SCRIPTURE – Ephesians 4:1-6 – I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
The Real Social Network sermon series
#3 – Liking Each Other
Jan. 24, 2016
If you are a Facebook user, you are familiar with the ubiquitous “Like” button. Under each post is the picture of a thumbs up and the option to like that post by clicking the button. If you like it, your name shows up as one of the “likers” of that post. But there’s some tricky etiquette that goes with it. Let’s say a post reads, “Broke my leg in four places but on the mend.” If you like that post, could it be interpreted as liking the fact the person broke their leg in four places? And what if a friend posts a picture of a dinner to which you weren’t invited. Do you like it as a way of supporting your friend or as a way of showing her that you know she went to dinner without inviting you? Remember when the only way to find out if someone liked you was to send them a note and ask them to “check this box”? Not so simple anymore.
In our current sermon series, we’re looking at ways we build community and friendships online, and contrasting that with the kind of relationships to which God calls us in the Bible. Today, we’re going to see if clicking the “Like” button on Facebook lives up to the standard to which we are called. Don’t worry, if you’re not a social media user, you still have to choose whether or not to like someone, so I believe this sermon still applies to you.
Paul’s words in Ephesians are instructive for us as we figure out what it means to like each other in a world that seems to promote animosity and conflict. I struggle to think of any TV reality shows that focus on how well people get along. No, it’s much better if people have to vote each other off the island or compete ruthlessly to win the hunky guy. In a world that peddles division and dislike, Paul calls us to something higher.
He starts the Ephesians passage with the word “therefore,” which means we should pay attention to what has come before it. The first three chapters of Ephesians outline God’s plan to unite all things together under God’s gracious rule. Starting in chapter 4, Paul is telling us what our role is in making this happen. In fact, he does more than tell us. Our Bible translation says he “begs” us or “urges” us. This carries more weight because Paul is writing from a prison cell in Rome, where he has been incarcerated for preaching the Gospel. Paul knows what is at stake for the survival of the early church, and he’s already starting to see cracks in the foundation as churches argue over what it means to live out the good news.
We talked a little about this in the sermon on community, how even the early church struggled to live in harmony with each other. Even with Paul’s admonitions, the church struggled to live in the light of God’s peace. For a while, they figured it out. Once Christianity became the state religion under Constantine, the church didn’t get a lot of opposition. Nothing promotes loyalty like burning your enemies at the stake. Then Martin Luther came along and challenged the church on its carpet color and 94 other things, and the Protestant Reformation is born. And then all Hades broke loose! As soon as people were able to interpret scripture for themselves they found out just how much there was to disagree about. They started reading the Bible together – “In the beginning” – and someone asked, “When was the beginning? What was before the beginning? Was there a God before the beginning?” and it went downhill from there. And that was only the first three words!
Our own denomination was founded in response to this splintering. Thomas Campbell, one of the founders of the Disciples, got fed up pastoring the Old Light Anti-Burgher Seceeder Presbyterian Church, probably because his business cards were the size of spaghetti boxes. Each name in that title represents a split within the church, and Campbell and Barton Stone believed that unity should be the polar star of the church. So they joined together to form the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), a denomination that strives for the unity of all believers – and that has had two groups split off from it in its history. Even we can’t quite get it right. If we’re all followers of Jesus, shouldn’t we be able to at least like each other?
What Paul calls for in Ephesians goes deeper than just clicking a button. He says we have been giving a calling by God, and we are to live our lives in such a way that reflects that call. He also gives the Ephesians some practical advice on how to live that life, and that advice applies just as well when we’re talking about how to conduct ourselves on Facebook. Paul doesn’t come right out and say, “Don’t be a jerk,” but if you read between the lines, that pretty much sums up his instruction.
First, he calls us to live with humility and gentleness. Now there are two qualities you don’t see much on Facebook! How do you practice humility on a social media platform that encourages you to tell everything about yourself? The closest I’ve seen is what’s become known as the “humblebrag,” as when someone says, “I just stepped in gum. Who spits gum on the red carpet at the Oscars?” or “I can never find the bathroom in our new house. It’s too big!” I don’t think that’s quite what Paul had in mind. Instead, he encourages humility, of putting others before ourselves.
The word Paul uses for “humility” is the opposite of another of his favorite terms, “puffed up.” “Humility” comes from the root word “humus,” which means “fertile soil.” In other words, Paul is saying that to be likeable, we have to be down to earth, rooted in our humanity and our God-createdness. One of my favorite quotes is, “Always entertain the possibility that you may be mistaken.” If we adopt that stance of humility, it might change the tenor of many of our conversations, on Facebook and face-to-face.
The other word Paul pairs with humble is “gentle,” also translated sometimes as “meek.” For Paul, it’s the opposite of wrath. He’s basically telling the Ephesians to be meek instead of wrathful, not to be touchy or irritable, not to be prone to flying off the handle or blowing things out of proportion. And yet, I just described about 90% of the posts I read on Facebook, in which people are touchy and irritable, in which they do fly off the handle and blow things out of proportion. Some of the most intolerant people I know are some of my Christian Facebook friends. We’re called to a higher calling, Paul says.
It’s interesting to know that these two terms are the same ones Jesus uses to describe himself in Matthew 11: Matthew 11 – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Living this kind of life – online and in real life – is not just about liking each other; it’s about being Christ-like to each other.
Paul then calls us to be patient, bearing with one another in love. Biblical scholar William Barclay defines patience as, “The spirit which bears insult and injury without bitterness or complaint, which can suffer fools without irritation.” Is there any better description of what it means to be a Christian on Facebook than the idea of “suffering fools without irritation?” It’s easy for our patience to be tested with much of what we encounter on social media, and yet, to live a life worthy of our calling, that’s what we are to do. Hard to do? Of course. But we are Christ’s followers, and more should be expected of us, which is a great thing to remember before you hit the “Send” button on a particularly snarky or pointed comment. We are called to a higher calling.
Paul then calls us to “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Notice, Paul doesn’t say create the unity or forge the unity. The unity is already there through Jesus Christ. Beneath our differences, beneath our divisions, God has already made us one. There is already oneness within us. We don’t’ all agree on everything, but at a deep level, we are kin. It’s up to us whether we choose to live that out.
We are bonded together, Paul tells us. Think of it as the difference between a Post-It Note and Crazy Glue. Liking someone on Facebook is like a Post-It Note. It can easily be added or removed, depending on your mood or their latest comment. Our “likes” on Facebook are transient, temporary. But our relationships built on Paul’s model are like Crazy Glue; they bond us together in a way that you can’t easily pull them apart. And when you’re bonded like that, you treat each other with humility and gentleness, with patience and love.
Finally, Paul reminds us that the oneness we share, the way we like each other, is grounded in our oneness with God. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Paul uses the word “one” here seven times, because sometimes the church needs to be reminded that many times – even in one sentence! – that it was created to reflect the oneness of God. That’s hard to do when we’re taking potshots at each other, or arguing over trivialities. One of our denominational statements says, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” In other words, live the life you have been called to live, liking each other in a way that mirrors the unity we have been given by the one God.
We don’t have to like everything someone says. We don’t have to like everything someone does. But through Christ, we have been made one, so we are called to live like we actually like each other. What a witness that would be to this world, to see the church getting along, posting smiley faces instead of frowny faces, demonstrating what humility and gentleness and patience and love really looks like. We’re forgetting, you know, because we’re seeing those things less and less these days. May people see those qualities in us as we live out our calling online and in real life.