If you’re a fan of Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, the phrase Mostly Harmless has meaning to you. It’s a phrase put on the front of the Hitchhiker’s Guide meant to put travelers at ease.
If you’ve never heard of that book, that’s okay, because this post has nothing to do with Adams’ series. But it does have to do with putting people at ease. I read a verse in Philippians 2 the other day, a very common verse, but as it was in a different translation than I usually read, it caught my attention.
In the ASV translation, Paul tells the Philippians in 2:15 to be ‘blameless and harmless.’ NIV says ‘blameless and pure,’ and ESV says ‘blameless and innocent.’ The meanings seem very different to me, so I don’t know if there’s a problem with the translations, but I like the ASV wording. I don’t think Christians often come across as harmless. I don’t think we often put others at ease, neither outsiders nor other Christians. No, sometimes we can be anything but harmless.
From time to time I make extra money cleaning houses. Although I suspect I’m not an awesome housecleaner, I do work hard to be harmless. I move prescription bottles without looking at labels. I stack mail without looking at addresses. What I see in a home stays there and never becomes fodder for gossip. I want a person who hires me to feel safe and be able to trust that I’m working with them, not ever a danger to them.
My pastor wrote an article recently about being a blessing to others, that the best way to spread Christianity to the world is by blessing those around us. I think that’s exactly what’s meant by the NLT command to be harmless. We are here to bless and not be a danger to people. We bring healing to the hurting and comfort to the grieving and companionship to the lonely. A non-believer won’t open his heart to someone who seems judgmental and dangerous, someone looking for trouble. Likewise, those attitudes will also keep believers from allowing us to unite with them or bear their burdens or help them on their journeys.
The two phrases need to stay together, though. It’s easy to be harmless to the sinful world by simply accepting it and even joining in, but then I’m not blameless. I don’t have to be a prostitute to reach a prostitute. I can show her love and kindness and honor her as one made in the likeness of God–I can be harmless and bless her. But, I also must be blameless. As someone who still struggles against a sin nature, I have to keep a certain distance from her sin lest I fall in myself, because if I fall, I’m no help to her at all.
The balance there is key. To be blameless but harmful is useless, and to be harmless but guilty is also useless.
Those steeped in sin whose eyes are still shut to the Spirit, though, will see me as harmful regardless. That’s where being blameless is most important. By not engaging in the sins of the world, I am a threat to Satan, and his people will hate me. I can’t change that. Regardless of how harmless or blameless I may be, I’m a threat to the prince of this world. I need to let that go, not work so hard for acceptance that I slide into Satan’s camp hoping to drag out a few souls. Complete tolerance of the world may win me friends, but that’s not going to help anyone, especially the Kingdom I represent.
In other words, I must keep that balance of blameless and harmless, and then I must wait. The Spirit may use my actions to call a few away from sin. He may use my actions to unite and comfort believers around me. And he will use my actions to infuriate the darkness in this world. All I need to do is obey and be prepared. The outcomes are up to him.
The aim is more than being mostly harmless. It’s to be harmless and blameless in thoughts, words, and deeds, and through those actions to bring the Kingdom to the world, regardless of whether the world accepts it with open arms or comes armed for battle. But when the final battle is finished, I want my actions to lead to reward for a job well done. I think the first step is to approach the world–and my Christian family–as both harmless and blameless.