I was looking for a cd when the light turned green this morning and the man behind me was infuriated. He held his horn down long enough to let me know what he thought about my delay, and as I glanced in my rear view mirror, he was pumping his fist in the air to clarify his emotions toward me. Then, I looked ahead to see that the car in front of me, which you might think was miles ahead by this reaction, was just crossing the intersection. Had I gone right when the light changed, we would have gained a few feet, but any more would have had me in the trunk of the first car.
Why do I share this? It is not because I am a blameless driver. Actually, I am more often than not quite deserving of rolled eyes and agitation. But that particular exchange illustrated a theme I have been confronted with lately – how do I live out of and full of the grace, mercy and love extended to me through Jesus in the face of those who extend little to no grace, mercy or love? The short answer is…I have no idea. But it seems to be the Gospel course into which God is inviting me to see more of the way He loves me.
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…Matt. 5:43-44
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:7-8
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 1 John 4:7-12
Once again, the person and work of Jesus has to first remind me who I am apart from Him. Like Adam and Eve, my heart naturally is at enmity with God and He reclaims me as His own rather than as belonging to His enemy. It was in this state of self-promotion, of denial, blame and hiding that He pursued them to first communicate the promise of this Gospel in Genesis 3. How often am I also the fist pumping, horn honking, name calling, dart throwing heart that God sees, condemns on the cross and raises with Jesus? He finds me similarly positioned as His opponent and declares me His friend, His child and His Beloved because of the completed work of Jesus which has demonstrated His perfect love. He has called me by name, I am His.
And as I soak in this picture, it is from this glimpse of His unreasonable love for me that I can’t help but turn and do likewise for others who are similarly self-centered, bitter, angry, in denial, blaming and hiding. My natural-self encounters the out of proportion anger of the man in the car behind me and wants to get out of my car and discipline him, or punch him, or just stew on the rage he dumped all over me and left with me as he went on about his hostile day. How much more so am I spun around by friends or family members who blame their sin on mine, who seek to punish me with verbal hostility or silence, or might unknowingly splash their bitterness all over me as they are passing by! This is why it is not by might nor by power but by His Spirit alone that I have any chance of loving others who are broken people just like me.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Gal. 5:16-25
By natural determination or resolve, I will never be able to move toward someone who is either aggressively throwing fists (and darts!) at me or who is passive aggressively keeping a stiff arm’s distance between us. But He has called me to His reconciling work, to engage in the messy (and often not without cost) kind of love for others with which He continues to move toward me. I will fail, but He won’t. What a mighty God we serve.