Yesterday I wrote about guarding relationships, and used marriage as an example. I think this applies to every relationship from parent and child, to friends, and even to the clerk in the store. With our fallen natures in a fallen world it is certainly true that not every relationship will be good, and with some people we may just need to part company. Paul wrote to the Romans saying, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”(12:18) As Christians we are ambassadors for Christ. We are not always bright and chipper, and there are times we do better just to be quiet, but when we do speak it should benefit those who hear. Paul counseled the Ephesians, “not to let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”(4:29) Another translation of this last phrase is “to give grace to those who hear”. Sometimes that grace come in speaking a necessary truth spoken in love, but the point is that our words should be beneficial to those who hear. This is a real part of guarding our relationships.
The Bible is not a law book, though many treat it that way. The Bible is a narrative about a relationship between God and His people. Both Old and New Testaments use the image of marriage to depict that relationship. Adultery takes place all over the world, but there is no culture that sanctions adultery as a positive value. Regardless of how free we are with our sexual mores, when a couple gets married there is the expectation of fidelity. If a couple is serious about their relationship they guard themselves from temptations that would harm that treasured relationship. They choose not to do or say things that are destructive. That’s what Biblical “laws” are about. They give us guidance concerning the things that honor our Lord and those that don’t. We simply follow that guidance because the life we have found with our Lord is more precious and valuable than the things that would pull us away from Him. It is not a matter that we can’t do things, but that we don’t want to do them because they are hurtful to something we have that is far more beautiful.
Macro and micro, terms used in economics and other fields to describe the breadth of view one takes on a subject. Macro is a broad view or whole picture. Micro is a narrow view looking at specific items or areas. I mention this because it is important in the way people view the Bible. Many people will take a micro view, particularly of the Old Testament, picking out laws or actions that don’t make sense to them. They don’t see the macro view of the whole of what God was doing to bring a sinful people back to Himself. It is easy to pick out a number of seemingly silly laws, or worse, the slaughter of whole peoples, and reject it all as actions of an unloving god of wrath. One must view the Bible as a whole narrative of the God who created us, who loves us in spite of the fact that we have and continue to rebel from Him, and who has done everything necessary to restore our life with Him. The small things do matter, but they fit into a much larger and beautiful picture of what God seeks for mankind.
My wife has a wonderful statement on a card posted beside her desk. “You were made by God and for God. And until you understand that, life will never make sense.” This hardly needs any further comment. Its truth is very striking. We know the truth of this statement in everything we make ourselves. If we make a cake, or plant a flower, develop a new concept, or build a shelf, we have done it. It is ours, and it was done for the purpose we had in mind. It is to serve the function for which we made it. If this is true for us, how much more must it be true of our Lord. “It is he who made us, and we are his;…”(Psalm 100:3) Further, all Scripture declares that the Lord is good, and He made us for His good and gracious purpose. Psalm 100 concludes, “For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”(vs.5) Only this view helps us make sense of life.
Christianity has an image problem in the world. The world understands power, action, accomplishments. Christianity calls for humility, trust, self-sacrifice. The world knows how to live by laws. Christianity declares that faith is the way to life. World religions come to God by doing, by changing one’s self. Christianity says that God did for us what we are incapable of doing for ourselves. Christianity is by no means devoid of actions. Throughout history Christianity has been in the forefront of combating hunger, caring for the sick, ending slavery, saving lives. These are not works to gain favor with God, but works of gratitude for what God has first done for us. The Christian Gospel says that, of our own nature, we are incapable of pleasing God, but by the willing sacrifice of God’s Son He has paid the penalty for our old nature, and has freely given us His righteousness. He sets us free to live and serve in the world. I said it was an image problem. This is foolishness to the world. But “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”(I Corinthians 1:25) In God’s wisdom and strength we have life, and a life that serves others.
Gandhi made the remark that he liked our Christ, but he didn’t like Christians. I’m afraid this has some truth to it. As I wrote yesterday, Christians don’t live the life perfectly. We are hypocrites. We do bad things, but that only proves a central truth of our Christian faith. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”(Romans 3:23) The world hates the word sin, but it is very real and is in every one of us. The glory of God, or to put it another way, the perfect nature of Jesus Christ, is our standard for life. We all fall short. That is sin. The Apostle Paul further tells is that the “wages of sin is death.”(Romans 6:23) Each and every human being deserves eternal separation from God. The Christian Gospel, the Good News, declares that God paid the penalty for our sins in the atonement made by Jesus on a Roman cross. We have sinned and we do sin, but we have forgiveness and a new beginning available. This is not an excuse, or a free ride to do what we please. When we realize what our sin – our evil tongue, our judgmentalism, our lustful thoughts, our temper, impatience, and all the rest that are contrary to our Lord’s nature and will for us – we are brought to our knees in humble repentance. With Christ’s forgiveness, we desire to change our lives, and not offend Him again. Yes, Christians are sinful, but by the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit within us, we do grow in grace, and in more pure service to others.
Yesterday I wrote about using our creativity to glorify God rather than man. The problem, however, is that the kind of life that glorifies God is completely opposite that of our fallen nature. A life of humility doesn’t win elections. Turning the other cheek, and loving one’s enemy doesn’t seem to be the way to win battles. Washing smelly feet is downright unpleasant. Willingly sacrificing one’s time, resources, and even life for the good of another looks like too high of a price to pay. Yet this is the life to which Christians are called. We must admit that we do it very imperfectly. Our own fallen nature gets in the way more often than we like to admit. Yet this doesn’t change the truth of the life to which we are called. We can only humble ourselves before God in repentance, ask for forgiveness, and His grace to begin again. The Prophet Micah wrote “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?”(6:8)