Of Monsters and Men
As a culture we are obsessed with destructive monsters. I mean, how many vampire movies and TV shows do we really need? “Always one more” seems to be the answer. In the last decade or so, zombies have also made a major comeback, spurred on by the success of shows like “Walking Dead.” What do all these monsters have in common? They eat or suck the very life force out of people. Blood and flesh are consumed so that they can stay alive.
As gross and disgusting as that all sounds, thankfully these fictional creatures don’t exist…at least physically. But what about spiritually and emotionally? Would it be too harsh to call people spiritual vampires and spiritual zombies—sucking the very life out of people? This is exactly what Paul was talking about in Galatians 5:13. He says the following:
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” Galatians 5:13-15
Paul does something interesting here. He starts with the problem (abusing freedom in Christ), states the solution (love), then gives an example of the problem (biting and devouring). The Galatian Christians thought that since they had been freed from the law and had received grace, they could just do anything. As though standards and morals were unimportant in light of grace. But Paul makes it clear that freedom from the law does not mean we can live however we want to. There is a proper way to conduct our lives as we live in gratitude to God’s grace. He gives an example of what it means to indulge the sinful nature in verse 15: “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” A better translation of that word “destroyed” is “consumed.” Sounds very cannibalistic doesn’t it? So what is Paul talking about? It seems like there were some in their midst who were not loving one another. Seemingly, their words and actions towards one another were cruel—almost violent—causing Paul to use this imagery of eating one another. Paul basically calls them vampires and zombies.
But Paul is in good company. This isn’t the first time that such imagery is used in the Bible. In the Aramaic portions of Daniel we find an astounding idiom. Daniel 3:8 states the following: “At this time some astrologers came forward and denounced the Jews.” Basically some of these officials were not happy with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego because they were not bowing down to Nebuchadnezzar’s 90-foot idol. Though the idiom is translated “to denounce” or “to accuse maliciously,” the literal meaning is “to eat the pieces.” In the same way, in Daniel 6 the other leaders, jealous of Daniel’s rise to prominence, tried to use his piety to convict him. After Daniel was delivered and exonerated, the king took these men who “ate the pieces” of Daniel and threw them into the lion’s den (Daniel 6:24).
This phrase, “ate the pieces,” is so stark—as though the defamers are literally gnawing on parts of people with their words. But we have similar idioms in English:
tearing them a new one
picking them apart
All these phrases dealing with words carry some sort of violence being enacted upon the subject of the words. This is what Paul is getting at in Galatians 5. People were being hurt as others could not control themselves or their tongues. Though we teach our kids the mantra, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” words do hurt and lead to all sorts of awful consequences. It is worse when it happens in the church—a place that is supposed to be safe and free from such attacks. And yet, as much as we try put on our Sunday Christian personas and separate our actions outside the church from those when we walk through the doors, our words still come through. When we attack each other verbally, we may as well be sucking the blood from one another like vampires. Just feeding off the life of other people. Consuming whatever is before us through our negativity.
Vampirism out of controlAmerica earned the “consumeristic” label long ago. We consume, gorge, and stuff ourselves until the point of bursting. But this consumption is not limited to food alone. We consume goods, resources, and at times each other. We are gluttonous vampires…
feeding on one another
devouring one another
destroying one another
Spiritual vampires suck the very life from the church through dissension, complaining, negativity, critiquing, and gossiping. It’s not always the confrontative words that kill—it’s the secret murmurings just below the surface that sap strength and life from a congregation.
Our world tells us that it’s a “dog eat dog world,” and they are right. But it’s humans we’re talking about—not dogs. We are feeding on each other. Building ourselves up by tearing each other down. It’s not right. It’s not helpful. It’s not how Christ would have us live. Paul paraphrases Jesus in verse 14: “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Galatians 5:14
That’s it. That’s the cure to our spiritual vampirism. That’s how we drive a stake through critical spirits in the church—by loving each other. But not just any kind of love—the same measure of love that you would give to yourself. Who among us is going to tear down our reputation and be hypercritical about our work publicly? None of us. We desire accolades, encouragement, and approval. And so does everyone else.
If we feel like our world is full of negativity and we are frustrated and depressed because nothing seems to be going right, maybe we should take a look at ourselves first. What are we doing to bring about life to other people? What are we doing to encourage, love, and spur one another on towards love? Could it be that we are creating our own negative world?
Channeling our inner Buffy
I read about a study that was done in a corporate environment where criticizing and praising were actually tabulated and the reactions measured. Here is what they found:
- When there was one praise for each criticism, people felt as though they had a totally negative relationship with their boss.
- When the ratio was changed to two praises to one reprimand, people still thought their boss was all over them.
- It wasn’t until they got to a ratio of four praises to one criticism that people began to feel as if they had a good relationship with their boss.
And we wonder why there is a feeling of discouragement and negativity in churches, homes and workplaces. It’s because there is too much complaining and criticizing and not enough encouraging.
It’s time for us to drive a stake into our vampire hearts and stop sucking the life, joy and vitality from one another.
May we bear with one another in love.
May we see the good in one another and treat one another with patience and encouragement.
May we spur one another onto good deeds.
May we be life givers and not life suckers.