Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
–Ephesians 4:1-3 (NASB)
How is it pleasing to the Lord when hungry believers with different backgrounds and viewpoints, come together in a spirit of unity to study and apply His Word? What Christ-honoring qualities, in Ephesians 4:1-3, do we need to embrace in order for this to happen?
-from the Sunday school study notes for June 8th
I know I’ve accused myself (and been accused by my wife) of collapsing the Tent of David because of my arrogant presumption, which has subsequently caused me to question my role in the church (if any, beyond being a pew-warmer in services and a silent witness in Sunday school), but I’ve got just one question: are we supposed to “dumb down” the Bible and ignore blatant error for the sake of unity among believers?
I’m really tempted to ask my Sunday school teacher that question, but I know it would just stir up hard feelings (and I’ve done that before).
We’re studying Acts 22:22-29 and somehow my Sunday school teacher has gotten the impression that Paul became all humble, meek, and mild for the sake of Jesus Christ. Really, the last thing I imagine Paul to be in the face of adversity is meek and mild. I also think Christians largely misunderstand humility, especially in leadership.
Moses’s humility was a function of his greatness. Penetrating more deeply into the unfathomable mystery of things than anyone before or since, he was more acutely aware of his ignorance. As the Torah relates at Mount Sinai: “Moses approached the thick cloud where God was” (Exodus 20:18).
Commentary on Torah Portion Beha’alotekha
“The Inscription on My Father’s Tombstone,” pg 498,
May 28, 1994
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries
To make his point, he recast a verse in which Moses declares: “It is not because you are the most numerous of peoples that the Lord set His heart on you and chose you — indeed, you are the smallest of peoples” (Deut. 7:17). Nevertheless, the midrash continues, “the Holy One Praised Be He told Israel that I love you because each time I bestow greatness upon you, you shrink yourself before Me. I bestowed greatness upon Abraham and he said to Me: ‘I am but dust and ashes’ (Gen. 18:27). Upon Moses and Aaron and they said: ‘who are we?’ (Ex. 16:7) Upon David and he said: ‘I am a worm, less than human'” (Psalm 22:7).
“The Humblest of Men,” pg 513, June 5, 2004
And from another source:
Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetzky was about to take his place at the end of a long line waiting to board a bus, when someone in the front of the line who knew him called out, “Rebbe, you can come here in front of me!”
“I’m not permitted to,” replied Rav Yaakov. “It would be stealing.”
“I give you permission. I don’t mind.”
“But what about everybody else behind you?” said the Rosh Hayeshiva. “I would be stealing their time and choice of seat by moving them back one. Who says they allow me to?”
-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Commentary on Torah Portion Beha’alotekha
“Even when traveling be careful to observe Torah values,” pg 320
Quoting The Jewish Observer, Nov., 1985
Growth Through Torah
Here we see that humility is a reflection of strength of character and the upholding of Torah values (or Biblical values if you prefer), and is not the result of a person willing to sacrifice those values for the sake of unity, peace, or to prevent a “spirited debate.”
Certainly no one could accuse Abraham, Moses, Aaron, or David of being “meek and mild” and unable or unwilling to take a strong personal stand for what is right just to avoid an argument or to dodge a disagreement.
That said, we can also see from Rav Kamenetzky’s example that it is also required to sacrifice personal convenience for the sake of said-values, and from that, I derive the principle that you don’t enter into a debate, even if you think you’re correct, just for the sake of being right and proving the other person or people wrong.
I continually struggle with that last bit, even as I compose this blog post and anticipate (as I write this) Sunday school tomorrow morning (yesterday as you read this).
And as compelling as the examples I’ve already presented may be, there’s one more that should “seal the deal” so to speak:
When the ten heard this, they began to be upset with Ya’akov and Yochanan. Yeshua called to them and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles are the ones who oppress them, and their great ones dominate them. But it is not to be that way among you. Rather, one who desires to be great among you is to be as a servant to you, and the one who desires to be the head will be a slave to all. For even the son of man did not come in order to be served, but rather to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
–Mark 10:41-45 (DHE Gospels)
It is true, and Chancellor Schorsch supports this in his commentary, that people operating outside of the Covenant community (Gentiles, in Schorsch’s as well as Jesus’ case) have leaders who feed off of power and self-glorification, while leaders in Judaism, at least in the ideal, become more humble as God heaps greatness upon them.
But as I said, this doesn’t mean humility equals passivity.
In the Temple he found merchants of cattle, flocks, and young doves and those who give change for money sitting there. He took cords, twisted them into a whip, and drove all of them out of the Temple, along with the flocks and cattle. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To the dove merchants he said, “Take these out of here, and do not make my Father’s House into a marketplace!” His disciples remembered the passage, “For the zeal of your House has consumed me.”
–John 2:14-17 (DHE Gospels)
Of course, that hardly gives me license to make a whip and go charging into Sunday school, even metaphorically, for the sake of making a theological point. On the other hand, if unity were the single, overriding priority in the community of faith, then we would never see any Jewish leader, including Jesus, take a strong, personal stand for the sake of Heaven.
There is a line in the sand that, once crossed, must provoke a response. So on the one hand, I could have been wrong to remain silent in Sunday school class when I felt that line had been crossed. On the other hand, I need to choose my battles. I usually do that in class, selecting only one or two points in the class notes to address openly, but even then, it doesn’t always work out.
How do I tell my Sunday school teacher (or do I tell him at all) that unity is not the be all and end all of communal life in the congregation of Christ?
Be careful not to become involved in quarrels with your friends. Arguments will only create distance between you and others.
The most effective approach to avoid needless arguments is to master the ability to remain silent. You don’t have to say everything you think of saying. At times there is an actual need to clarify a specific point and it’s appropriate to speak up. But a large percentage of arguments come from making comments that don’t need to be made.
-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
quoted at Aish.com
By the time you read this (Monday morning), I might have the answer.
Addendum: It’s Sunday afternoon and Sunday school class actually worked out better than I thought it would. I’ll write more about this later.