Typecasting—the fear and bane of every actor’s existence. I’ve never seen Margaret Hamilton in anything besides The Wizard of Oz, but if I did, she would still be the Wicked Witch of the West in my mind. Anthony Perkins as a leading man in a rom-com? Forget it. It would be like watching the psycho, Norman Bates, fall in love. I once watched a production of Romeo and Juliet starring Megan Follows as Juliet, and I couldn’t shake the image of Anne Shirley (of Green Gables) proclaiming her love to Romeo from the balcony. Though it’s unfortunate for actors when they become so associated with one role that they find it difficult to get other work, it’s an even bigger travesty when we pigeonhole people for the wrong reasons. Paul calls this knowing them from a “worldly perspective” (2 Cor. 5:16).
The World’s Perspective
The full verse reads this way: “From now on, then, we do not know anyone from a worldly perspective. Even if we have known Christ from a worldly perspective, yet now we no longer know him in this way” (CSB). Paul wants his readers to understand that part of being a new creation in Christ is a change in how we view others. However, we’re so used to seeing people from the world’s perspective that it can be difficult to change.
We know them according to their sins.
One way we can identify people from a worldly perspective is to know them only according to their sins. Nathaniel Hawthorne paints a vivid picture of this in his most famous novel, The Scarlet Letter. Hester Prynne, caught in adultery, is given a three-part sentence: jail time, three hours on the town scaffold (stage) for everyone to scorn her, and a lifetime of wearing the scarlet letter A on her chest. While Hawthorne wrote very cynically and scathingly of the Puritan church, he gets at least one thing right. We are prone to identify people by their sins, sometimes even after they have repented (something Hester Prynne never does, by the way). Jesus, however, never knew people in this way. While He knew every intimate and juicy detail of the sins of the woman at the well or the woman caught in adultery, He never viewed them as the sum of their sins. He always saw more. Do you?
We know them according to their status.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the tendency to view people only according to their status. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the halls of a high school. Though I graduated over fifteen years ago, when I recall people from that time period of my life, typically some label of activity comes with their name: swimmer, partier, band geek (sorry, band people), cheerleader, etc. However, this worldly perspective doesn’t terminate with graduation. I still find myself knowing certain people only by some status that they hold, whether a prestigious occupation, particular acumen in a given area, wealth, or notoriety. While knowing this information about a person presents no particular problem, viewing them as only their title certainly does. When we know someone in this way, we’re tempted to stand in awe of them and worship their approval. Of course, this presents dangers to our own hearts, but also to theirs. I am unlikely to share Christ with someone if I idolize their approval. After all, the Gospel message is offensive, and the cross a stumbling block.
We know them as an obstacle.
Sometimes people, precious souls formed in the image of God, can be reduced in my mind to an obstacle between me and what I want. A biblical example of this is King Herod. He wanted control and stability in his (puppet) kingdom. The Baby born in Bethlehem presented Himself as an obstacle to that goal. Thus, Herod issued his infanticidal edict. While I doubt you’ve issued any such edicts yourself, is it possible that you’ve viewed someone as standing in the way of what you want? For younger people, it may be the person dating the person you want to date. Or perhaps it’s the person who got the promotion instead of you, or whose position you would take if they’d ever just retire. Maybe it’s the person living in your dream house. Sadly, this could even be a person under your roof. Our twisted hearts can convince us that our ticket to true happiness would be punched if a certain individual were not in the picture. When this happens, the person is reduced to a roadblock to be removed, rather than a human being to be loved.
We know them as pawns.
Finally, when viewing others from a worldly perspective, I’m tempted to reduce them to a pawn, or a tool, to help me get what I want. I remember playing Monopoly as a kid with my dad (who did not believe in letting the kids win!). He would be my best friend when he was trying to cut a deal with me for what would give him his fourth railroad or the final property in his favorite monopoly. I remember the term “old buddy” being bandied about quite frequently in such negotiations. However, once I made the deal and inevitably landed on his hotel, there was no more “buddy system” (though he was more than happy to help me mortgage everything I owned in order to come up with the rent). Before I knew it, I was bankrupt.
While this is a goofy example and a fond memory for me, when it happens in the real world, it’s far less funny. We can become master manipulators in order to achieve our own kingdom’s ends, forgetting entirely that the person we’re manipulating has a soul destined for eternity. Parents might manipulate their children to enjoy the success and prosperity they never achieved. A woman might manipulate her husband in order to make an extravagant purchase above their means. Any of us might manipulate social media friends/followers to make them think about our lives in a certain way. But people aren’t pawns.
C.S. Lewis in his work, The Weight of Glory, famously said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit.” If we want to view people according to Christ’s perspective, we must keep more than the here-and-now in mind.
Christ gave His disciples a “new commandment,” that they “love one another as He had loved them” (John 13:34). Christ demonstrated this love to us as He bore God’s wrath against our sin, without thought to our status, or our being an obstacle to His glory or a pawn in His hand, or even to the number of transgressions we had committed or would commit. He cared only for our eternal wellbeing. From eternity past when he predestined us to be His own, to eternity future when we will reign with Him in the heavenly places, He loves us not because we deserve it or because we can somehow scratch His back, but because of the glory of His grace.
Simply put, to love like Christ, is to love for the sake of eternity and for the sake of His glory, not my own.