Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

The Power of Culture

The Power of Culture

The tourism department for the Island of Crete in the First Century would have never hired the apostle Paul to be their marketing director.  Speaking by inspiration Paul said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12).  Some might object that one can never generalize an entire culture like this, but Paul was only quoting one of their own prophets, and simply agreed with this assessment (1:13).   This verse reminds us that we all live in a specific culture that has certain specific traits and the culture in which we live does have a lot of influence over us, for example:

  • Plays written and produced in Germany are three times more likely to have tragic or unhappy endings than plays written in the United States.
  • Half of all people in India and Pakistan say they would marry without love, but only 2 percent of people in Japan would do so.
  • 25% of Americans are afraid of saying the wrong thing in a social setting, whereas 65% of the Japanese fear this.
  • 10% of working Americans report suffering back pain, but 45% of people in Denmark do, as do 62% of people in Germany.
  • Cities in the South are twice as likely to have the word “Gun” in their name (Gun Point, Florida).

There can be huge differences between cultures, even cultures that share the same island or nation.

  • Haitians and Dominicans share an island, but the Dominicans have a GDP per capita that is nearly four times higher than that of their neighbors.  They also live 18 years longer, and their literacy rate is 33% higher.
  • The average Asian American in New Jersey lives 26 years longer and is 11 times more likely to have a graduate degree than the average American Indian South Dakota.

Liars, Evil Beasts, Lazy Gluttons

In the Old Testament God warned His people concerning the dangerous influence that the remaining Canaanite tribes could have upon them (Numbers 33:55; Deuteronomy 7:1-4; Joshua 23:13; Judges 2:3)).   Studies have shown that some cultures are more corrupt than others.  Prior to 2002 diplomats in New York City could avoid paying parking fines.  A study was done of 1700 consular personal and their families to see who took advantage of their immunity and who did not.  Between 1997 and 2002, diplomats from Kuwait picked up 246 parking violations per diplomat.  Diplomats from Egypt, Chad, Nigeria, Sudan, Mozambique, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Syria also had many violations.  Yet diplomats from Sweden, Denmark, Japan, Israel, Norway, and Canada had no violations at all.  It was concluded that even thousands of miles away from home people do take their cultural morals or immorality with them.  In the Old Testament the Kings of Israel had the reputation from being merciful (1 Kings 20:31).

Culture and Optimism about the Future

How we view the world and our own fate can be influenced by the culture in which we live if we are not careful.  People in cultures that are labeled “Progress prone”, like the USA assume that they can shape their own destiny and that wealth is the product of human creativity and hard work.  People in progress-resistant cultures assume that life will never change and are more fatalistic.  People in progress-prone cultures are more optimistic, value tidiness and punctuality, they also internalize guilt and hold themselves responsible for what happens, and they do not externalize guilt and blame others.   It has also been noted that some groups tend to make themselves winners wherever they go or settle, even if it is in a foreign land.  This is something that God wanted for Israel (Deuteronomy 4:6-8). 

What We All Have in Common

There are things that are common or true in all cultures:

  • All children fear strangers and prefer sugar solutions to plain water from birth.
  • All humans enjoy stories, myths, and proverbs.
  • In all societies men engage in more group violence and travel farther from home than women.
  • In all cultures, husbands are on average older than their wives.
  • People everywhere divide the world into two groups.  Those in their group and those who are outside it.

The Power of Friendships

In both Testaments, God’s people are reminded of the positive influence that can come from “friends” and the negative influence that can come from hanging around the wrong people:

  • “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20).
  • “Who blessed is the man who does not…sit in the seat of scoffers” (Psalms 1:1).
  • “My son, do not walk in the way with them” (Proverbs 1:15).
  • “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, or you will learn his ways and find a snare for yourself” (Proverbs 22:24-25).
  • “Do not be among those” (Proverbs 22:26).
  • “Do not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2).  Here is good news.  The culture that surrounds us is not all-powerful, but we must put up active resistance to where it is wrong and stay close to God and His truth.

Nicholas Christakis and James H. Fowler have found that a person’s friends have more influence on whether he or she will be obese than a person’s spouse (The Social Animal, David Brooks, p. 193).

1 Corinthians 15:33

“Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals”.

I find it noteworthy that we can easily deceive ourselves on this point.  Why is it so hard to believe the above truth?  May I suggest the following:

  • We think we are immune, but the truth is that just about everything is contagious.  “If your friends are happy, you’re more likely to be happy.  If your friends smoke, you smoke.  If they feel lonely, you feel lonely” (The Social Animal, p. 191). 
  • Morality and immorality are contagious (1 Corinthians 15:33).  So is theology (Deuteronomy 7:4), and so is false doctrine, which is the danger that 1 Corinthians 15:33 is addressing.  If I have seen it once, I have seen it a hundred times where one person leads another person away from God and into error.  Where someone convinces others that something unauthorized in Scripture or flat condemned is no big deal (Revelation 2:20 “she teaches and leads no bondservants astray”)
  • It is kind of fun to hang out with irresponsible people for a while.  We might just marvel at the problems they find themselves in.   They are so different from us that we might find them entertaining. Too often we start admiring or envying a trait that is sinful.  It is easy for responsible people to secretly “envy” the supposed freedom of the person who is just aimlessly wandering through life with no responsibilities. 
  • People are very good at putting a great “spin” on bad morals.  The angry man is just “telling it like it is”.  The responsible life is pictured as drudgery, while the “carefree life” is pictured as freedom, yet we are not shown the shallowness, loneliness and often a very sad and lonely old age.

The good news is that with God and the Scriptures we can take the good that is in our culture, resist the evil, and add from God’s word what is lacking.

Mark Dunagan  |
Beaverton Church of Christ  |  503-644-9017