We can all see that persecution is coming, but most of us get hurt by those around us already: people mock us and cheat us, sue us and insult us. So how do we respond? How do regular relationships compare to the working of relationships in the kingdom of God? More specifically, what is the difference between our natural reactions to being hurt and our Christian response? Mouse has been considering the angles.
IMAGE BY BANKSY
Mark 6:2-6 NIV
He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief.
Here the Bible directly links lack of faith with Jesus’ failure to heal—because they refused to come to Him to be healed—but what we need to notice here is the link between taking offense and their lack of faith.
They were seeing by the flesh (seeing a man they thought they knew) and rejecting the Word of God (rejecting his claim to be their Messiah). Now we know that ‘faith comes by hearing (that is receiving spiritually) and hearing by the Word of God’. We accept the Word of God and our faith grows and, at the same time, as our faith grows we find we accept and believe the Word of God more and more. The one feeds the other—what is called a virtuous circle. It also fails to work in a similar way—losing faith leads to rejecting God’s Word and rejecting his Word (Jesus) steals away our faith. This we would call a vicious circle.
And here they are taking offense and having no faith—and their lack of faith leads them to take offense, and so on—round and round.
Obviously, as Christians, we cannot attack or abuse those around us, at least not deliberately, but there are many ways that people can hurt us. And there are many ways we could respond to being hurt.
If you imagine a scale of injuries with imagined injury at one end, followed by accidental injury. Going down the scale, we find misunderstanding, being put right, ignorance and thoughtlessness. Still not very serious. Then we get being told off, negligence, bad temper, mockery, bullying, abuse—right up to viciousness and brutality.
In a similar way, there is a varied scale of possible responses to being hurt. They don’t necessarily relate to each other. At the bottom of this scale is revenge, preceded by retaliation, anger, demand for justice, demand for apology, pretense that there was no injury, holding a grudge, being grumpy, ignoring the hurt, putting up with it, and then forgiveness at the top.
How far down these scales can we go without sinning? And simply taking offense itself can lead to any of these possible responses.
But if we don’t take offense at all, then we can’t get to any of those; the only reaction left, right up at the top of the scale, is forgiveness.
So how do we get to the point of taking offense?
Somebody hurts me: maybe someone close to me points out my sin in some area and I am offended because my conscience is aroused. Immediately my pride leads me to assume a position of superiority: ‘I am innocent so you are guilty,’ or ‘I am right so you are wrong,’ and so on. In my heart I claim my right to be found innocent, to be proved right—even though I know it’s not true. ‘I am worth more than this.’ ‘I don’t deserve this.’ And so I take offense.
This false position allows me to choose the level of my ‘justifiable’ reaction. And I let them have it. And if I choose anything from this list based on being offended, even forgiveness, I will fail to honour the principles of the kingdom of God. Yes, even forgiveness, if chosen as my ‘Christian’ response to being offended, will fail to be the true Christian response.
So, finally, right at the tip of the scale, beyond even forgiveness, is the true Christian response—what we might call the transcendent, or victorious, response. A response which requires me to overcome all my hurt and all my pride—love.
Matthew 5:38-48 NIV – This is Jesus talking to the crowds:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
So, are these laws? Are these rules that God wants us to literally obey in these situations? And if not, why not? If they are, what about Matthew 5:29-30? This is a few verses earlier from the same talk…
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
…not necessarily literal then.
And what about situations not covered by these simple ‘rules?’ Situations not covered at all? Like someone raping your daughter… are you supposed to offer him the other one? What if you are a child being repeatedly abused? It doesn’t even say what to do if your attacker kicks your bottom. Well, OK, maybe it does!
But let’s look at John 18:22-23 NIV:
The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.”
When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”
Jesus Himself did not respond to being struck by turning the other cheek. So the response depends on the moment—on the situation, not on a law. What Jesus was doing by His response was provoking the officer to examine himself, his conscience, and so leading him closer to the possibility of repentance, and thus salvation.
So they are not rules, they are examples. They’re illustrations of the types of responses expected of us in the kingdom of God, and they are given as deliberate contrasts to the legalism of the religious teachers of the time—in fact in contrast to any kind of legalism. In other words, they are showing how it will look in our lives to fulfil the spirit of the law.
But the responses Jesus is calling for require something more than a strong, moral human being to obey, so much more that we cannot reach them by our thinking or understanding, our strength or our high ideals. They are simply out of reach for normal people.
The answer, of course, is that we must respond by revealing Christ, by the divine power of the Holy Spirit within us, not by trying to obey ‘rules’.
Why we feel such a need of laws
It’s to avoid taking personal responsibility for making the decision. If I literally obey the words of Jesus as if they were laws, the responsibility, and any possible blame if it turns out to be wrong, will be shifted from me on to the law itself, and thus on to Jesus who gave us it. Basically, “it’s your fault God.” But the Word tells us we are not under the law—any law—since we died in Christ. Dead people cannot be expected to obey laws, or do anything frankly. And this is where our old sin nature is, once we belong to Jesus… dead!
What God wants to find in us is Jesus. This means that we respond in the Christ way, the way Jesus did, and take full responsibility for that response just as Jesus did; which in turn means being pretty grown up.
So how do we do it?
It helps to realise that behind every attack is the enemy using someone to hurt us and trying to trick us into hurting back, and any response short of responding in Christ is a victory for the enemy. That’s what Satan wants us to do: he’s trying to trick us into reacting in our own strength, to get us to react in the flesh rather than to respond in faith.
I have to trust that God will defend me. I must maintain a pure heart, being humble and motivated by love. True humility cannot take offense, while trust in God defending me allows me to keep my sinful nature out of the way—I don’t need to fight my corner—while love from a pure heart seeks to bless… if possible to improve or repair my attacker’s relationship with God. That’s my concern. After all, when somebody attacks me, I know that their relationship with God could be better.
There is always a gap between temptation and sin, though it may be terribly small. And that gap is the space God has given us to make a decision. It’s our chance to choose to respond in love, deliberately choosing to bless in return. It’s what I like to call the apple tree principle: however fiercely you shake an apple tree, all it will ever give you is apples. However brutally you shake a glass of cold water, it will never spill boiling water on you. The point for us is the choice. If I choose God’s way, he can empower me by the Holy Spirit and I will find it possible to do the impossible.
Refusing to take offense is just the start, I must refuse to even take my hurt into account. I have to refuse to defend or justify myself at all. Basically, I must deny myself and take up my cross. That’s what it means. This, and this alone, will release the Holy Spirit to enter the situation, and the dynamics of the kingdom of God can start to work.
If I can do that, it also implies accepting the hurt as if it were from God, because firstly God has allowed it (see Job) and secondly, if it were not from God (like disease) I could legitimately resist it in Christ. This is why it’s called taking up the cross.
Winning will hurt but we have to win. We are called to be overcomers, and our old sin nature is part of what we are supposed to overcome: exactly these fleshly reactions. So I base my response on love for all involved and my best judgment of the situation, combined with my readiness to sacrifice—for love—my feelings, my best interests, even myself.
So my attacker gets my loving response
And he finds he is no longer controlling the situation. Jesus was often attacked by the Pharisees, the scribes and others, and every time he immediately took control. And he did so with love for them, combined with his absolute trust in the Father.
Then my attacker finds his conscience starts to bother him. Now he has a choice to make—to correct things or to get mad. This may not sound too great until you realise that if my response had been in the flesh (in my own strength) the abuse would normally have escalated to a worse level, where I am basically removing his opportunity to choose to do the right thing.
And what happens to me when I respond in love?
I learn to love better.
My faith grows.
I grow spiritually.
I get closer to God.
And I may even win my attacker for God!
They may treat me as vermin, as a rat, but I don’t have to respond like a rat.
Bless you folks, Geoff >ᴥ<