Do no harm

Published 5:35 pm Tuesday, January 26, 2021

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By Charles Qualls

A pastor friend with whom I worked a long time used to tell a funny story. He was a brand new father, and he was also a brand new graduate of the Ph.D. program at our seminary. His family was with him on a long flight. Someone became ill and the flight attendants made the unusual call over the intercom to see if there might be a doctor on board. Repeatedly they called, “Is there a doctor on board who could come to the front of the plane?”

Each time, his young twin boys would tug on his sleeve. They would look at him to see why he wasn’t moving from his seat. “Daddy … DADDY! You’re a doctor!” David would whisper to his boys, “I’m not that kind of doctor.” Finally, after this happened a few times, one of the boys asked his father, “Well, then what kind of doctor ARE you?!” Humbled, my friend responded to his confused little sons, “Well, I guess I’m the kind of doctor who can’t help anybody.”

The Hippocratic Oath. If you’ve never read it, you might Google it and give a look. It’s the pledge that doctors take as they begin their work. Although not expressed there in so many words, I have heard more than one doctor sum it up as this: they are committing to render aid where possible and to do no harm.

In John 1: 1-9, the writer begins to tell the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. Who is this mysterious John? Why, he’s the deep thinker among your friends. He’s going to sprinkle some stories into his gospel, but he’s a philosopher. A theologian. No story is worth telling if we can’t make meaning of it, he supposes.

He is not there for your entertainment. John is that friend whom you always accuse of over-thinking things. But actually, he’s just deeply connected with his faith. He’s also a little ahead of centuries of theological thought. He’s the heavy-spirited one who’s probably a little more serious than your fun friends.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” Let all that just wash over you for a second. That is how John began to tell us about the arrival, life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Those were his very first words.

John went on to say here “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Kae Evensen has said, “Once Jesus gets into your bones you begin to ache for kindness, for compassion, and for living as forgiven, and also for trusting, with the Holy Spirit’s help, that we can forgive.” Jesus came to shine light where there was darkness, not to instead add to the darkness. As Christians, we are called to be like Christ. So it seems that Christians are called to likewise add light to our world, and not more darkness.

In my sermon, one application I made was to remind my listeners that mean-spirited, cranky Christians are a problem. They add darkness. They do harm rather than render aid. Problem is, mean-spirited Christians seem to be the only ones around who don’t realize they are mean. So, everyone else who tolerates their nastiness simply enables their behavior and the subsequent damage to God’s effort among us.

What about unethical Christians, Christians who can’t be trusted or believers who perpetuate false-witness by spreading untruths (especially in a social media era)? They are all likewise doing harm rather than shining light. I’m not talking about momentary lapses of judgment, or bad decisions any of us can be prone to. I’m talking about ingrained patterns of behavior that reveal who one truly is.

Like the doctor in my life or yours, we are called to render aid where possible. But by all means to not do harm. Maybe someone in your life needs the light you shine. Maybe some cranky Christian in your life needs you to shoot straight and let them know that their behavior doesn’t keep up well with their supposed faith. Maybe your aid to the kingdom is to lovingly (or firmly) help Christ’s cause to hold onto its integrity.


THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is the pastor of Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.