Grace Meditation #7
Grace Based Relationships
So, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…
32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
If there’s one thing that permeates relationships in today’s world it seems to be conflict. Husbands and wives at each other’s throats, children picking at each other, family members at odds, divided by politics and differing world-views, not to mention fellow countrymen seeing each other as the enemy because of differing notions on how things should be; churches divided by trivial things and personal taste in whatever (Should we serve ham or chicken at the next church dinner?!)-there seem to be very few human relationships that are peaceful and in harmony. Relationships are exhausting and sometimes exasperating, and it doesn’t seem to get any better!
I wrote, “in today’s world,” but really relationships have been rocky and tumultuous for a long, long time! Human history seems to be one of wars, and rumors of wars, people crying out for “peace, peace, but there is no peace.” Sometimes it feels as if the monastics had the right idea, and we should all go off and live in a cave in the desert all by ourselves! David in Psalm 55 expressed it well: “6 And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; 7 yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness…” We would often rather “divorce” each other than work things out!
How far back does it go? To the garden. Relational conflict began raising its ugly head before Adam and Eve could get that first bite of “apple” swallowed! Eve blamed the serpent and God, Adam blamed Eve and God, and within one generation Cain killed Abel over a worship style difference! The invasion of sin into God’s “very good” creation decimated the “shalom”-the “everything is as it should be” state, in which God created the universe with his image bearers to reign and rule.
Why? The easy answer is sin. But what sin or sins in particular fuel this ongoing strife and conflict?
Many scholars and writers have pondered the question of what was the original sin manifested in our first “eating of the forbidden fruit?” Pride? Covetousness? Lust?
But it seems to me that the most obvious answer is unbelief. The serpent was able to tempt Adam and Eve into doubting the word of the Lord. He tempted them into doubting the goodness of God. They were deceived into thinking that they could be the determiners of right and wrong. “You will know good and evil and be like God.” So, the first humans decided they had the right to self-determination. They doubted that God was really God, and they were NOT!
When we deviate from our role as “image bearers” and try to give ourselves the title of “God,” everything falls apart, and we are quickly frustrated and devastated by the results. We were meant to exist as God-centered, God- worshiping, dependent, creatures, not self-centered, self-worshiping, self-determining little demigods!
So, what does that have to do with relationships? When we are self-centered and self-worshiping, we start to demand that other’s worship us. We start to demand that others serve our needs, obey our desires, and will, we think that we are the final arbiters of right and wrong, not God and His word. And that totally skews our thinking. We think something is right or wrong because we like it, and we think it’s right, (often because we have been taught it by someone else who thinks they’re God!) and if you don’t like it or disagree, we must convince you that you are wrong, and if you disagree with us you are disagreeing with the “word of God!” We scour the Bible and look for every “proof-text” to prove to you that we are right! “You sinner! Why can’t you see things my way?!” See, it says right here in the Bible…...!” And this makes us manipulative abusers!
Jesus was God. He made that very clear, and so did the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2. But when do you ever see Jesus demanding His own way? When do you see Jesus insisting on His own personal taste. When do you see Jesus demanding to be served? When do you even see Jesus demanding worship? People worshiped Him because they recognized He was divine not because He demanded it and belittled them into thinking it! People worshiped Jesus because of His goodness and real worthiness, not because He Himself had a “messiah” complex! And He was Messiah! And He was a Prophet of God and spoke only the truth of the word of God, He didn’t twist God’s word to fit His personal agenda-He actually embodied God’s agenda because He was God, and He didn’t have to prove it to anyone!
Jesus was kind and loving to everyone! The worst conflict He had was with people who thought they were standard of God’s truth and were completely unmerciful, uncaring, and unkind toward others! He stood up to people who distorted the word of God into rule keeping and pursuing one’s own righteousness. To those who desired and pursued “mercy and not sacrifice,” Jesus was a loving healer, and friend and Savior.
So, how does that relate to us and our personal relationships? We are told by Paul to have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus. He was self-sacrificing to the utter most! He served others. He healed others. He spoke words of love and kindness to the least deserving. He was kind in the face of real sin. He was tenderhearted even in the face of unjust persecution and torture and death. He allowed Himself to be abused so that we don’t have to be abusers. And it's only by His grace that we can follow His example. Only as we allow Him to be our substitute can we love as He love and live lives of true love and holiness. Holiness is NOT being mean! In fact, parallel passages to “Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy,” (Matthew 5:48) add meaning to what He means: Luke writes, “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) There is a strong overlap between holiness and mercy! So, Paul writes in Ephesians 4, “32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
The words for kindness and forgiveness here are very closely related to grace-from the same Greek root. “Be gracious to one another, which involves “gut level compassion” and “showing favor”/forgiveness, even when really wronged and sinned against, and not just because someone does something we don’t like or disagree with or doesn’t follow our perfect plan for their life.
But again, as sinners, this is impossible without the sanctifying work of the grace of the Holy Spirit. So let our prayer be: “Lord be gracious to me and work Your graciousness in me, so that I might extend the same to others!” “And keep showing me that You are God, and I am not!” Let’s not even try to be Jesus when standing up to Pharisees. We are not Jesus!