Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Speak and act in love...

Jesus showed us that love for sinning people and firmness in calling sin, sin can work together to soften hardened hearts and prompt repentance.

Early one morning, our Master showed up at the temple. Soon a crowd gathered around him, so he sat down to teach them. It wasn’t the first time he’d opened school on the spur of the moment nor would it be his last. Jesus always taught eager students whenever, wherever they showed up. In synagogues. In homes. On the beach. At a well. On a mountainside. As he walked along the road. People had to love him for this. He was accessible. He was willing to associate with them.

Back to the temple courts. Not long after class got underway on this particular day, Jesus’ lecture was interrupted in a most unusual way. Some men drug a woman to the front of the class and started shouting at Jesus.

“Teacher,” they said, “this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act! Now Moses, in the law, commanded that such women be stoned. What do you say?”

All eyes turned to Jesus. What would he say? The law was clear. Both the man and the mistress were condemned to die. (Funny thing. The man wasn’t brought to class for show and tell. If they caught her, where was he? I’m sure the irony wasn’t lost on Jesus.)

Jesus looked at these religious phonies, then bent down and started scribbling in the dust. Chaos erupted among the woman’s accusers. They were ticked. Jesus was supposed to have said something to discredit himself by now. Their trap was to have been sprung.

Panicked, they bombarded Jesus with questions, shouting louder and louder.

“What do you say, teacher?”

“Are you going to ignore the law?”

“Do you think you’re better than Moses?”

Finally, Jesus quit dirt-writing for a moment and spoke. “The sinless one among you, go first. Throw the stone.”

With that, our Savior went back to doodling. No more questions came. Not one peep from a Pharisee. Not one “yeah, but” from a teacher of the law. Dead silence. The kind of quiet that follows correction by an elder. The kind of hush that is in itself an admission of fault. What could they say? They were all guilty of some sin.

Thump! The first man, the oldest of the bunch, dropped his rock and walked away. Thump! Another did the same. Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump, thump.

Finally the avalanche ended. The last man standing, the youngest of the class bullies, let his stone fall – thump. The scritch scratch of this young man’s sandaled feet scuffing the ground was the last the Master’s class heard of the lot of them that day.

Jesus paused as order returned to his lecture hall. Then rising to his feet, he spoke again. Looking directly at the adulteress standing before his class, he asked two questions. “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

Her answer to both could barely be heard. “No one, sir,” she said, then fell silent. Fear still gripped her heart. Shame still held her captive. She expected no mercy.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus said. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin. Leave that life behind.” (Story based on John 8:2-11.)

That story makes my heart ache for two things. First, it makes me want to be around my Savior more, to spend more time with him, to know who he really is. The Jesus I see here is someone anyone would love to know, to follow, to believe in. He’s firm yet forgiving Convicting but not condemning. Just rather than judgmental. Jesus’ heart goes out to the sinner. He loves the students hungry for his teaching. He loves the angry men pointing fingers at a caught sinner. He loves the woman who stands in front of his classroom. He loves them all enough to free them from their sin.

The men refuse his love. We know that a little while later, these are the same guys who arrest Jesus and turn him over to be put to death. They were offered freedom, but chose bondage to sin.

The students, many of them I’m sure, accepted Jesus’ love. We know that thousands came to believe on the birthday of the church. I can imagine that not a few of the men and women in the temple courts were among the church’s first members.

And the woman? We don’t know for sure, but many believe that she became a follower of her temple court rescuer. She went, as Jesus instructed, and left her life of sin.

Jesus. I’m glad to know this ultimate sin-hater – he is God and God is holy! – loves sinners deeply. I love the way he gently deals with this woman. I love him for setting her free.

His love for sinners – I want it in me. That’s the other longing this story of freedom stirs up.

“Jesus, would you love other people through me? Can you empower me to be firm but forgiving? Won’t you show me how to deal gently with sinners? I want them to want to follow you when they see you in me.”

Is that the prayer of your heart too? You’ve experienced Jesus’ love for sinners. You’ve been forgiven. You’ve been set free. Doesn’t that forgiveness and love make you want the love of Jesus for others? Don’t you want his goodness and grace to flow through you to others? Don’t you want freedom to come to your friends who are enslaved by sin?

Jesus wants all these things for you and your neighbors. That’s why you want them too. Jesus’ Spirit – He’s called the Holy Spirit in many places in the Bible – lives in you and this Spirit of Jesus is the One who causes you to want for sinners what Jesus wants for them. Make sense?

If the God who loves sinners passionately lives in you, his passionate love for sinners will grip your heart and cause you to act and speak in loving, tolerant ways. The love of Jesus who’s in you will cause you to shun hateful, intolerant actions and speech.

It’s time for Jesus Christ’s church to change the way they act and speak to the sinners of the world – the people we eat with at the cafĂ©, the people we rub shoulders with at work, the people we work with on community projects, the people we go to school with, the people we hang out with after work, the people we live with.

Paul, a follower of Jesus who loved people with the Spirit’s passionate love, had this bit of instruction for us. His words are so good.

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:5-6, NIV)

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders. That rules out angry finger pointing. That rules in loving confrontation. Make the most of every opportunity. That rules out condemnation. That rules in gentle instruction. Let your conversation be always full of grace. That rules out shouting and screaming. That rules in Jesus’ words to the adulteress in the temple courts. “Then neither do I condemn you. Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin. Leave that life behind.”

Is this Jesus real? Does he really love me? Can I trust him with my life? These are questions people ask. When you are wise in the way you act toward outsiders, when you make the most of every opportunity, when you let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, the answer to those questions becomes obvious. Yes, Jesus is real. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, I can trust him with my life.

So what are you going to do? Will you follow Jesus’ example and give grace to those caught in sin’s trap? Or will you stick with the Pharisee’s ways, dragging sinners out for condemnation while ignoring your own wrongdoing? You know, don’t you, which choice is best.

Will you obey God’s command recorded by Paul and let your words be gracious and your actions wise? Or will you speak like a teacher of the law, shaming sinners no more or less vile than you? God calls you to the former rather than the latter.

We spent this week – assuming you put the lesson on encouragement into practice – building our brothers and sisters up in love. I don’t know if I remembered to praise someone every day, but I did it. I praised others when opportunities arose. I hope you did the same.

This week let’s turn the good words and kindnesses outward. Let’s love people despite differences in values. Let’s speak kindly. Let’s let obey Jesus.

“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

People praising God. People following Jesus. People set free from sin’s bondage. That’s why we, God’s people, must speak and act in love.

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