Best of Daily Reflections: Should We Act Like Superheroes?
“…in Christ, I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love…”
I am a sucker for superheroes. Every summer, the theaters fill up with the latest Spiderman, Batman, or Avenger. Most of the movies are completely forgettable, but I always enjoy them in the moment. There is something about a superhero’s courage and confidence. Superheroes are bold. They see a problem, and they fix it. They see a bad guy, and they punch him.
Fist fights and explosions may look good on the big screen, but they aren’t spiritual disciplines. This is Paul’s point when he advocates for Philemon’s slave Onesimus. The slave had either run away or sought Paul’s help to advocate on his behalf with his master. Regardless of the details, Onesimus was not in a powerful position.
Paul didn’t take bold action, though. He didn’t throw his weight around or even demand that Philemon set the slave free. Instead, Paul makes a generic appeal based on the highest form of Christian love, agape. This makes sense because Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus are all Christians.
But Christians are called to love their enemies too. If you are like me, there are people in your daily life and work that you sometimes want to punch. We may not call them an enemy, but we definitely don’t want to be around them. These people might be a problem for others too. Maybe they are lazy, sloppy, inefficient, incompetent, negative, or just plain hateful. In many workplace situations like this, we want to act like superheroes.
Our culture expects courage and action and boldness and strength. We like our leaders tough, so we try to act tough ourselves—in business meetings, in memos, on phone calls with clients and coworkers. Sometimes it is good to be bold. But often, we can reach out to our friends and coworkers with a little more love, patiently appealing to their sense of charity and goodness and justice.
Even if this doesn’t work, others will see how we treat our “enemies.” Then maybe people will extend grace to us when we are not at our best.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How are you responding to conflict in your life, at home, at church, or at work? Are you leaping to bold decisions and tough action? What would it look like to rely more on agape?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, I admit that I have trouble wanting to do what Paul’s letter suggests. I’ve worked with some pretty rotten people over the years. Some of them were just lazy or selfish, but a few of them were downright evil. The thought of reaching out to people like this in agape love seems a bit foolish. Yet I know that you call us to turn the other cheek, to seek the good of others over ourselves.
In many of your parables, you also tell stories of people who multiply their money through good business, so I know it is okay to be shrewd and wise in my work. You don’t want me to fail because I am always acting like a pushover. This is not what love means.
Sometimes, I need you to remind me what love looks like. Love never fails. It is patient and kind and humble and polite. It rejoices in truth and justice and hope. Help me to bring love to every relationship and challenge that I face today. Thank you, thank you for sending us Jesus to be the perfect example of love in the world. Amen.
P.S. from Mark Roberts: The Daily Reflections for this week have been written by my friend and colleague, Marcus Goodyear. He has penned a wonderful five-day series based on the New Testament book of Philemon. I know you'll find these to be engaging and encouraging. In his "day job," Marcus oversees The High Calling website and digital community in his role as Senior Editor at Foundations for Laity Renewal. He is a teacher, poet, writer, speaker, and top-notch editor, not to mention husband, father, and valued friend. I know you'll appreciate Marcus' thoughtful reflections this week. I'll be back with you on Saturday.