud examples of people who like us), and remained focused to the point of obsession on our needs and wants. In its grip, our imaginations can atrophy to fit inside the borders of our cramped personal dramas.

Loving others costs us something, and we're afraid of paying those costs or following God anywhere where we might lose anything. That's bad news for following, because those are usually the places He wants to go. Our stuff isn't as important as our charity (whatever our stuff may be), and if we co-opt good and beautiful things into barriers toward charity, God may well remove them out of love for others and, quite frankly, of us. God's Church doesn't love Him or anyone else well when we're just trying to hold onto the things we're afraid of losing, and He doesn't love us well if He lets us keep going that way.



Turn it on it's head

Lee -
I know you're a big picture thinker so I'm sure you are thinking of this from all kinds of angles - I just want to encourage you (if you haven't already) to take everything thing you said above, turn it upside down and give it a little shake. What does it mean love the creation (end product?) of a person's work, to laud the work, to keep parts of the work, but dismiss the individual? How is that loving? Is protecting that individual and the things they create really idolatry or is it essential to acting as a body? When you dismiss a member of the body because they are not fulfilling a function in the way you deem valuable, what happens to the body? I read 1 Corinth 12/13 this morning and am reeling (again.) Not angry, not biting, not devouring, but anguishing.
-Nikki V.

Re: Turn it on it's head

I think that's a great perspective to have in mind, Nikki—one of many, but definitely an important one of many. I don't hear any biting and devouring there at all, and anger certainly doesn't require it. Regrettably, I've had a ringside seat to lots of it recently, though, and not only on one side. There's plenty of biting and devouring to go around, and it's really disheartening. That's why I like Mike's sermon so much.

I have friends who advocate the abolition of paid staff at churches for this very reason (not the abolition of leadership, just of employment). Clearly, I don't mind collecting my paycheck, but their perspective isn't without merit, and at least in theory, that kind of setup allows for a broad range of creators and creations without placing any single one in the "lead" by virtue of pay. I've been thinking a lot of whether there are ways to encourage that richness while still employing folks—it always seems simpler when there's no cash on the table, but bills have to get paid and it's hard to have enough of anyone's time and energy without paying for it, let alone the time and energy of multiple someones.

Dismissing from employment (or even from position in non-employment settings) isn't the same as dismissing from the body by any means, of course. But it obviously sucks to be in that spot, and it's sad and hurts not to work alongside Phil any longer. I miss him, and a bunch of other people, too.