This is the fourth post in the series on Chip Removal for Christians. Read the previous post here.
I drummed my fingers impatiently on the steering wheel, glaring at the red tail lights directly ahead. The blue Honda civic lingered irresolutely at the stop sign. For over a mile I had been stuck behind this beat-up car, inching along at 20 mph in a 35 zone. My blood pressure was up and my patience down.
Finally, the vehicle rolled forward. After performing an obligatory “California stop” I fell in behind them once again. A minute later, I could see my destination. Relieved to finally be rid of the snail-like vehicle, I whipped into the parking lot. In my flustered frustration I accidentally cut somebody off. I blushed and gave an embarrassed wave, hoping they’d understand that I hadn’t meant to be rude. I had been through a rough day and was duly distracted by that driver that had been halfway driving their oxidized Honda.
Hang on… How on earth would they know I’d had a bad day?
It isn’t as if I could hop out of my car and say, “I am so sorry for cutting you off. I wasn’t paying attention. I was too caught up in my own frustrations.” That sort of conversation might only occur if the cars made physical contact in an accident.
As I finally pulled into a parking spot, I realized how foolish my thought process had been. Here I was, hoping someone would be forgiving of my mental preoccupation and error, while I had failed to be patient with the car in front of me just seconds earlier. That driver in front of me could have been an elderly man, and barely able to see past the steering wheel. Maybe they were emotionally distressed and struggling to make it to a funeral. Or, maybe it was some teenage kid texting and driving. How hypocritical to hope someone would be patient with me while I was unwilling to be patient with anyone else!
How often do you find yourself in similar scenarios?
Imagine going into a coffee shop and spotting an acquaintance at a nearby table. After placing your order, you approach the table to greet them. Their rigid shoulders and reluctant glance make it obvious they want you to leave them alone. Is their cold reception aimed at you or just coincidental? Who knows? It’s possible they were just hoping to be alone for a few minutes and you unwittingly blundered into their moment of peace. Maybe they had a fight with their spouse and are struggling to keep their turbulent emotions in check. Again, who knows?
Instead of getting bent out of shape in these scenarios, why don’t we pause and consider?
How would we want someone to treat us if the roles were reversed? We would hope for grace to be extended to us; a measure of patience, understanding and love. At some point, we all get “caught” in moments when we are less than our best.
The Greatest Commandments
In order to avoid causing or feeling offense, our main objectives should be love and mercy. The majority of our daily interactions either flourish or flop depending on how well we extend those two things. When Jesus was on earth, the scribes and Pharisees were often testing him with “hard” questions, hoping to trip him up. In one instance, his authoritatively wise answers made a distinct impression on one particular man, and he posited a question to Jesus:
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
~ Mark 12.28-34, ESV, emphasis mine
Notice that the scribe asked Him for the greatest commandment (singular). Jesus answered Him with one, but intentionally included the second greatest as well. The Ten Commandments can be summed up in these two. The first four commandments deal with a vertical relationship—God and man. The last six deal with horizontal relationships—person to person. Love does no harm to a neighbor, in thought or in deed.
We cannot perform the greatest commandment and neglect the second.
We love because he first loved us.
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
1 John 4.20-21, ESV, emphasis mine
“As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”
When did you first learn the golden rule? I’m fairly confident that most schoolchildren—at least in the United States—are acquainted with it even if they are raised by atheist parents. Most honest people recognize the ethical and moral value of the maxim: “Do unto others as you would want them to do to you.” No matter how hard people try to eliminate God from their lives, they cannot shake the influence of His wisdom.
People want respect, but are often unwilling to extend it. People long to be loved, but fail to demonstrate true affection. People desire mercy, but refuse to forgive even the smallest slights. We may be taught the “golden rule” from our youth, but we have a hard time practicing it.
“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount.
But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil.
Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
~ Luke 6.27-36, ESV, emphasis mine
I still remember the day I was baptized into Christ. It was a chilly Wednesday evening on March 24, 1994. I had been living in fear of being lost and wondering perplexedly over why I was even on this earth. I knew I had sinned multiple times and I was terrified that if something happened to me before I turned my life over to Christ, I would be lost forever. My friends and family looked on as my dad plunged me into the cool water. I came up filled with joy, water running over my face mingled with salty tears. I was an enemy no longer. God had forgiven me even though I had done nothing to deserve His great mercy.
How often do we extend mercy and love to the undeserving in our lives? How often do we treat them, the way that God treated us? What makes us more “deserving” than they?
My friends, this is the bottom line: we will be less easily offended and cause less offense if we practice the golden rule. We must love our neighbors, our brethren in Christ and our family members by extending to them the treatment we would like them to extend to us. We may not get our kindness returned, but that doesn’t really matter. We need to be merciful as God has been merciful to us.
Coming next week: How to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.