This week, my sister pointed out a full-page advertisement from a local coupon magazine. “I would be pretty mad and ask for my money back,” she said. The ad had been printed upside down—in 2 different issues of the same magazine! The unintended side-effect of the misprint was that my sister did not mention any other advertisement in the 43 page publication. If we had our ad printed upside down, maybe we would get noticed more as well. Plus, our own company has the word “up” in the name, so I suggested we should try to do the same thing on purpose. Kind of weird, but we’re in good company.
Every Pot’s a Critic
The Bible also talks about when things get turned upside down.
You turn things upside down,
as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!
Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it,
“You did not make me”?
Can the pot say to the potter,
“You know nothing”?
What a silly word picture. Someone’s making some pottery and the pot says, “Hold on one second. What are you doing?! Get your hands off me! I’m my own person and frankly your technique is horrible. Let me show you how it’s supposed to be done.”
It’s meant to be ridiculous to the reader. The earlier part of the chapter talks about how the Israelites are being just as ridiculous by using human rules to worship and interact with God, not their hearts. In this verse, God sets them straight and tells them that they don’t just have it a little bit wrong, they have it completely upside down.
The relationship is the reason for the rules, He says; the rules do not make the relationship. It is like having a regular date night with your spouse set aside every week. You aren’t married simply to have a weekly date night, you have a date night because you are married. And you don’t stop being married if you miss a date night; the relationship is more important than the tradition or little “rules” you have set up to keep your relationship healthy and flourishing.
It is the same with God. Going to church and praying and tithing and teaching and preaching are all good things that help keep our relationship with Him fresh and alive, but they are not the relationship itself. And that is where the Israelites (and we along with them) can end up with our feet in the air and our heads in the sand.
In Acts 17, the Jews of Thessalonica were angrily chasing Paul and Silas for preaching the Gospel.
And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”
-Acts 17:6-7, ESV (emphasis added)
For weeks, Paul had been a thorn in the side of the Jews, proclaiming a Gospel of salvation through Christ alone (a message, it’s worth noting, that Paul himself would have had someone stoned for speaking not long before). Unable to find Paul himself, they grabbed the man that Paul was staying with and brought him before the magistrates. But if you’re going to take up an official’s time, you can’t just say “I don’t like this person.” You need a good reason. The Jews didn’t have one.
So they say that the Christians ignore Caesar’s laws because they claim another King, Jesus. But they didn’t leave it at that; they wanted the officials to understand how crazy these people were, so they added, “these men have turned the world upside down!”
Even as a Jewish man talking to Jewish people using their own scriptures, Paul looked like he was printed upside down. Like the Israelites in Isaiah, the Jews that would not accept Paul’s message were more concerned with human rules and laws than with knowing God.
And these men shared customs and dress and language with Paul! So, then, it is no wonder that the people of the world have trouble understanding Christians from so many different backgrounds even today. And although it wasn’t fun to be dragged to court for being different, Paul and his friends were definitely on the right-side-up part of this scenario.
With the niche, unique, and odd readily available to us via the internet, how can we tell the difference between being properly upside down (like Paul) and just being weird for the sake of it? Paul and Silas were upside down because of the Word of God; so listening to God through the Bible and testing your actions against what He says is a good way to start.
For instance, every accountant and financial advisor on the planet will tell you the first thing you should with your paycheck is invest wisely. But, while that is good advice, God has told us that we can store up treasure in Heaven which surpasses this good worldly advice. So although it may look to the world like we just give our money away because we don’t care about our future, we are actually giving away our money because we care very much about our future- just not the future they are worried about.
So be confident in following the Word. People come across all sorts of strangers from all walks of life, and you could get lost in those interactions like a right-side-up ad in a coupon magazine. But if you are upside down from everyone else because you are more concerned with your relationship with God than customs made by man, people will take notice—and their lives can be changed.
Here’s how Paul sums it up.
If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
And that’s why we turn upside-down.
• • •
By day, Ryan is a chiropractor in Anderson, Indiana. By night, he’s a co-host of 3D, the Redeeming Culture podcast; and even though he’s been a contributor for ages, we’re officially welcoming him on board as a member of Redeeming Culture’s editorial staff! (And by midmorning, he’s…well, I can’t prove he’s Batman, but let’s just say nobody has ever seen him and Batman in the same place at the same time.)
Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture.