Putting Jesus and Paul before personal freedom – Baptist News Global

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Yesterday on my way home I went to the supermarket to pick up a few things. Arriving at the gate along with a young mother and her child coming from another part of the parking lot, I was surprised when she stopped smiling and waved me in first.

Several minutes after starting my shopping list, not finding a product after a frustrating search, I asked for information from an employee stocking products. Even though he was busy, he left his workspace and led me through several aisles to show me the exact spot where it was stored on a bottom shelf.

Robert Sellers

Then later, as I approached a crowded queue, someone already in the queue saw that I only had a few items in my cart and stepped back, indicating that I had to go through in front of her and a full cart.

I guess you’ve experienced this kind of unassuming cuteness as well. They are everyday civility, neighborhood actions we might all associate with a less rushed, more polite time in our nation’s history – or the way our mothers taught us to behave.

The golden rule

But they also illustrate the Golden Rule, a version of which was given by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you; for it is the law and the prophets ”(Matthew 7:12).

Ben Witherington, New Testament Methodist professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, comments on this principle:

Jesus was by no means the first or the only person to propose a version of the Golden Rule. There is the famous saying of Rabbi Hillel (110 BCE-10 CE), for example: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor; this is the whole Torah, while the rest is commentary; go and learn. … It should be noted that Jesus insists on a positive formulation of the maxim, while other forms, both Jewish and Greco-Roman… tend to be negative. Jesus is not just talking about avoiding evil or (the) appearance of evil. He talks about doing good to others.

Indeed, this advice is a maxim common to most religions and cultures. The principle of treating others as we would like to be treated is reflected in the wisdom of ancient Egypt, India, Greece, Rome and Persia – as well as in the major world religions and philosophies of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism. , Jainism, Sikhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, Baha’i, Humanism and Existentialism.

This moral principle is so pervasive and influential that it was cited in the famous document “Declaration towards a Global Ethics”, initially written by the Catholic theologian Hans Küng and ratified in 1993 and then updated in 2018 by the Parliament of Religions of world.

Selfish kindness

Yet there is an element of selfishness implicit in the Golden Rule, because acting positively towards others can inspire positive behavior towards oneself. Regarding the human tendency to act in one’s own self-interest, Jesus was not naive, notes Witherington: “Jesus assumes self-interest and self-esteem and seeks to nudge the public towards self-sacrifice, respect and self-esteem. love of others.

“There is an element of selfishness implicit in the Golden Rule, because acting positively towards others can inspire positive behavior towards oneself.”

Courteous manners, such as the ordinary manners cited above, are often encountered in our friendly southern culture. Unfortunately, however, sometimes the motivation for such behavior – other than training and habit – may actually resonate more with the saying “Honey catches more flies than vinegar”, which teaches that it is ” easier to get what you want by being polite rather than being rude and sass.

Honor others

But the purpose of the Golden Rule is not the personal gain that one might get in exchange for being kind to another. Instead, the instruction emphasizes how one should behave towards others in a real situation and not what one might receive in an imaginary situation. The principle concerns how to honor and value the other, whether or not there is a mutual benefit for oneself.

Understanding the rule in this way makes it clearly consistent with a teaching of the apostle Paul. In his letter to the church in Philippi, he rebuked, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vanity, but with humility, regard others as better than yourself. Let each of you not look to your own interests, but to those of others ”(Philippines 2: 3-4).

The first 11 verses of chapter 2 concern our imitation of the humility of Christ, as commemorated in the Christological hymn recited in verses 6-11. Richard Hays, professor emeritus of the New Testament at Duke Divinity School, comments on this Filipino passage:

The obedience of Christ until death (2: 8) is offered to the Philippians as a model for their own obedience (2:12). Just as he suffered obediently, the Philippians are to stand firm in the gospel, even when he compels them to suffer (1: 27-30). As he humbled himself… and took the form of a slave, so the Philippians should in humility… become servants of the interests of others. Thus, Paul takes a hymn whose original purpose is doxological and employs it in the service of moral exhortation. Christ becomes a “model” who lights the path to obedience.

The apostle is clear: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2: 5). Just as Christ stripped himself of himself in his humility and sacrifice for others, Jesus’ disciples must also humbly and willingly serve the interests of friends and strangers.

Living the golden rule in times of pandemic

So how do these two warnings, one from Jesus and the other from Paul, relate to current conflicts during the pandemic in America over vaccination or wearing masks?

“I am constantly amazed that people who claim to be Christians refuse to be vaccinated against COVID or to wear masks in public. “

I am constantly amazed that people who claim to be Christians refuse to be vaccinated against COVID or wear masks in public.

Given the frightening increase in infections and serious illnesses due to the spread of the Delta variant – and reports that almost all pandemic deaths are unvaccinated – it stands to reason that the golden rule is relevant. One should want to protect others by being vaccinated, just as one would like to be protected against contamination by the virus. This conclusion is valid whatever the religious or philosophical tradition followed. No one really wants to get sick and risk hospitalization and death.

But what is even more important is the apostle’s instruction. Anyone – especially a follower of Christ – should humbly consider the welfare of others more than their own welfare. This implies that wearing a mask, the purpose of which has always been explained to be to protect those who are nearby, is an obvious way to apply a clear New Testament teaching to a contemporary ethical problem.

Yet many Americans – even Christians – claim that their personal freedoms outweigh any responsibility for doing something they do not wish to do. “As an American,” they assert, “I am free to do whatever I want. “

This is not true, others will insist, citing a familiar exception: “You are not free to cry ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”

But this line, it seems to me, does not really correspond to our dilemma today. Not wearing a mask or getting vaccinated on the basis of personal freedom is not like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. This scenario imagines that someone is creating a dangerous situation for others on the basis of a fiction.

“You are not free to know that there is a fire in a crowded theater but not to yell ‘fire’ and thus secretly escape to safety without warning others.”

Another reasoning seems more relevant: “You are not free to know that there is a fire in a crowded theater but not to yell ‘fire’ and thus secretly escape to safety without warning others. This hypothetical case imagines a person endangering others in the midst of a real life threatening situation. Not getting vaccinated or wearing a mask, as the pandemic spreads, literally threatens the well-being, perhaps even the very lives, of those around you as you claim that you are simply exercising freedoms and choices. personal.

Disagreements over vaccines and masks are really about health and safety and are not just political differences of opinion or issues of individual freedom. These differences between supporters of the Centers for Disease Control and anti-vax, anti-mask “patriots” are shattering friendships and dividing families in our terribly divided America.

Good citizens and faithful disciples of Christ

In 2015, during an Ebola outbreak in West Africa that also threatened our own country, the then little-known director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, was interviewed by Atlantic. As the article reports Fauci

raised the idea of ​​personal freedom, which is really at the heart of objections to vaccine requirements. Sure, [children] can not [always] be vaccinated [at their young age], leaving them vulnerable to everything, so choosing not to vaccinate is no more a matter of personal freedom than choosing to drive drunk or practice archery blindfolded in a crowded elevator … . The central question is how to get people to care about infectious diseases beyond their own short-term likelihood of contracting something.

Now, six years after the uncertainty expressed by Fauci about how to get Americans to truly commit to the measures necessary to protect their fellow citizens, even members of their own families, we are living the same conundrum. Yet for Christians the decision is not just whether or not to be good citizens. It is also a question of whether to be faithful disciples of Christ.

To paraphrase my friend from North Carolina, Dennis Foust, who put it so concretely and deeply in his recent St. John’s sermon: “Obey Jesus. Love your neighbor. Get vaccinated and wear a mask!

Rob sellers is Professor Emeritus of Theology and Missions at Logsdon Seminary at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. He was chairman of the board of directors of the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago. He and his wife, Janie, have served for a quarter of a century as missionary teachers in Indonesia. They live in Waco, Texas.

Related Articles:

In the American cultural divide, the golden rule is no longer enough | Opinion of Mark Wingfield

Have you heard of empathy as a sin?

Love your global neighbor | Opinion of Knox Thames

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