Saturday, August 12, 2006

As I have loved you...

In an earlier post, I referenced John 13:34, where Jesus says, "A new command I give you : Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another."
Why does Jesus consider this to be a new command? After all, He said that the two greatest commandments of the old covenant were to 1) love God with all of our being and 2) to love our neighbors as ourselves. (See Matthew 22:37-39). It was God's design from the beginning for us to enjoy his unfathomable love for us, to adore Him above all idols of the heart, and to treat each other with with sacrifical kindness.
Jesus command is new, because it is based on a new standard. "As I have loved you, so you must also love one another." All along, in OT times, God not only taught us about love, but he expressed it in demonstrable ways. Jesus is the apex of God's expression of love. He is the perfect demonstration. He is the fulfillment of everything that God taught about love in the old testament.
How then did our perfect example -- Jesus -- love us? He left perfect heaven to dwell on sin-marred earth. He submitted to being born in the humblest of circumstances. He made himself vulnerable to human parents, to the point that a human mother nursed him and changed his diapers.
Though sin pained Christ's sinless soul, he was the sinner's best friend. He walked with people. He ate with people. He healed the sick. He touched lepers, from whom everyone else shrank in fear of contracting their disease. Though he was the King of kings, he wore himself out serving his own subjects. He, like us, faced temptation, though, unlike us, he never, ever gave into it. He died a criminal's death. He was executed in our place to take the penalty for our sins. He tasted the thing we fear the most, and he overcame it when he raised to a new life.
Jesus did all of this, even though not one person in history can claim to be righteous enough to deserve such love. Jesus is the same today as he was then. (See Hebrews 13:8). Therefore, we can be assured that he loves us with the same love that shines from the pages of the gospels. We also know that he calls us to follow his example today.
Jesus takes us way beyond the realm of attending church, of being nice and kind, and of obeying moral laws. All of these things are essential, and Jesus does expect us to put them into practice. But, more so, Jesus calls us to have the same kind of active, seeking, self-sacrificing love that he did. We are to take up our own cross daily. (Luke 9:23) In other words, we are to get up each morning and put aside our sins and our selfishness in order to serve and to love others. We do this in our families, in the church, and with the lost.
Here's the kicker: If we love as Jesus did, we will get hurt. Jesus' type of love led him to the cross. Moreover, Jesus was betrayed by one of his closet circle, Judas. Judas tipped off the authorities by giving Jesus a kiss -- something that should have been a sign of friendship!
Judas knowingly betrayed Christ. If we follow Christ, there will be occasions when people hurt us intentionally. The Bible says that all who live a godly life will be persecuted. In such cases, Jesus instructs us to pray for our enemies, just as he prayed for thsoe who betrayed him.
More often, when someone offends us, it is simply because they are clumsy or thoughtless. Since none of us have arrived at being just like Jesus, we need a reality check here, too. How many times have we unknowingly hurt other people through our own insensitivity?
Usually, the people who hurt us the most are the ones who are closest to us. We are the most vulnerable with loved ones. If someone makes an angry gesture at you in traffic, the sting fades before you finish whispering a prayer for them. But, let a family member or someone from church treat us rudely and the wound cuts deeper. It's even worse if the loved one has no clue why their action crushed your feelings
Now, in my sinful nature, I am prone to think: "I want to make that person understand just how much they hurt me." If they don't "get it", I can find myself mentally harranguing them, going over in my mind exactly what they did and why it was so wrong. I can iron a shirt, all the while self-righteously lecturing someone in my mind.
Of course, there is a place for letting someone know that they have hurt our feelings. God does tell us to be open with one another, so that we can resolve conflicts before the enemy can get a foothold. Many a friendship has ended; many a family has splintered; and many a church has split precisely because people have refused to talk things through. God gives specific directions in his word about healing such conflicts before they lead to deep-seated bitterness.
But, I'm not talking about genuine efforts to seek godly resolution, here. I'm talking about the temptation to demand emotional payment for a wrong suffered. I somehow think that if I can get the person to understand the depth of their sin, it will be easier to forgive them.
This is not the way Jesus walked, however. He calls me to a higher love.
On the cross, Jesus prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing."
It is precisely because his murderers did not understand that Christ appealed for their forgiveness! His prayer was not for them alone. It was for every one of us. We have all nailed Jesus to the cross, for we have all have contributed to the sin that killed him.
Jesus died for us long before we were born. He died knowing that each and every one of us would need a Savior. He died knowing that we would hurt him, for God grieves over our transgressions as spiritual adultery. Jesus died for us knowing what we would be like at our most ungodly pont. And, he died for us knowing that even at our very best, we still fall short and need his grace. (See Romans 5:7-9)
Now, God does confront us about our unrighteousness. The Bible describes sin and righteousness in great detail. In order to accept Christ's offer of forgiveness through the cross, we do have to confess our transgressions and to turn fromthem. We can't keep living in opposition to Christ and expect to be in saved fellowship with Him at the same time. The path of sin and the path of righteousness simply do not lead to the same place.
In Ezekiel 18:23, and 18:32, God declares that he has no pleasure in the death of anyone; rather, he is pleased when the wicked repent. God extends the hand of forgiveness through the cross; sadly, many will reject this offer to their own doom. We must never lose sight of God's holy wrath towards sin.
At the same time, we must never lose sight of his kindness, either. I read something that has always stuck with me, "There is a God who would rather die than live without you." And, in Jesus, God proved that to be true.
So, when I have trouble forgiving someone, I go back to Jesus. I look at the way he loved people in general. I mediate on how he has loved me, in particular. I remember that he died to pay my spiritual debt. I realize that I had no hope of re-paying that debt by means of my own righteousness. I remember that I am a spiritual begger, holding up my empty tin can to God, who graciously showers me with so much mercy and blessings that my cup overflows.
When I stay in touch with my own spiritual poverty, I have no more desire to collect an "emotional payment" from someone else. I forgive, because I know I am forgiven of so much.
Jesus is my standard for how I am to love. If I stand at the foot of his cross, glaring angrily at another person, I am missing the whole point!
This is serious business: In Matthew 18:34-25 describes the fate of all who beg for mercy from God but do not want to extend it to others: "In anger, his master turned him over to he jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brothers from your heart."
The flip side is a wonderful promise: "Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken toegther, and running over will be put into your bosom, for with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you." Luke 6:37-38.


No comments: