by Matthew W. Bassford
The apostle Paul was fond of sarcasm, not because he didn’t love people, but because he did. When Christians he had converted turned aside from Christ, it drove him to distraction, and that distraction often found its expression in heartfelt exasperation.
One such expression appears in II Corinthians 11:4. In contrast to the stubborn resistance the Corinthians put up to Paul’s teaching, they listened eagerly to the false teachers who followed him. Paul tells them that they bore a different gospel beautifully, implying that the attention they devoted to the workers of deceit was the attention they should have devoted to him.
Today, there are far too many Christians who bear a different gospel beautifully, and it is entirely understandable that they should do so. In the sense of I Corinthians 2:14, the gospel is unnatural. It does two things in particular that humans don’t like. It demands that we do hard things ourselves, and it keeps us from adopting easy workarounds. When a different gospel diminishes the former and permits the latter, we tend to bear it beautifully.
To see how this works, let’s pick a simple example: hospitality. The Bible commands us to be hospitable, a sacred tradition that stretches back to the days of Abraham if not earlier. Hebrews 13:2 tells us that we should follow Abraham’s example because he entertained angels without knowing it. This refers, I think, not only to the possibility of supernatural visitors but also to the impact that hospitality can have both on others and on us.
Hospitality reveals the generosity and kindness of Christ. As we practice hospitality, we become more like Him. It surely is a part of walking in a manner worthy of the gospel!
However, there’s a problem. Hospitality is hard. It goes against the grain of our culture. Either we invest a lot of time in cleaning up and preparing a nice meal, or we expose our messy fast-food reality. We might even have to invite over a rampaging mob of church kids. Not surprisingly, many modern-day Christians struggle to show hospitality.
There are two solutions to this problem. Either we do better at hospitality ourselves (still hard), or we outsource hospitality to the church. The latter is much more appealing. Sustaining that fellowship hall at the church building will cost some money, but we have more money than time. We drop a check in the plate, and we never have to open our home to anybody again.
As elegant as this solution seems, there are issues with it. First, it’s different. First-century Christians were in the hospitality business, but the first-century church wasn’t. Second, the fellowship halls, gyms, and so forth might produce hospitality of a sort, but they don’t produce a congregation of hospitable Christians. Anything that subverts the gospel goal of godliness is hostile to it.
Walking in the ancient paths is difficult and frustrating. We are inclined to Americanize our faith by departing from it in ways that seem good to the wisdom of our time. Consequently, the words of the agents of change often fall on receptive ears.
However, we do better to consider the wisdom of the One who laid out those ancient paths in the first place. His ways are not our ways, and He always has reasons for His commandments and His silence, even if those reasons are not apparent to us. Rather than bearing a different gospel, we should strive instead to bear our cross.