Don’t Excuse Cultural Behavior
Generally, each one of us is the product of the family and society in which we grew up. This means that we learned our way of life, our thinking, our behavior and our value system from those around us. We accept these standards as normal or even superior to those of others, and we automatically evaluate and judge everyone and everything we encounter by what we have been taught.
There are deep, ingrained thought and behavioral patterns in each society that stand out and characterize its people. Though not all individuals may exhibit every one of these trademarks, most people will have them, at least to some degree.
Some of these outstanding features are positive in light of the biblical standard—for example, generosity, hospitality, hard work, being easily adaptable and loyalty—but others are not: jealousy, feelings that are easily hurt, taking revenge at all costs, outbursts of anger, fighting for one’s way, disloyalty, dishonesty for personal gain and pride in social status.
As followers of Christ, we are called to represent Jesus to this world through our lives: “Because as He is, so also are we in this world. ...Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ” (1 John 4:17; 2 Corinthians 5:20).
Our calling to be an exact representation of Jesus in the way we think, act and live may, in many areas, conflict severely with the behavior pattern of our society and culture. What should our response be? How should we resolve this problem?
Many Christians simply ignore or justify their unbiblical behavior with the excuse that their anger or tendency to fight is simply part of their culture and therefore acceptable. In their perception, this character trait is nothing serious, and so they never make a genuine attempt to change. Even when the Holy Spirit convicts them of their un-Christlike behavior, they don’t respond with sincerity. In reality, their cultural heritage takes priority over their calling.
This attitude has seriously hurt the cause of Christ. The world around us is not able to see a clear representation of Christ in our lives, but rather a mixture of Christianity and culturally unbiblical behavior. It makes the Gospel look weak and seemingly unable to fulfill 2 Corinthians 5:17—“Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
The sad thing is that in the Lord’s work it has become normal to hear statements like these:
We don’t take Bible school students from XX people group, because they always fight and cause divisions. ...Be careful if you put anyone from XX background into leadership; no matter how loyal he appears to be, one day he will stab you in the back. ...Don’t be fooled by the gentleness of a Christian worker from XX place—these people always build cliques with their own kind and cause a lot of problems.
The apostle Paul faced similar problems on his mission fields. In his letter to Titus, Paul gave clear instructions about how Titus should deal with converts in Crete, whose cultural behavior conflicted with Scripture:
One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. For this cause reprove them severely that they may be sound in the faith (Titus 1:12–13).
Paul didn’t give these new Christians an excuse for their “normal” Cretan lifestyle, nor did he say that it was impossible for them to change. He obviously believed that these people could become a clear and powerful testimony for Christ.
We must recognize that we are living in a fallen world, corrupted by sin. God does not want us to despise the culture and people we are part of. But He expects us to make a careful evaluation of the thinking and behavior patterns of our society in the light of Scripture. As followers of Christ, God’s Word must be the final authority for our life—in any culture—for us to be able to accurately represent Christ.
For the sake of Jesus, let us not be blind to the things in our culture that contradict God’s Word. Instead, let us become a testimony for the transforming power of the Gospel.
May the Lord bless you and let you realize that He is always with you.
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