There are two kinds of people at a party. There are those whose words and actions announce, “Here I am!” and those whose words and actions say, “There you are!” The “Here I am” person might be the life of the party but it’s the “There you are” person that makes you glad you came.
I met someone the other day – we were alone in a business setting – who hardly acknowledged my presence. That was alright with me. He’s probably not much of a talker and he seemed like a decent guy; I liked him. But it got me thinking that there is a better and a worse way to encounter people, whether one is meeting them for the first time or the thousandth.
I’m not thinking of a technique but of an attitude. One can open doors by using techniques from a book like “How to Work a Room,” but those doors will not remain open unless there is an authentic presence behind the technique. It occurs to me that one of the best things we can do is learn how to encounter people in ways that build and strengthen relationships.
The always-brilliant Apostle Paul urged the local church in Rome to “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Paul was not talking about a technique but a lifestyle, one that he himself lived. When you reads his letters, focusing on the relationships that existed between Paul and his correspondents, it is pretty clear that he was a “There you are!” kind of guy.
Paul urged his readers “to accept one another,” though the sense of resignation in the English word “accept” could be misleading. In the original language, the word is more dynamic. It has the sense of taking someone in or drawing them to yourself. It is a warm word.
There is a beautiful example of this in the Bible. Priscilla and her husband Aquila were great friends of the Apostle Paul and wise and influential members of the early church. When they heard a young evangelist named Apollos preaching (and making some mistakes), they “took him in” – the same word Paul used in his Romans letter. They did not reproach Apollos for his mistakes but encouraged and gently corrected him. How different the history of early Christianity might have been had they not known how to accept another person as Christ had accepted them.
To accept someone as Christ accepted you means welcoming that person into your life warmly, like the father of the prodigal welcomed his son. He did not present his son with a catalogue of grievances but with a party. He made sure his son knew that he was wanted.
If we’re going to accept people as Christ accepted us, we must not throw their failures in their face. Never once in the New Testament do we find Jesus going over a list of a potential follower’s offenses. This doesn’t mean that we ignore a person’s past but that we believe in a person’s future.
When we accept someone the way Christ accepted us, we can’t treat that person as a project to be completed but as a person to be esteemed. We recognize that person’s history and respect his or her autonomy. This means we don’t offer acceptance on the condition that the person meets our expectations. We don’t accept people on condition but on principle.
That being said, it is important to realize that accepting a person as Christ does may require sacrifice, but it will not be the sacrifice of either our principles or our autonomy. Christ did not compromise his beliefs in order to accept me. The idea that accepting a person requires me to endorse his beliefs and behaviors is born of a modern-day moral confusion and not of love.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 7/23/2016