While driving recently, I noticed a street was closed. A large orange sign with black lettering stood at the barricade. It said, "Fresh Oil." I knew exactly what it meant. I was grateful the street was closed--I did not wish to splatter liquid tar on my car. I had no confusion about "why" the street was closed. I had no complaint to make.

However, the sign would confuse those who knew the words but not the meaning. Some would not call the layer of gooey, black liquid recently placed on that road surface "oil." "Oil" is the liquid one places in a car engine, or squirts on a moving part, or uses to be a protective coating, or uses as a fuel. (Any of you remember "coal oil"?) That gooey liquid often used in road construction is called "tar." "Oil" is fairly easy to remove. Have you removed "tar" from a car's surface recently?

What does "fresh" mean? "Fresh" as contrasted to what? To "stale"? "Oil" or "tar" has an expiration date? Have you ever read an orange sign with black letters at a road construction site that said, "Stale Tar"?

Okay! That is a ridiculous observation. Never mind that "Fresh Oil" and "Stale Tar" contain the same number of alphabetic letters. The point is simple: we know what a "Fresh Oil" sign means at a road construction site. We always have known the meaning of that sign. Some of us learned that meaning "the hard way" before signs were used.

The Christians at Corinth were the kind of church that could fill a preacher with joy one minute and break his heart the next. Paul said to them, "If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 9:2). In another letter to the same Christians, he wrote, "You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men" (2 Corinthians 3:2).

Ouch! What preacher would want people who were not Christians to "read" Christians at a place and conclude he taught them internal rivalry, adultery, law suits, prostitution, mutual contempt, marital stress, and worship wars? What preacher would want people to "read" the church and conclude, "That congregation of Christians threatens our society!"

Christians must realize we do not exist in a vacuum. We must understand others "read" us all the time. Too often we understand ourselves, but to those who "read" us, we look, sound, and act unattractively ridiculous. May our "signs" clearly declare Christ's value.

May we help hasten the day when "Christian" commonly means blessing. As we are "read" by all people, may our "signs" be as clear to others as they are to us.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 7 April 2002

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