One of the most jarring medical tools we used when I was an EMT were smelling salts. One early morning, for example, the call came that an adult was unconscious on someone’s front lawn. We checked and found a good pulse and respiration, but he was sound asleep. So we cracked a vial of smelling salts, which cause ammonium carbonate to infuse the cotton netting, then waved it under the man’s nose. That is a decidedly unpleasant way to wake up. But it works, by irritating the mucous membranes and provoking the intake of breath.
It is for that same alertness level that professional athletes in hockey and football also use smelling salts. They think it ups their game. I don’t recommend you try it.
Some truths within the Christian faith are intended to function like smelling salts. True Christianity should be the opposite of “the opiate of the people.” Genuine biblical Christianity is a lot more like smelling salts. It’s meant to jar us out of the usual, shake us out of complacency, and awaken us to how we ought to be seeing. And one of the greatest areas where we tend to need the smelling salts of Scripture is in seeing one another as God does.
We began this series on Seeing As God Does with the crucial foundation of seeing yourself as God does. We locked in on four rock-solid declarations that are true of you if you are trusting in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sin, and you’re seeking daily to follow him as Lord, as Leader of your life. If that describes you, God wants you to grip with unshakable confidence four life-changing truths. Here they are:
- God loves you
- God sees you
- God knows you
- God holds the future
We covered those and more in depth. So if you missed last week, you can find the message at y-church.com. And if that message spoke powerfully to you, then share it on your social media feed. Spread the Word!
So we started this series with the blessings that come from seeing yourself as God does. True Christianity doesn’t stop with self, though. We need to go on to learning to see one another as God does.
If you are married, this has everything to do with how you see your spouse. When marriages hit a dry patch, the greatest single help to improving things is to see your spouse as God does. That can radically improve a marriage.
For all of us who have jobs, today has everything to do with how you see your coworkers, supervisor, and clients or customers. Seeing them as God does can bring purpose and intention and excellence to how you do your work.
Here within the local church, too, seeing one another as God does is key to becoming a church where Jesus himself is at home.
So here’s the game plan for the next several minutes. We’re going to do three things. We will name the three things to keep in mind when you encounter anyone. We will briefly overview the New Testament’s “one another” commands. And we will head into Communion with how Jesus models seeing one another as God does.
We start with three “smelling salt” moments, three “wake up” mindshifts to adopt as you interact with anyone. Genuine Christianity—Christianity that looks like Jesus and the apostles—should change how we see one another, specifically in three ways. Whoever is sitting next to you right now; the grocery store cashier later this afternoon; your boss at work and your kids at home, here come the smelling salts…
This is someone:
Created in God’s image.
Whether you are standing before a stranger who’s helping you at Lowe’s, or you are hearing someone being maligned as stupid or inferior in some way, or you’re looking into the eyes of the one to whom you pledged loyal love in marriage, in every instance, this is someone who has been created in God’s image and deserves to be treated as such. God wants us to wake up about this. When you’re about to badmouth someone whether they’re present or absent, stop. Breathe in the smelling salts and let this truth shock you back to seeing as God does, that this is someone who has been created in God’s image—and deserves to be treated as such.
A cultural anthropologist from Poland studied American society a while back and came to the conclusion that we tend to treat people in one of three ways: as people people, as what she called machine people, and as landscape.
The ones we love and like, we treat as what she called people people. To people people, we’re kinder, more considerate, we go out of our way for them. People people.
Then there are what she called machine people. That may include the janitor who cleans your office. You probably don’t know their name. Like a machine, they cross your path only to perform a function for your benefit. Machine people.
And finally, she concluded, there are people whom we treat as though they were landscape. The disembodied voice in McDonald’s drive-through. Maybe the landscapers who maintain your subdivision. The person who rings you up at Kroger.
The challenge, the smelling salts shock God wants us to breathe in is that no one is just machine people. No one is landscape. Each person, including those you don’t particularly like, have been created in God’s image, and deserve to be treated as such.
The second “wake up and breathe in the smelling salts” mindshift to adopt with everyone is that this is someone:
For whom Christ came.
Each person you cross paths with is someone God so loved, that he sent his one and only Son for them, so that believing in Jesus, they might not perish but have eternal life. We need to take John 3:16 and apply it to our anthropology, to how we see other people. That’s what we’re really talking about this morning—discovering and adopting a distinctly Christian anthropology; seeing people as God does.
So when you’re about to kick someone to the curb verbally or in your mind;
When you’re about to jump on the bandwagon in trashing a person or group that others despise…stop. Breathe in the smelling salt shock that Jesus came for this person. God wants this person to hear of Jesus and see the character of Jesus from Christians. If we remembered this when we were about to chime in bashing someone, we would be shocked—and need to.
Most people know C.S. Lewis as author of The Chronicles of Narnia. Lesser-known is that not only was he an excellent author and professor at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England. He was also a devout Christian. Lewis could have been an intellectual snob. He could have treated only people who were his intellectual peers as people people, but then look down on the majority as machine people and worthless landscape. Instead, seeing people as God does, Lewis wrote this challenge. Let this startle you like smelling salts:
“Remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would strongly be tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations [he means toward either heaven or hell]. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”
(C. S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory)
“All day long we are…helping each other to [heaven or hell]. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities…that we should conduct all our dealings with one another: all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” (C. S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory)
That’s arresting! Rarely do we see one another like that. Yet that’s the reality. Every person you interact with, talk about, or post about, is someone for whom Jesus came.
What could God do if we carried this mindset into our conversations—at church, at work, in our homes, in our online presence, and around town? What would look and sound different if in every interaction, we breathed in the startling reality that this is someone who has been created in God’s image, for whom Christ came? I suspect “machine” people would begin to feel appreciated. “Landscape” people would begin to feel acknowledged. And our anthropology would begin to align more closely with our theology.
The third “wake up and breathe in the smelling salts” mindshift God calls us to with one another is that this is someone…
Whom I am commanded to love:
Jewish tradition holds that there are 613 commandments in the Torah, in just the first five books of the Bible. That’s overwhelming. It’s burdensome. So when Jesus was asked to identify the greatest commandment, he was crystal clear.
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31
Every person you cross paths with or even think about is one who has been created in God’s image, for whom Christ came, and who you are commanded to love. Without exception. This is one of the “smelling salts” moments. God commands us to love…
- My neighbor
There’s the most basic level. Love the people you live with, the people you work alongside, and the people who live nearby. This one can be hard enough at times. Second, God commands us to love…
- My brother or sister
Galatians 6:10 says…“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:10
We’re commanded to love our neighbor. And in a deep, real way, we’re commanded to love one another within Christ’s Church. Third, God commands us to love…
- Even my enemies
Jesus, heaven’s paramedic, sees how we try to justify hating certain people, or certain groups of people. But he isn’t having it. He reaches into his go box, grabs the vial of smelling salts, cracks it open, and waves it before our noses, saying this…
“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and [you assume that means you can then] hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.” Matthew 5:43-46 NLT
That’s a smelling salts moment. This stunned Jesus’ original audience, and it still stuns today. The temptation upon hearing this is to look for exceptions. We’re okay with loving our neighbor, but not those who aren’t neighborly toward us. We need the smelling salts.
Let me tell you a wonderful, powerful story of this at work today. Nabil Hanna, the pastor of St. George Orthodox Church here in Fishers, tells how when we visited Egypt after a season of intense persecution against Christians, something he had never before seen happened: seeing his priest’s collar, people came up to him on the streets with one of two requests. Some asked, “Please, say a blessing over me.” Others asked him to secretly baptize them as new Christians. These are people who have grown up Muslim. Nabil explained the reason why people were approaching a priest asking to be blessed or baptized into the Christian faith is because when their Christian peers were being persecuted, they watched as Christians loved in return. Where hatred was the expected response, instead, the Christians forgave, and prayed for their persecutors. We have much to learn—from Jesus, and from our brothers and sisters in the faith around the world.
So there you have three “smelling salts” truths intended to wake us up to see one another as God does. Each time you interact with someone—whether they are someone you treasure and enjoy, or this is someone your emotions or personal history tell you you should hate, God waves these three “smelling salts” beneath our noses. This is someone:
- Created in God’s image.
- For whom Christ came.
- Whom I am commanded to love:
Whether my neighbor
My brother or sister in the faith
Or even my enemy
The one another commands in the New Testament are found in a hundred places, and break out into three main themes:
This first and strongest emphasis is for unity, that we work at staying unified with one another in the Church. Christ whom we serve and our witness to the world deserve us doing all we can to stay united. And so the one another commands around unity are actions like pursuing pursue peace with one another, using our words to build up one another, accepting one another across differences, forgiving one another, and confessing our sins to one another. Those are all actions that promote and protect genuine unity.
The second main theme of the New Testament’s one another commands is loving one another like Jesus loves us. That looks like serving one another. It looks like humbly, gently, patiently bear with one another in love, making allowance for each other’s faults. It looks like being devoted to one another out of devotion to our common Lord.
And the third main theme of the New Testament’s one another commands is humility. Put into practice, when we are humble, we will honor one another. We will think of one another, not just ourselves. We will live in harmony with one another.
All of these are the work of the Holy Spirit, and we’re called to cooperate with the Spirit in him giving us this kind of love for one another.
Ray Ortlund looks at these one another commands and grabs the smelling salts, writing:
The beautiful one another commands of the New Testament are famous. But it is also striking to notice the one anothers that do not appear there. For example, we don’t read that we’re to humble one another, scrutinize one another, pressure one another, embarrass one another, corner one another, defeat one another, shame one another, marginalize one another, exclude one another, run one another’s lives, or confess one another’s sins…[And then he concludes] The kind of God we really believe in is revealed in how we treat one another.” Bam! That’s smelling salts!
The kind of God we really believe in is revealed in how we treat one another.
As we head into Communion, let’s remember Jesus modeled how to see one another as God does. John chapter 13 describes the scene. It is Jesus’ final meal with these Twelve men he has been doing life with for the past few years. He knows his time has come. He knows the devil has prompted Judas to betray him. He knows that God the Father has put all things under his power. Knowing all these things, Jesus stoops to serve the Twelve, by doing a job so menial that Jewish household servants could not be required to do it: he washes their feet. He who is Lord over them, stoops and serves them. He even washes Judas’ feet.
Then he asks, “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
Then he states it as a command, saying, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
They came into the room with proud hearts and dirty feet. Jesus humbled himself to serve them. He calls us to do the same for one another. This is seeing one another as God does. This is what we remember as we come to Communion, our Lord who stooped to serve, leaving us an example to follow and a command to obey.