A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
Outdoing One Another
March 26, 2015
This week we wrap up our series on “Grace and Gratitude” by considering the third dimension of gratitude-shaped living. We considered earlier how gratitude shapes both our worship of God and our dealings with the world around us. Today we turn to the matter of how gratitude shapes our relationships within the family of the church.
Gratitude is a core marker of the love to which Jesus calls his followers: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) This love is marked both in how we act toward each other (seeking each other’s good rather than our own), and how we respond to each other (expressing gratitude for who they are and what they do for us).
The love to which Jesus calls us is expressed in action; it’s more than just feelings. My response to my sisters and brothers ought always to be governed by love that is marked by gratitude. As people who belong together because of God’s grace lavished upon us, our only appropriate response is to express our gratitude to God by extending the same gratitude to one another. Just as our love to God and love for each other are inseparable, our gratitude to God is impossible to express apart from expressing gratitude to one another.
One way to clarify what a gratitude-shaped fellowship looks like is to consider some of the stepping-stones down the pathway of ingratitude.
Taking others for granted. Perhaps this is the most widespread of all ingratitude markers. It creeps up on us because it seems so very benign. We simply quit saying “thanks.” It happens all too easily. It neglects one of our deepest human needs, our need to be appreciated.
Ignoring. Sometimes we ignore others intentionally, to avoid becoming inconveniently entangled. But usually we are just too self-absorbed to take notice of others’ presence, gifts, or needs. Failure to express gratitude and failure to assist those in need are rooted in the same soil. Instead of noticing and celebrating you and your gifts, I act as though I have no need of you. (1 Corinthians 12:21)
Belittling. It is but a small step from ignoring to belittling. When I ignore you, I am implying you are not worth my time or attention. When I belittle you, I make that explicit. It is my pathetic way of trying to establish my own superiority. Belittling is fundamentally an act of selfishness.
Contempt. Contempt moves us from selfishness into outright hostility. It is the chief currency of political discourse in our place and time. Ingratitude has led us from the mutual affirmation that marks healthy relationships to the inability to see anything praiseworthy in each other.
Blame. When we lose all sight of what is praiseworthy in each other, we begin to blame each other for whatever is going badly in our world, our community, or our church. We are no longer able to recognize, let alone confess our own sin. We presume ourselves righteous, and others as sinners.
Judgment. Ingratitude to others leads us step by step down a pathway that eventually lands us in full-blown judgmentalism. Failure to live by the most frequently-repeated commandment in the New Testament, “Love one another,” leads us to offend against the second most-frequently repeated command: “Judge not.”
As people who practice gratitude toward each other, Christians choose to assume the best of each other. When members of the fellowship err, they double up their efforts to “maintain constant love for one another [that] covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) They find no pleasure in exposing the sins of one another. Instead they confess their own sins, forgiving those who sin against them.
Expressing gratitude to each other is the fundamental act of honoring one another. In a genuinely Christian community, our aim is always to honor each other, rather than casting aspersions against each other. The Christian community is a community of contest – not a contest against each other, but a love-contest. How can we out-love and out-thank each other? Saint Paul puts it this way: “Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10)
This kind of community is radically different from our surrounding culture. In a world marked everywhere by ignoring, belittling, holding in contempt, blaming, and judging those who are different from us, imagine the power of Christian witness if we made a habit of genuinely thanking each other as our first response to one another!
Just say it: “Thank you!” Let me begin by thanking YOU, my brothers and sisters in this community known as Pittsburgh Presbytery, for all you have done to encourage me in the journey we share. Thank you to each of our congregations for proclaiming faithfully the Word of the Lord in your ministry and mission. Thank you for the love you show for our Lord by loving your neighbors within and beyond your congregation. I am grateful beyond words that the Lord has knit me to you. You are a treasure to our Lord, and to me as well.
Grateful for you,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister
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