These are challenging times, indeed. The threat or reality of the Coronavirus has changed our lives in real time. I have read it and heard it many times over the past weeks, but it is worth repeating: God is still here, and He loves us. As we and those around us struggle and suffer, it is easy to doubt God’s love and even His very existence.
We are fallen people in a fallen world. That is our choice, not God’s. And since He desires most of all a real-deal-of-our-own-free-will relationship with us, He will not suspend the consequences of humankind’s willful independence from Him. To be sure, our loving and merciful Lord intervenes at times, but the fallen world, and its inhabitants, remain; evil, sin, sickness, and death continue. And God hates it.
Since God has chosen to respect our free will in favor of genuine relationship, He manifests His goodness and love by means of redemption. Christians look forward to our eventual redemption when God accepts Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins, and we are welcomed into heaven. But redemption is who God is—it is part of His nature and character. So while we wait for our eventual complete redemption, we can depend on His working His redemptive purposes in us and through us as we go about our lives in the here and now.
Please consider with me the power of the following passages:
Romans 8:28—And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
Ephesians 5:3-5—And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Many folks have observed that these are uncharted times. That may be true for us, but it is most definitely not true for the Lord. We can depend on His omniscient, sovereign work of redemption in us, through us, and on our behalf. He’s got this.
God is a God of relationship. He is the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in relationship within the Godhead. We are created in His image, for relationship, with Him and with one another. The middle chapters of Genesis record God calling Abraham to become the father of many nations and to become the father of His people, the nation of Israel. The Old Testament Law reflects God’s love for His people and His desire for them to love one another well. As they fail to do that, we read later in the Old Testament about God scolding His people through His prophets for oppressing the weak and vulnerable.
The New Testament underscores God as a relational God as the Father sends the Son to live among us, to save us, and to show us what the love of God looks like in the warp and woof of daily life. Jesus walked in and among sinners, welcoming the weak and needy. He also trained and empowered His disciples to serve others even as He was serving them. He sent them out in pairs because ministry is hard, and we need one another as we go about fulfilling the Lord’s purpose for us.
“One another” verses in the New Testament are varied and plentiful, illustrating the importance of nurturing life among members of the body of Christ. It is only as we practice these one another passages that we grow strong in faith, become who the Lord created us to be, and fulfill His purposes for us, both individually and corporately. Like it or now, we are so dependent on relationship that we are not able to fulfill God’s purposes for our personal, individual life without practicing and experiencing the one anothers.
There is one “one another” passage I would like to bring to our attention. In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2). And then, in completing his thought, Paul admonishes his readers—just three verses later: “For each one will bear his own load.” (Galatians 6:5).
The apparent inconsistency in our English translations is resolved when we investigate the actual Greek words that Paul used. The word for burden in Verse 2 carries the connotation of a particularly heavy and difficult burden, while the word for load in Verse 5 carries the connotation of an expected responsibility. And so we understand that Paul is exhorting believers to take responsibility for themselves and also help brothers and sisters who are struggling with unusually difficult loads. This seems quite reasonable, and we tend to nod at this truth and move on.
But even though we can readily understand this passage, I am less sure that we follow Paul’s instructions as well as he would like. It is simply not that easy to always distinguish reasonable personal responsibility from an unreasonably difficult load. Indeed, there is a good bit of subjective judgement involved for all concerned. What is unbearable or overwhelming for one person may be routine for someone else. And, when we add other factors—perceptions of expectations, personality, life experience—it becomes even more complex. Do we persevere, or ask for help? Conversely, do we encourage a brother/sister to persevere, or do we offer to help?
There is no formula or flow chart to answer these questions. I would like to suggest that we consider a “both and” approach rather than an “either or.” In other words, we can honor Paul’s words even in the uncertainty that attends them. We can encourage a struggling brother and sister to persevere in faith even as we do what we can to help with their load. And, we can ask for help even as we walk in faith through a challenging time.
In order to do this, we must develop an essential Godly characteristic: humility. In our contemporary American culture, it is easy to want to do it ourselves, on our own strength. Coupled with our prideful sin nature, it can be exceedingly difficult to ask for help. Our pride fuels self-focus so that we can miss the needs of others. And when we do see a need, our pride and self-reliance can make it difficult to see someone in need of help without feeling somehow superior. And when our offers to help fuel our pride and elevate our opinions of ourselves, we move far away from Paul’s intent. Finally, as we cultivate a spirit of humility, we become more able to be genuine in our need and in needing the needs of others, which brings us back to relationship building. Although we may never achieve the perfect balance of personal responsibility and burden sharing, humbly and actively exercising both proclaims the love of Christ to the world and blesses His body—us—with ever deepening relationships.
January, 2020! A new year. Again. A new year inevitably raises the question of what we will do with this new year that the Lord has given us. The tradition of New Year’s Resolutions reflects this attitude for Christians and non-Christians alike. Truly, time is a gift.
As usual, though, I am reluctant to embrace the New Year’s Resolution routine, and to be honest, I am not fond of To Do lists of any kind. That said, time remains a gift, and the question of what we do with the time the Lord has given us remains.
I would suggest that a wonderful way to begin this new year is to focus on the One who is the Beginning and the End. Our eternal Lord, who reigns over all and is not bound by time, has given us days, seasons, and years in a rhythm that sustains us, refreshes us, and propels us forward. Our God is the God of new as well as old. He is also the Lord of renewal. As we come out of the busy and tiring holiday season and waken to chilly mornings, usually cloudy skies, and a new year, we need the renewal in this new year that only the Lord can give.
Please consider with me the following passages:
Lamentations 3:22-23—The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.
Psalm 51:10—Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Isaiah 40:31—Yet those who wait for the LORD will gainnew strength; they will mount up withwings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.
Isaiah 43:19—Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.
Colossians 3:5-11—Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, andabusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—arenewal in which there is nodistinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.
Psalm 33:3—Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully with a shout of joy.
Jeremiah 31:31—Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”
Isaiah 65:17—For behold, I createnew heavens and a new earth; and theformer things will not be remembered or come to mind.
Ezekial 11:19—And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.
Luke 22:20—And in the same wayHe took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.”
II Corinthians 5:17—Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he isa new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
II Corinthians 3:4-5—Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequateasservants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Colossians 3:10—and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.
Hebrews 9:15—For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
Romans 6:40—Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.
II Peter 3:13—But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
Revelation 21:1—Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longerany sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.
Revelation 21:5--And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all thingsnew.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”
First and foremost, our Lord is the Lord of all, and it is He who makes all things new. As we walk (or run) into this new year, may we remember that it is the Lord who bestows upon us His mercies day by day. It is He who cleanses, refreshes, and renews our hearts, transforming our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh as we turn away from our sin. All praise to our God! Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ initiated His new covenant with us by the shedding of His blood, so that in Him we are new, renewed, conformed to Him, and equipped to be His servants. And as we walk in newness of life in Christ, may we walk in faith and in the confidence that the Lord is making us new even as He will make all things new.