“We try to live in such a way that no one will be hindered from finding the Lord by the way we act…In everything we do we try to show that we are true ministers of God….We have proved ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, our sincere love, and the power of the Holy Spirit…….We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us.” 2 Corinthians 6:3-4, 6, 8
These verses were a part of my daily devotions today. As I read through them this morning, and now as I’m enjoying a time of reflection and meditation on them, they seem to be hitting me square between the eyes as I more fully come to comprehend they’re God’s measuring stick for true Christian living. How many times do I fall short of this mark because of my humanity? Lots. Loads. More than I even care to think about!
Sam tells a story of an elderly man he met in one of the churches he pastored in Scotland – Charlie. Charlie had seen it all. He was a retired fisherman, who lived in a tiny, little fishing village on the northern coast of Scotland. And Charlie was an ultra-pessimist. The glass wasn’t just half empty, it was bone dry in Charlie’s mind. Every time Sam would make a pastoral visit to Charlie, Charlie would sit in an old rocking chair in front of his little coal stove and say in a most forlorn tone, “Oh Pastor Sam, God’s called us to suffer. My arthritis is so bad today I could barely get out of bed. And my hip has been achin’ somethin’ awful. And…..” On and on the complaints would go. Not once did Charlie say, “Pastor Sam I thought your sermon on Sunday was very powerful.” Or, “I read today in my Bible about God’s promise to bless us.” Nope, it was all doom and gloom for ol’ Charlie. Finally one day, Sam said to Charlie at the end of a long list of ills, “Brother Charlie, I sure do love you, but do me a favor – don’t tell anyone you’re a Christian!”
While this story is comical, I often think about how it applies to me. I whine…a lot. I gripe and complain…a lot. I get on my soap box about all the ways in which I think the church is going astray….a lot. I misapply what the Bible has to say about things….a lot. I’m extremely short and crabby to phone telemarketers who call when I’m in the middle of preparing dinner. I gripe to my neighbors about my neighbors who allow their dogs to poop in my yard. I make snap judgment about people before I ever get to know them, and then I treat them in the manner I think they deserve. I snap at my husband when I’m irritated. I push people’s buttons trying to get a rise out of them. And I pout about things that don’t go my way.
Not that all these things aren’t just a part of human emotions, nor are they necessarily wrong. But I believe for me, they are wrong when my motivation isn’t pure. When I’m being uncontrolled in my feelings, and when I’m acting in a purely selfish and self-serving kind of way. I often forget that for lots of people I’m the best Jesus they’ll ever see. I’m the only Bible they’ll ever read. I’m the only Christian they’ll ever know. And when I think about that, I often wonder how many people I’ve given the wrong impression to because I felt vindicated in my irritability and angry comments. That telemarketer who called while my hands were covered in biscuit dough and then wouldn’t let me off the phone so my skillet of gravy burned didn’t deserve for me to be rude and snappy with them. Granted, they may not know that I’m a Christian, but what if the Holy Spirit was working at that moment in their life and my rudeness was the breaking point for them to say to heck with God – that people are just evil and there’s no hope for any of us. It could happen.
I also think about how many family members I’ve turned off because of an off-colored joke I told, or an uncontrolled fit of road rage, or some self-righteous judgmental comments about their lifestyle. For them, what does that say about their need to change if I’m a Christian and yet I engage in every/many/most/some of the unsavory actions of the world. Hmmm? Makes me think long and hard about who I am to these people and what messages I’m sending them.
Paul tells me in these verses I need to prove myself by my purity, understanding, patience, kindness, and my sincere love (vs. 6). Most of the time I don’t have patience for the phone call that comes at a bad time – but I don’t have to answer it and then proceed to be rude to the person on the other end. Sometimes my purity isn’t always foremost in my mind – especially when I’m watching some television show or movie that has a lot of seedy content or cussing in it – I don’t have to sit and watch it, I can choose to turn it off and find other things to do that are more God honoring. I’m not always understanding of others, and I get very huffy and puffy when I think they’re acting like crazies instead of listening to them with an open heart and closed mouth, and then praying the Holy Spirit will work in both of our lives. I don’t often practice patience or kindness or sincere love, especially when I’m feeling down or rushed or stressed or tired, instead my first response always seems to be anger and irritation. So much food for thought has come for me from these verses, and lots of prayer issues too!
God’s measuring stick – it’s a tall order and one I’ve got a lot of growing up to do if I ever hope to fully measure up. But I think I’m up for the challenge. How about you?