Friday, January 5, 2007

What Does It Mean To Be Human: Life Together

When first approached with the question of “What does it mean to be human?” one million thoughts popped into my mind. I know that from the standpoint of a Christian worldview, one could speak of the importance of the body and the soul, being made in the image of God, the vicarious humanity of Christ, the corruption and depravity of man, as well as many other relevant concepts that may fall under this category. However, I intend to take a somewhat different route in discussing what it means to be human. Hopefully you will be encouraged and God will be pleased.

To understand what it means to be human, we must start in the beginning (no pun intended).[1] God’s plan for the first human relationship involved perfect unity.[2] After awaking from sleep, Adam looked at Eve for the first time and uttered beautiful words that few men have since been able to match in beauty or simplicity,

"This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman, 'for she was taken out of man."[3]

God immediately decrees, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”[4] The first relationship involved unity of a man to his wife. In their sinless world they enjoyed perfect unity. Yet after they sinned, this unity was shattered. The first result of sin Adam and Eve felt was shame as they realized their nakedness. Immediately after this we see that their unity had been disrupted as Adam tries to blame the sin on his wife saying, “The woman you put here with me-she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”[5] Since then all human relationships have been marred by disunity. Yet God’s plan for his people still involves communities that are united. There can be no true hospitality where there is no unity. How can one man edify another if they fighting against each other? How can we be devoted to people with whom we do not have unity? Evidently unity is the foundation for a godly community.

Before we look at unity we must first understand what it is, or perhaps it is best to understand what it is not. Unity does not necessarily indicate that everyone believes exactly the same thing. A person who believes in infant baptism (the Protestant form) can be in harmony with someone who believes in believer’s baptism. Unity does not mean that one person has to lower his standards of doctrine or theology so they come into line with another person’s. What unity does entail is a singleness of purpose or action. It is a sense of harmony and agreement in relationship. Unity is only possible where there is humility and a willingness to esteem others higher than oneself.

Let us turn to the Word of God to learn what our Lord has to teach us about unity. 1 Corinthians 1:10 reads, “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” God calls us to agree with each other, laying aside differences so we can remove any type of division. We are to “stop passing judgment on one another,” allowing us to live in true harmony.[6] Christian unity serves as a powerful witness to unbelievers as they see evidence of God’s redemptive work in the lives of Christians.

Five times in Scripture Paul and Peter tell the readers to greet each other with a holy kiss (or a kiss of love as Peter terms it).[7] At the time and in the culture the Bible was written, a kiss was a form of greeting. The early church adapted this form of greeting and gave it wonderful meaning. Though the kiss of greeting is no longer practiced in our culture (thankfully, I might add, since I am not a big fan of physical contact beyond a friendly hand-shake), the principle holds true. We are to greet one another enthusiastically and meaningfully. The early church adapted the holy kiss as a symbol of their unity. Similarly, our greetings today should reflect the unity we have as a community of Christians. The greetings we are accustomed to in our post-modern society really have lost any real sense of meaning. What is really conveyed in the following typical exchange?

“How’s it going?”“Not bad. You?”“Pretty good.”

And we walk away content in our knowledge that we have just fulfilled our duty by greeting another believer.

That is just a typical exchange that might occur any number of times on a given Sunday morning. What sense of unity does this convey? What interest does one person show in another in such a conversation, if it can even be called that? We do not show true unity, true concern for each other, unless we know each other and unless we are willing to be known by others. There can be no unity where there is no concern. This is the plight of our humanity.

God gives us the ultimate example of unity in the Scripture. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, though one God, are three separate persons. These three persons work together in perfect harmony. While distinct in function, they are united in purpose. And in the Trinity we see how different Christians, each with their own functions and their own identities, can be united. 1 Peter 3:8 says “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” Christ’s humility before His Father is the ultimate example of godly humility and submission. Just a couple of chapters later Peter says “Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”

Community begins with unity and unity begins with humility. Until we esteem others as better than ourselves and until we learn to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Ephesians 5:21), we can never have unity, and will never fully understand what it means to be human.

[1] Genesis 1-2[2] The reason I say first “human” relationship is because the relationship that existed in the Godhead before there was time consisted of perfect unity…which gives meaning to being created in God’s image.[3] Genesis 2:23[4] Genesis 2:24[5] Genesis 3:12[6] Romans 14:13[7] Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14

NOTE: I began reading Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer today. Saying that it would be well worth the time spent in reading it would be an understatement. Read this book.

1 comment:

Matt Snyder said...

Life Together literally changed my life. AMAZING read. Let me know what you're thinking about it.