Wineskins Archive

February 12, 2014

Between a Rock and a Hard Place (Nov-Dec 2001)

Filed under: — @ 1:59 pm and

by Mike Cope
November – December, 2001

Odysseus was caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. On his journey home to Ithaca and to his wife, Penelope, he had to navigate his ship between Scylla, a dangerous rock, and Charybdis, the unforgiving whirlpool on the opposite side. The two dangers (personified as female monsters) have come to represent any situation with two perils–neither of which can be evaded without risking the other.

The church is called by Jesus to navigate such a dangerous strait: between the Scylla of comfortable accommodation and the Charybdis of sectarian withdrawal. We are to be, in the language of Jesus, in the world but not of the world.

This wasn’t just his language, however; it was also his lifestyle. Jesus was truly among us–becoming like us in every way except for his sinlessness (Hebrews 4: 15). While some religious sects were withdrawing to avoid contamination from the lethal germs of ungodliness, Jesus was constantly found in the company of tax collectors and sinners. When religious leaders objected, he explained: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

And while other “religious” folks were joining in the sinful lifestyles around, Jesus maintained absolute purity. He knew how to deeply love lost people without being trapped by their sinful thoughts and actions.

It has always been a temptation for God’s people to veer off course–either to drift toward a cozy accommodation with the sinful values and behavior of the world (materialism, injustice, immorality, misuse of power, etc.) or to head toward a “gospel ghetto” that flees in fear from the world. Christian history is replete with examples of both.

The irony of our situation today is that we flirt with Scylla and Charybdis at the same time. As George Hunsberger has insightfully written: “In our minds and hearts we have not sufficiently departed to the loyalties of the gospel, and with our hands and feet we have not become deeply enough immersed on behalf of the gospel.” In other words, we face the predicament of being “of the world, but not in the world.”

What God’s people need is both a radical departure and a radical immersion! It’s the way of the incarnation.

Against our easy flirtations with sin, we need sacrificial purity. We need values that have been reshaped by the crucifixion and resurrection. We must resist the temptations posed all around us by our culture–the temptation to live for luxuries while ignoring the poor, the temptation to keep marriage commitments only while we’re happy and fulfilled, the temptation to fill our minds with lustful thoughts and images, the temptation to even all scores with retaliation, and the temptation to draw our sense of self from shallow definitions of beauty.

And against our inclination to run from sinful people, we need to learn the redemptive way of Jesus, whose presence with sinners was scandalous. We must learn to love the unredeemed without taking on their lifestyle.

Our goal, then, is to be fully engaged in the world without being married to it. We can’t be “of the world” if we are to follow Jesus. Our lives must be distinctive. But we must also be “in the world.” Rather than escape, hide, build high walls, and then pull up the draw bridge, we must open ourselves to people who are lost in every sense of the word.

Join us in this issue of New Wineskins as we seek to chart and explore that delicate course. . . .New Wineskins

Mike Cope


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