Like most folks, I try to avoid commercials on television. However, there are a few that I’ll actually watch. The Foundation for a Better Life (values.com) has a series of ads that promote positive cultural values. I’m sure you’ve seen some of these. One is set to Kenny Chesney’s “The Good Stuff”; another to Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up”; another to Celine Dion’s “The Power of a Dream.” There are several. It is hard to be against pursuing dreams or celebrating those who have helped us or including others in our activities.
The only question is why we should pursue these positive activities or values. Do we advocate for (allegedly) positive values just because they are positive? Who says that these are things that are positive? After all, there are some among us who don’t believe in inclusivity. There are others who point out that no one has helped them, so why look to the past. Yet others who suggest that society is better when everyone knows their place (in other words, pursue your dreams as long as it doesn’t upset the current order).
As Christians, of course, we recognize that there is a code of ethics that shapes our behavior, particularly our interaction with one another. That code of ethics is firmly rooted in our reading and interpretation of Holy Scripture. Does the Bible have anything to say about “positive” values? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
I Thessalonians 5: 11 says, “Therefore, encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” Romans 14: 19 says, “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” Hebrews 10: 24 says, “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” What a wonderful turn of phrase: “provoke one another to love…” Each of these (and of course many more) passages direct Christians to be positive, to celebrate the victories of each other and to build up one another rather than tear one another down. These are good lessons, to be sure. But if we dig just a little bit deeper, we can see why scripture directs us this way.
Our Hebrews passage is part of a larger sermon that encourages Christians facing hard times to hold fast in the faith because of our redemption brought about by the blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As we look to the cross, we can, even in the worst of times, provoke one another to love and lift up one another, for we know that we have been bought by Christ. The Romans passage is set in the middle of Paul’s exhortation to “grown-up Christians” to not be a stumbling block for others as they pursue the faith. There is a larger thing at stake than simply our own faith; indeed, the very Kingdom of God is revealed in and through us! We are to make little sacrifices so that others might come to know the love of God through Jesus Christ. Those of us who have already accepted Christ as our Savior are expected to make it easier for others to do the same. And perhaps most strikingly, the Thessalonians lesson falls at the end of a passage that foresees the return of Jesus Christ. Building up one another stands as the key lesson of the end times! Reminders of God’s provision (in the future) for those who have died are powerful testaments to God’s care for all believers in the present. Notices of permanent union with the Lord in the future are challenging statements about God’s desire for believers to come together on earth right now.
These commandments from scripture are not innocuous ideas (as indeed the ads of TV may be). They are radical and impinge on how we are to live our lives now. These passages challenge us to know and understand the sordid experiences of our brothers and sisters in the world and live with one another in light of God’s sacrificial act on the cross and His return in the future. So when we are told to “build up one another” or “provoke one another to love” these are not simply nice ideas set to catchy music. These are foundational commandments for us as we seek to love God and love neighbor. Let us endeavor to make a better life for one another. Let us be provoked to love someone who may not know love any other way.