The Son became a servant, so that the servants may become sons.
And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Last week, I happened to listen to a sermon, and in the course of the message the preacher mentioned an account from the Bible: the healing of Naaman the Syrian. Naaman commanded the army of Syria and was held in high favour by his king. But he also happened to be a leper.
In a journey of faith, Naaman headed from Syria in search of Elisha, a prophet of God in the land of Israel, who he believed could lead him to healing. And Elisha did lead him, but Naaman couldn’t readily accept the path. Naaman’s rejection of the way prescribed by Elisha, I feel, gives us a glimpse of our own nature as people….
So he turned and went away in a rage.
2 Kings 5:12
Have you ever been in a position when someone offered you something that just seemed, ‘too good to be true’..? More often than not, our decision would be to pass on the proposition simply because we could never believe that someone would offer something so precious, for something far too little. And you see, Naaman wasn’t unlike us….
When he received word from Elisha that all he had to do to be healed, was to dip in the Jordan seven times, Naaman felt mocked. Which of us could blame him..? Naaman came to Elisha, expecting some religious rite to be performed over him. Perhaps, Elisha would lead him to some acts of penance, where he would have to inflict suffering upon himself in order to be healed. Or maybe he would have to make an offering to God or give them away in the name of alms, for the sake of his sins..? Naaman came from Syria carrying quite a load of wealth: nearly a dozen kilos of gold and over three hundred kilos of silver. If Elisha had set a price for his healing, I wonder, would he have sounded more authentic in the eyes of Naaman..?
Through Elisha though, God offered Naaman healing from his disease, without any religiosity or penance, and even without a price. All God asked of Naaman, was to believe in His word, and do the most simplest of acts and he would be healed. And this certainly was one occasion where an offer that was ‘too good’, happened to be true too.
And his servants came near, and spoke unto him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had bid you do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much rather then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean?'”
2 Kings 5:13
While Naaman’s reaction was typically human, another act that wasn’t typically so is what lead him eventually to his healing. As Naaman turned away to leave, he paused to listen to his lowly servants, as they pleaded with him to take up Elisha on his offer. While the Jordan was – and still remains – powerless to heal, Naaman witnessed the power of the One who could heal him, in a single act of faith….
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
How much similar is the healing of Naaman to the healing that God offers you and me, from the burden of our sins, through Christ Jesus..? Without religiosity..? Without acts of penance..? Without price..? All that He asks of us, who are burdened by our sins, is this: To believe in the message of the Christ, that He has borne all our sins – past, present and future – once and for all, when He died as an eternal sacrifice for us on the cross. To those of us who deeply repent of our sins, can there be any other offer that is as good, and yet so true..?
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Missing inside me is something,
Missed by a heaving heart.
Like a separation,
From somewhere I’m meant to be.
Like a separation,
From someone I’m meant to be with.
To quench the thirst there is nothing,
To quench the thirst in my soul.
There are places that can enchant,
And make you feel alive,
But only for a while.
There are people who fill the void,
But never ever, forever.
Can there ever be any one thing,
That I could need, more than this..?
To eternally be,
In that place,
In the loving embrace,
Of the Person,
Who is the Father,
To Christ the sinless One,
And to me, His sinful son..?
Who loves us both,
All the same..?
All I can have is everything,
When I have Him, I have all there is.
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another.
Can there be anything as beautiful as love..? Can there be anything as frustrating as love..? You can learn the first, even through seeing that relationship flourish from a distance. But you can never learn the depths of the second, unless you’ve truly loved, can you..?
Have you been there..? Facing the dilemma that enters your head, when you see them taking a wrong turn..? Should you take a stand..? Should you stay quiet..? If taking a stand meant you’d keep them from losing their way, then it’d be an easy choice. But what if you lose them..? You could be the one person who’s presence they could use in their lives as they walk the hazardous path. Would you ever risk being lost to them..?
Patience can only take you so far though, at some point you break, and when that does, you’re either left with the joy of speaking words of restoration, or you’re left with nothing but the pain of love. “Why can’t they understand..?”, you wonder. I mean, they don’t have to change their way just because you say so, but why can’t they understand that you don’t hate them in speaking the words that you did..? After all these years, why would they even think that you have anything but love for them..?
Last Sunday was one of those days of pain in my life. In that moment of despair though, I found a thought I feel is worth a share. As I kept asking those questions over and over in my head, I felt as though God were asking the same of me: “Why can’t he understand..?”
I don’t know about you, but my life of faith is so full of doubt. If I come off as anything different in my writings, then that surely isn’t intentional. I question His love for me far too often. Though the knowledge of all He has done for me is clearly established within, I tend to lose focus of Him from time to time. More often than I should, you’d find me feeling as though He were indifferent to me.
Despite the number of times I’ve felt ashamed of my sin, only to head to Him and be received with a reassuring smile. Despite the number of times I’ve become weak in faith, and He’s provided me with the strength to believe. Despite the number of times I have felt overwhelmed by the situations I have faced, only to receive help in the time of need. Despite the number of times I should have drowned in grief, yet found peace within, only to come out of it with joy in my heart. Despite it all, I doubt His love for me….
Then I look at the cross, the symbol of rejection and shame, and I see Christ Jesus hanging there, blood dripping all over His scourged body, having given Himself as a sacrifice, to win for me a path to His Kingdom. Shouldn’t this ever be enough to know of His love for me..? Would God be in the wrong for asking, “after all these years, why would he even think that I have anything but love for him..?”
A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory;
If I – despite my imperfect love – can feel so frustrated when my love comes into question, how would God feel, when His most perfect love is constantly questioned..? I remember the way I felt within last Sunday – even though we’re long past that moment, and our love for each other is well established as it were before. What if it were only for a moment..? When they look at you, unsure of whether you truly do love them or not, you feel something give way inside of you. I do wonder: how would God feel every time I do the same..?
The thing is, He is God and I am but a man. I may never truly know the depths of the pain that He endures for the love He has for me. But there is one thing I do know: He endures me. Even when I put Him through all that I do, knowing that such a time – when doubts arise and my faith is as weak as a smouldering wick – is when I need Him the most, He endures me. He endures me with a deeply compassionate love. Enduring me, the way I am called to endure those I am called to love….
Love endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:7
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Sometimes, when I read a familiar verse or passage in the Bible, I tend to assume that I do know what that verse says, even when in reality, I haven’t understood what it means. Every so often, I skim past a popular verse, and I feel lead to think about what I just read. When I do, the message that was a haze becomes all too clear. Does that happen to you too..? I wonder how many times I’ve read Matthew 22:37-39, until I could truly grasp the meaning behind the verse.
The words of Christ Jesus goes like this,
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.
This verse to me, used to represent the liberalism of the Bible, as my focus was always on the latter part of the verse: ‘the Law and the Prophets, are contained in these’. All I could think when I read this verse, was of how Jesus replaced the old commandments and made things easy for me. “No longer do I need to remember multitudes of restrictions. No more, ‘do this’ or ‘do that.’ What a relief, right..?” But.. what about that little thing called ‘love’..?
I mean, it’s not like I could not read what was plainly before me. I knew that the command was about love, but.. I hadn’t thought of what that actually meant. Love is something that comes from within, right..? An emotion that drives you to deeds that are most beautiful..? The command to love, couldn’t actually be about THAT love, could it..? I mean, how is that even possible..? Could I change how my heart feels toward another..?
All along, the vague understanding I had of this verse, focussed on those most beautiful of deeds, but never too much on the emotion behind them. When you can’t change how you feel, perhaps those deeds might just be enough..? ‘Loving’ actions, you know..? In the end, it is the actions that matter, right..? Like when you absolutely hate a person, yet hold all that hatred within and still manage to be good to them..? Like when you don’t really feel a thing about someone who is poor or in need, yet do charitable deeds because that is what you are commanded to do..? That I can do, and should be enough, I guess. How could it be otherwise..? How can I love, when all I feel toward someone, is hatred..? Or how can I feel compassionate toward someone.. when I don’t..?
But.. could it be otherwise..? Does the Bible have anything more to say about this..? Going by Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians, it does. And it couldn’t be any clearer….
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing..? If I do all the good in the world that I could do, yet my actions aren’t motivated by love, I gain nothing..? Absolutely. I will gain nothing from living such a life, if there is no love in me. But.. I do know the man that I am, and that at most times, there is no love in me. Am I destined to live a life in Christ, with no gain..?
God hasn’t called us into His fold to live life in such hopelessness. In Him, there is always hope. All I needed was to further my understanding of this verse, and God in His grace, was leading me there….
I knew that through the cross, every trespass I had made against the commands of the Old Testament were forgiven, as Jesus had fulfilled every single one of them for me, even unto death. What I failed to see though, was that these two commands were actually contained within the Law of Moses, in the Old Testament. In fact, this verse was Jesus’ response to a Jew who questioned Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?“ Most of you might know this already, but if you are unaware as I were, do read Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.
The life that Christ Jesus lived, fulfilled not just the outward working of the law, but also the inward requirement, even amidst the excruciating torture He endured. He loved the soldiers when they beat Him and humiliated Him. He loved them when they spat on Him and tore His beard. He loved them when they pierced His head with a crown of thorns and crucified Him. And when He prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do,” He wasn’t just expressing His goodness, but He was fulfilling a commandment – a commandment to love – that you and I could never ever fulfil by ourselves.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
And what does He do after fulfilling such an arduous commandment..? The gain – the righteousness that comes from living such a pure and perfect life – He freely gives, to all who believe.
Doesn’t that Robe of Righteousness with which He has covered us, seem all the more brighter when you think about this..? The Lord sees me – a man who cannot even love perfectly those who love me – as a man who loves the whole of mankind; even those from whom he endures unjustified hatred. The words of the Apostle Paul echoes in my head: ‘Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.‘
Christ went through all that He did, fulfilling the most demanding of commandments, to win us the Robe of Righteousness. But why..? So that we could live with Him in His Kingdom for eternity..? Absolutely. But also, that He could live with us in our hearts, even today. Through His sacrifice, our Lord tore apart the veil of separation that stood between God and man. Through Christ, God has sanctified for His dwelling, His most favoured temple: You and me….
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
All that I longed for, is now mine to possess, through the power of the Spirit of God, who now dwells in me. For all the emphasis the Bible lays on love, is it any wonder that when the fruit of the Spirit is mentioned, ahead of all else, there is love..?
Lord I thank You, for You have loved me, even for the loveless man that I am. I am grateful that through the righteousness that You have gained for me and through the power of Your Holy Spirit, I am now equipped to love with a love that is pure and true. By Your grace, help me exert this privilege in my life. Help me to bear fruit in You. I ask this in the most precious name, of my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13