“God’s servant must not be argumentative, but a gentle listener and a teacher who keeps cool….” (2 Timothy 2:24)
I ‘unclenched my fist’ and re-wrote the policy I didn’t like for my church leader. I wish I felt clean and at peace, knowing I’ve helped. But what have I helped? Am I just sleeping with the enemy and offering gracious words to lessen the offensive message? I want to succumb to sophomoric debate and prove myself right. Once again, I want to resort to the methods I find unhelpful in others. Once again, I don’t want to just make a little progress, I want to see God break their hearts and humble them–hurting them deeply–so that they see the error of their ways. Once again….
‘Clean’ is not the word that describes how I felt writing the policy. Dirty, sick, defeated, shamed come closer. I felt no valiant celebration when I emailed it off to the leader. I wanted to hide in a hole. Bringing grace and peace into divisive subjects takes a toll on our own souls and we can wonder, “How much compromise is too much?”
The answer I find surprises me. I expected a ‘truth’ answer–one that integrates multiple Bible passages and gives a sound argument for the next debate I’m sure to face. Instead, I find the answer in Jesus’ life and how he treated people. Last week, I mentioned the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Jesus doesn’t condemn her. As so often is the case with Jesus, he speaks something that appears totally obvious in its meaning. But knowing the heart of Jesus and observing his interactions with people in his time reminds me that very little about what he says is ‘obvious.’ He says, “Go and sin no more.” I touched on a couple of possibilities last week of what he could have meant in that phrase. Yes, I know that most people interpret his meaning to be that she shouldn’t sleep around anymore. But, that explanation never sat well with me as I read and re-read the whole interaction and think on the other interactions the Gospels record. This week, I poured over that story and a couple of other ones–the man born blind in John 9 and the lame man by the pool in John 5–to try to understand what the sinless Jesus meant by telling this adulterous woman to not sin anymore.
With the woman, she had an obvious error to correct (she was, after all, caught in adultery). However, the lame man in John 5 had no sin that the Bible records. And Jesus told his disciples in John 9 that neither the blind man nor his parents had sinned. So, why did Jesus tell the woman, “Go and sin no more”? I began thinking of the ones who wanted to stone her. Jesus told them that whoever wasn’t guilty of sin could start the judgment. One by one (oldest to youngest–isn’t that beautiful? showing the wisdom of the older who get it before the brashness of youth?), they dropped their stones and went away. Then, Jesus, the only sinless person who had a right to judge, in the mercy and grace of the Father, tells her he gives up his right to condemn her. I tear up even now thinking of what her heart experienced in that moment. Jesus had just reminded the others of their own sin, probably secret sin (because we in church circles are VERY good at not letting people know our own character failures–or at least not admitting them ourselves … and certainly not publicly.), and then told her to not ‘sin.’ Do we really believe that Jesus was that naive? Did he really expect her to never sin again? Do we really believed that she didn’t sin again?
Jesus told the lame man in John 5 something similar in Greek …. Right after the religious leaders had chastised Jesus for healing on the Sabbath …. Probably in the man’s presence. As I’ve mulled over these passages this week, the heart of God tells me that Jesus wasn’t addressing lifestyle or behavior, but he wanted to make a point about the religious leaders and how they viewed ‘The Law.’ Perhaps we’ve focussed on the wrong people’s sins in these stories. Perhaps the ‘sin’ we need to not do anymore involves judging people, making them subjects of our pet ‘issues’ that need God’s condemnation, forgetting what Jesus forgave of us to make us right with God.
Perhaps, Jesus, as was so often his way, looked toward the religious leaders and said, “Don’t be like that. Don’t shame people or put conditions on how or when God works.”
How often am I like the religious leaders?
In my arrogance, I want to fight the battle intellectually.
In my arrogance, I fool myself into believing that I ‘fight for God.’
In my arrogance, I think God needs me to defend Him.
In my arrogance….
2 Timothy reminds me of humility, once again. Ted Kennedy reminds me of compromise and progress as we journey toward the goal. I truly appreciate all the voices who remind me to keep looking to the heart of Jesus–because it’s only there that while I continue to ‘sin’ (in errors of attitudes and judgments), I can be sinless in dealing with people. I don’t have to retaliate in kind with arguments and debates. In looking to God’s heart, we can all become less argumentative and simply live and treat people the way Jesus did, when our attitudes and actions align with his.
In what ways have you sunk to the level of those with whom you disagree? How can you begin to progress toward common ground and building credibility?