God . . . is forgiving

1 Corinthians 13: 4 – 5

Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered.

Are you kidding me with this? Love does not count the wrongs done to it? The person who loves does not take into account the things a person does to them. Don’t get this wrong, though. This does not meant they are doormats letting people walk all over them. No, it’s just that they forgive and continue in love. They may not hang out with the offender anymore; they may know not to trust them, but they do not judge those people. They just keep on loving. That is amazing but that is what love does.

But Jesus was saying, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’” (Luke 23: 34).  Jesus prayed this prayer for the people who were crucifying him. I have always found this passage remarkable. Wouldn’t you want to pray a hailstorm down on them? I would but Jesus was born of love. His Father is love so I guess this is the heritage of love that God passed down to Jesus.

You know, we have talked a lot about self-centeredness versus others-centeredness in this discussion of Chapter 13. I think God’s selflessness is at the root of many of the characteristics of love that we have seen from this chapter. God is forgiving, doesn’t take into account the wrongs we deal Him because He is not absorbed with self. He isn’t taking account of all the bad things we do to Him. He is looking after our interests. He is concerned with our needs and even our bad acts because often those actions are a reflection of our own hurts. I think He worries more about the injuries which are causing us to act out than the behaviors themselves. He wants to speed healing to us.

Maybe that is a bit of how we should look at people who do us wrong. Maybe there is a way for us to react with compassion instead of anger. We certainly do not have to be victims but we don’t have to be enemies either. We can pray for them with a clean heart like Jesus prayed and mostly, we just don’t have to keep score anymore.

Rightful Reliance

Habakkuk 2: 4

Behold, as for the proud one, his soul is not right within him; but the righteous will live by his faith.

There are quite a few observations we can receive from the prophet Habakkuk. One of the first is that the proud person and the righteous person are not one in the same. That may seem obvious but perhaps we have not yet made that connection intellectually. We can be either arrogant or righteous but not both.

Secondly, Habakkuk tells us that an arrogant or proud person is not right on the inside. There is something amiss in their soul. This is really tragic. There is damage on the inside and this damage or unresolved injury prevents this person from being righteous. Now in the New Testament, Jesus is our righteousness so one might argue that righteousness still belongs to the arrogant or self-centered person because of Jesus. The problem with that argument is that this righteousness, which was purchased for us by Jesus, must still be received. The arrogant person can no more receive the grace of God’s righteousness through Jesus than he was able to do under the old covenant. God has always been the source of righteousness. We must die to self, take our eyes off of ourselves and live unto Christ if we want to walk in the blessing of Christ. All the blessings are provided for us but they are “in Christ” where we too are supposed to be. We cannot be into ourselves and into Christ. One might even ask how a person can be a Christian, a follower of The Way, with eyes, motivation and passion focused on oneself instead of on the Christ.

Lastly, the self-absorbed person cannot live by faith. Faith is in the rightness provided for us in Christ Jesus. That means that an arrogant person cannot also be a person of faith. This person, even if he confesses to be a Christian will be unable to live and walk under the umbrella of faith. Faith begins with Jesus. Faith comes through an end to self-reliance and a surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Faith comes by hearing and hearing comes by the Word of Christ (Romans 10: 17). Faith, therefore, requires submission to the person of Jesus. Faith requires that we put our egos, ideas, thoughts, reasonings and truly all that we are behind the words of Christ. That necessarily means that we cannot be self-absorbed, self-impressed or self-sustaining and also reliant on the person and words of Jesus. We must take the idol of our intellect off of the throne of our hearts and ensconce Jesus there.

Not one of us wants to admit that we are arrogant because only fools are such. Whatsmore, I may find it quite easy to lie to myself in this regard, but here is the question I must consider, that is, not whether I believe or think myself to be arrogant but rather what others may say about me. If I can be completely honest with myself do I suspect that others might find me self-impressed. Oh dear God in heaven, save me from myself. Repentance brings the oil of gladness and repentance means nothing more than turning and going the other way, it means a change of heart, a change of mind. It does not mean travail or moaning and groaning. Just let Jesus and his word change your way of thinking. Be saved by the renewal of your thoughts, by the refreshing of your mind and be free from the burden of yourself.

Preferred Placement

Romans 12: 10

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.

Can you imagine a pastor standing up in front of the congregation and delivering this message today? It just doesn’t sound like a modern message to me. I wonder how well it would go over. Brotherly love isn’t something we discuss frequently and I don’t think I have heard many, if any, sermons on showing preference to one another. I am not being critical. I am just saying that this might not be the way we think and dialogue these days.

You know, this really is a tough scripture when you think about it. We live in the “Me” generation and are working on getting our own needs met. Then we move into getting all of our desires met above and beyond all that we can think or ask. That’s Bible, it’s scriptural so how do we reconcile this passage with all the teaching on God wanting to bless us supernaturally?

I think the reconciliation is in our “getting”. When our eyes are on others and we are putting their needs ahead of ours then we are in the will of God. We don’t strive in order to get. That is the key. We allow God to be the giver rather that for us to labor in the getting. But this goes way, way beyond money and things. This is about humility in human relationships. 

When you are in a body of believers who all subscribe to this philosophy it really can be heaven on earth. The difficulty comes when you are constantly forced to interact with those who are not only carnally minded but self-minded. They are always seeking to fill their own desires so the human inside of us feels compelled to push back some. These self-oriented people may make you feel like they will swallow you whole. Therefore, your internal man attempts to defend itself. Don’t we wish we just didn’t have to be around them. Their dialogue is always about what they want and they really don’t care what anyone else wants. I can appreciate that if you have some of those people in your life it can be very taxing. It may be too obvious if you send them today’s Word of the Day.

Here is what we have to do. We must begin to pray for them. Notice I didn’t say about them. Praying “about” people means we are praying our agenda. Praying for them allows God to apply His will. Clearly the love of God is not perfected in any of us yet. Their self-centeredness is the revelation of their heart that they have not received the love of God. They do not yet have a inward revelation of God’s love for them personally. They may intellectually know that God loves them but the tape in their head of their unworthiness is probably playing louder. It is our unworthiness, though, that makes the love of God so profound. Once we accept our unworthiness and reconcile ourselves to that truth then we are finally free to receive the unmerited love and favor of God. Then we humbly give to others and make preference for them with honor because we know at such a personal level how Yahweh and Jesus have done the same for us. This is called “loving the unlovely” and it is really hard because your natural person resurrects its ugly self. However, the more we can receive the truth about the love the Father has for us, the more we will be able to make others needs and wants a higher priority than ours. I don’t say it is easy but if we can all make a little shift in that direction, then all will be better and easier.

God’s Classroom

Philippians 2: 3 – 5

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself;  do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.   Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.

This is so counter-cultural that, frankly, it is difficult for us to incorporate it into our lifestyle. We are actually supposed to put the needs and desires of others before our own wants. For most of us this is beyond difficult. In truth, we rarely even recognize the opportunities which pass by us, opportunities to be a little less selfish. I received one of those opportunities recently and it gave me a chance to examine whether my theology was integrated into my lifestyle or just a collection of pretty thoughts and ideals.

I had to take my car in for routine maintenance. I took my book hoping that I could get a little of my class reading done while awaiting my car. Well, there is a television in the waiting room. I usually prefer not to have a television on so that I can read without distraction. But you know what – it’s not all about me. There were other people there waiting for their cars too. At first it appeared that no one was listening to the TV so I was going to ask them if they minded me turning the volume down. No sooner, however, did I think that thought than this scripture came to mind. Why did the situation need to revolve around my desires or even needs. “Well,” I thought, “if no one is listening to it, what does it bother for me to ask?” But God responded to me instantly. Have you ever noticed that when you really don’t want to hear God it is really easy to hear His voice? Well, anyway, God showed me that the other people there, though they did not appear to be paying attention to the TV, might be enjoying having it on in the background. If I had asked they likely would have consented even though it wasn’t what they wanted. My pursuit of my desires would have put them in an awkward position where they may feel compelled to consent. Why should the world bend and contort to meet my perceived needs?

All of this happened in a flash but I knew this was a point of personal growth. What was more important to me, reading my Christian book for my doctorate in Theology or living my theology? Was it better to put my need for silence at the forefront or to let Jesus lead me and teach me about his divine outlook? Happily Dad spoke in my ear before I could open my mouth. Would it have been a huge sin had I put my needs first? Well, I don’t know. A sin is a sin, isn’t it? I don’t think Dad would have been horribly mad at me but He would see that I just wasn’t ready to grow up. 

As it turns out, I learned more not getting to do my homework than had I imposed my will on the others. Look around you today. Are there ways you can be a blessing to others? Maybe it is just about not being so concerned about what you want or what you perceive you need. There is an opportunity out there for each of us. I hope you find yours.