Compelling Grace, Part 2. How Loving Others Points to God.

For a worldview or religion to be compelling you would expect it to nurture good relationships. This is especially true where offence is involved. Where there are relationships, there are hurting people, for people hurt people. We are human. If a worldview or religion is true, we should expect that it will help us relate to one another and navigate the nasty quirks of our humanity.

Does Christianity provide a compelling vision for relationships including a method of dealing with offence? Some would say “no, Christianity is all rules which makes people get all judgemental.” Others would say, “no, Christianity is all forgiveness which turns people into doormats.” So which is it?

Last week we looked at the compelling way God relates to us. To summarize, God’s relationship with us is based on His grace, not our performance. How are we to relate to others?

Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. 2 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)

As God relates to us, we relate to others; with love and grace. Consider the following verses:

7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. . . .
10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. . . .
16 God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. 19 We love each other because he loved us first.
20 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? 21 And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers. 1 John 4:7,10,16-21 (NLT)

We are to relate to others in the same manner God relates to us; with love and grace. There are some things we can say about this . . .

First, grace provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships. Some relationships are like sailing in a thunderstorm or like walking on eggshells. Fear is a constant. However, “perfect love expels all fear.” God drives out our fear for He does not treat us as our sins deserve (see Psalm 103), but rescues us, and relates to us, by his grace. What is true with our relationship with God can also be true in our relationship with others. Grace provides a great fear-free atmosphere for people to thrive in growing relationships. In marriage, in family, among friends, at the workplace, in teams, the experience of grace given and received provides a great atmosphere to live, work and play.

Second, grace provides a compelling response to offence. People often deal with offence by either “fight or flight.” Neither work well. The Christian is to do neither. Rather than lash out and risk an all out war, we are to turn the cheek. Some will say that is not at all compelling.  Won’t people will walk all over us and take advantage of our grace? Well, no, grace provides for a flexibility in responding to offence.

Suppose a spouse is abused again and again, and each time the abused spouse is expected to forgive the abuser as if nothing ever happened. Is that compelling? No. I call this “doormat grace.” Some would say this is the vision of Christianity in dealing with offence, but it is not. The Bible teaches the need for grace, love, and forgiveness in relationships, yes, but the Bible also teaches the need for wisdom. The Book of Proverbs is still in the Bible! We need not offer doormat grace, but wise grace. Grace toward offenders means wanting the best for them, it does not mean putting up with the worst for yourself. When you respond with grace, you do not seek the destruction of the offender, but neither do you open yourself up for destruction. The gracious person turns the other cheek instead of hitting back. The wise person also takes a step back.

Grace, when applied with wisdom, sounds like this: “I will not seek your harm, though I think you deserve it, however, I do not trust you and so have set boundaries so that you can not harm me further. There may be opportunities for changing these boundaries in the future, but right now I discern these to be appropriate for my own safety and well-being.” Grace leads to not seeking revenge. It does not lead to acting as if the offence never happened, that trust has never been broken. Wisdom considers trust. Grace considers the possibility of future relationship. Wisdom considers the possibility of future harm. Grace leads to treating people better than they deserve. Wisdom leads to not letting people treat you worse than you deserve.

Grace in relationships is compelling. It provides a compelling atmosphere for relationships and a compelling response to offence which includes flexibility in applying wisdom in responding to offence. Within Christian relationships there is space for growth, reconciliation, boundaries, and safety for oneself. Christianity when practiced in emulation of God, in the Spirit of Christ, and keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, provides a compelling vision for relationships, including a compelling method of dealing with offence. The manner in which Christians are to relate to others is really compelling. This is no surprise of course, for it comes from a real God.

(This post is part of a series called “Compelling” which begins here. The full sermon can be heard on the podcast which is found here.)

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Desiring Wisdom? Desire God.

There has never been a time of greater access to information. We have so much information, knowledge, and opportunities for education in our society today and yet sometimes people seem to make the craziest choices!  Just having access to information does not ensure that we will use the information to make good decisions. Recently I discovered that a major Christian website has deleted the comments sections from its blogs. Why? I suspect it is because some people say the dumbest things in the dumbest ways and the editors could not keep up. People comment without wisdom, just as people often speak and act without wisdom. We need more than information to make good choices. We need wisdom.

2641925893_d9fcc541cd_nSolomon was known for his wisdom. In 1 Kings 3:1-15 we learn about how Solomon came to be wise. Solomon had recently become the king in place of his father David, and God told him to ask for one thing. Solomon asks for wisdom.  There are six things there we can learn from his request in our quest to speak and act with wisdom:

First, in seeking to be wise Solomon acknowledges God.

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 1 Kings 3:5-6

Notice that Solomon does not immediately shout out his request. I think many of us would have done just that. Instead Solomon takes the time to recognize who God is and what God has done. Notice also that Solomon does not focus on his father David. Yes, David is mentioned, but it is God who is reason David did so well as king. God is the focus. If we want to make wise decisions we would do well by starting off with an acknowledgement of, and focus upon, God. This is one reason why weekly worship with other believers is so important.

Second, in seeking to be wise Solomon becomes humble.

And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 1 Kings 3:7

Notice again Solomon still has not rushed into his request. Before he does he acknowledges who he himself is, and what he is like. There is something about acknowledging God that inspires confession and humility in us. Many people do and say the dumbest things because they think they know everything already, therefore everything they speak and do must be good. They do not have teachable spirit. We will not speak and act with wisdom if we do not learn to say “I have much to learn.”

Third, in seeking to be wise Solomon recognizes the importance of his calling.

And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 1 Kings 3:8

Notice that Solomon still has not made his request yet. Before he does Solomon realizes the gravity of the situation. He is now responsible for many, many people. Not only that, but they are the people God has chosen, they are “your great people” v.9. Solomon understands that his role is very, very important. I wonder if people say and do the dumbest things because they do not realize that what they say or do is important. We can carry around the attitude that “it doesn’t really matter”, or “I am of no significance, I don’t really matter, so what I say or do is of little significance and does not really matter.” Every Christian person has a calling from God. Wisdom becomes a greater priority for us when we understand the importance of God’s call upon us.

Fourth, in seeking to be wise Solomon knows the importance of listening.

Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people . . . 1 Kings 3:9a

Now Solomon finally gets to his request. I often go over the passage I preach on in the original languages, but please don’t think of me more highly than you ought for I am not a master of the Hebrew and Greek languages, I am a student. Being such I was amazed when in verse 9 I did not come across the Hebrew words I was expecting, words for “wisdom.” There instead was the word for listening. It reads something like “give your servant a listening heart.” This also rings through the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. But it does not ring through the English translations. We can have great trust in the English translations, but I wonder if something has been lost here. When we have the idea of listening, the obvious question becomes, “to whom are we listening?” Given that we have already seen Solomon acknowledge God, express humility, and recognize the importance of leading, not his own people, but God’s, it is clear that Solomon is asking for a heart that listens to and is obedient toward God. We can do and say the dumbest things because we are not listening to God.

Fifth, in seeking to be wise Solomon understands the importance of knowing the difference between right and wrong.

. . . able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people? 1 Kings 3:9b

Have you noticed that in educational situations in today’s society right and wrong, good and evil are barely talked about? The reason is obvious. If good and evil are real, then so is God. So instead we are given information and then asked to discern the best choice. Do you see the danger in this? The astute student (and they all are), figures out, even if only in the back of his or her mind, that while some choices may not be the best, they are still permissible. And so why not if it looks like fun? Christianity moves beyond a discussion of best choices, to right and wrong choices, good and evil choices. Many dumb decisions could be avoided if we knew the difference between right and wrong, good and evil. Solomon knew that.

Sixth, in seeking to be wise Solomon will need to remain committed to God.

Next follow three verses where God expresses his delight in Solomon’s request, and His desire to grant that request and more. But it will not always be automatic, there is a big “if”:

If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life. 1 Kings 3:14

Notice the emphasis on God’s ways, God’s statutes, and God’s commandments. These are not the ways, statutes, and commandments of the king, but of the King of kings. Solomon gets off to a great start, but there are already hints in the opening verses of 1 Kings 3 that Solomon will not always be wise. Indeed he does not listen to the wisdom of God concerning marriage as defined in Genesis 2:24. His many wives and concubines end up being his undoing. Somewhere along the line Solomon’s commitment to following God waned and he started doing dumb things. How is your commitment?

To conclude let us summarize: If you desire wisdom, desire God. 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever.
Psalms 111:10 

One final, but important thought: The most wise decision a person could make is to become a follower of Jesus. Some think that following Jesus and becoming a Christian is a stupid thing to do. But again we go back to acknowledging God, being humble, realizing the importance of His call, realizing the reality and implications of good and evil, and making a lifetime commitment. Some just don’t want to do that. But many of us find that following Jesus is the best and most worthwhile decision we have ever, and could ever make.

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:1

 

All Bible references are taken from the NRSV

photo credit: solomon via photopin (license)