Our Geometry I teacher administered a test early in the semester. It was a picture of four triangles with some of the angles noted, lengths of several of the perimeter sides listed, and a place to calculate certain measures. The test was to find the area of the figures, the perimeters of each drawing, and several of the angles. In the answers box were slots and spaces for the triangle measures, their circumference, mass, and velocity. Only the brightest math students did well on it. They knew that some of the calculations requested didn't apply to triangles or geometry. They involved chemistry or physics equations. It was a good examination of our grasp of basic geometry. She tricked us with what I'd like to call adiaphora, the Greek term for indifferent things. They're important, but not to the study of triangles. That inert triangle didn't have any velocity to measure. Duh!
The Reformers debated adiaphora in their formulation of theological standards at the time. Its been a complicated study since the sixteenth century, what actually constitutes indifferent things theologically. It's longer than I can discuss in this venue and way beyond my pay grade. But, there is a human tendency to be side-tracked by things that really don't figure into what we're about. Relational geometry is no exception. To enlarge our personal influence we must be able to differentiate between life issues that matter and those that don't. This isn't to minimize the elements central to our influence or make little of those things that comprise our value systems. It is to recognize that in relational geometry, we shouldn't major on minors.
There's an old story that may illustrate our tendency in this regard.
Years ago a construction superintendent was assigned a project in a small
Southern town. As was his custom, he decided to attend a local church while residing
there. So, on the first Saturday night, he washed his jeans and denim shirt, ironed
them, polished his old cowboy boots, and groomed himself to attend old First Church.
When he arrived he was welcomed, found a seat up front, and worshiped. The worship
was inspiring and reverent, the sermon was challenging and biblical, and the people
were nice. After the service he stood in line at the front door to shake the pastor's hand
and thank him for the message. When he was ready to leave, one of the deacons
approached him, thanked him for attending, invited him back again, saying, "We're glad
you chose to worship with us. We hope you'll come again. But, before next Sunday,
please pray and ask God what attire is most appropriate for worship at First Church".
The next week he washed and ironed his clothing, polished his boots, combed his hair
and did his usual job of personal grooming. After thanking the pastor again for the
service and message, the deacon said, "Thanks again for choosing First Church. By the
way, did you remember to ask God about what clothing would be suitable for attending
First Church?" After thought he said, "Yes, I did. And God said he hadn't attended First
Church in a long time and didn't know what was trending right now."
It was an instance of poor relational geometry. That deacon was obviously allowing adiaphora, the way people dress, to govern his circle of influence. He marginalized his influence and that of the church by indifferent things.
In my opinion, the Apostle Paul was one of the most influential people who ever lived. Scroll through the New Testament to see how God used a Jewish Pharisee to touch lives, change environments, and plant churches. Notice also the relational geometry that guided the way he encountered people and ministered to them. Up front is the way he dealt with the adiaphora that could have restricted his influence. He had a unique and God given way to steer around those things that divided people in order to introduce them to the Gospel and a changed life. The list is long: the circumcision of Gentile believers; food offered to idols; spiritual gifts in the church; differences of opinion about the "day of the Lord"; serving the Lord's Supper; lawsuits among believers; women and servants in ministry; marriage; and dozens of others.
He was guided by the weighty matters of the Gospel so that he was not distracted by things indifferent to the mission. Many New Testament verses explain his focus. One is most clear to me right now---
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things
to all people, that by all means I might save some.
1 Corinthians 9:22, ESV
In my opinion he didn't compromise his theological or doctrinal positions. Instead, he devalued himself and raised others so that the important matters linked them as of first importance and the side issues could remain in their right place---on the side.
We're a culture deprived of significant spiritual influence. Name the things that move us into camps---worship style, what version of the Bible we use, how we do missions, church finances, facilities, election candidates, organization, discipleship and evangelism, as well as umpteen other sub-categories. Evangelical influence wanes every year as our numbers decline. Some of the divergence involves genuine doctrinal debate and severe differences in biblical interpretation. Much, however, is the poor relational geometry of adiaphora, indifferent things.
Paul wrote, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). Now, that is spiritual influence on what matters.
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