GOD, SELF, AND OTHERS
Some people in Christian circles have decided, and/or have been taught, that we will be sure to do the right thing if we always put God first, others second, and self last. This may be a helpful, temporary measure to correct our behavior when we are “ego-centric,” habitually selfish, thoughtless of others, and “use” others for our own gain.
For us who habitually put the desires and wishes of others ahead of our own, Jesus’ instructions, first to love God with all our capabilities–mind, body, soul and strength–and secondly, to love our neighbors AS OURSELVES are much more healthful than putting ourselves last. This puts us all on even ground, subject to God’s will for us as we live in God’s love and presence.
We must admit often we do not know what is best for others or even for ourselves. We know that we are not all alike, that some have strengths and talents that others do not have. We may not realize that each of us has some strengths and none of us is a “total loser.” We may not realize that because our strengths and weaknesses are different, we need each other.
We may even think that God does not care for other people unless they have a particular religious affiliation–ours! This viewpoint cuts us off from others. We become unable to love as God might really want us to do. We may not realize that God loves the “others” as much as God loves us.
ACCEPTING AND FORGIVING OTHERS
When we think of “others”, we can think of them as being part of the family of God. The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians chapter 3, verses 14-21, refers to every family in heaven and on earth taking its name from God our Father. As members of God’s family, we have power available to strengthen the “inner self” so that we are equal to any task God gives us. This means courage to do the difficult things, wisdom to know what we should do here and now, and the love to be God’s agents in whatever situations we find ourselves are available.
In effect, Paul goes on to say that we are gifts to one another so that we may all come to completeness of personality, be closely united with each other for our development in groups, family, church, and society, and for upbuilding in love. May we have the courage to do our part.
To think of “others” as a part of God’s family means that they also have access to the power to grow and change. Just as we are not hopeless cases, so they are not hopeless cases. We cannot “give up on them” as easily as we otherwise might want to do. Since they also have been created in the image of God, we must ask for the grace to forgive. Since the “least of our brothers and sisters” is a reflection, though perhaps dimly, of God, we must make an effort to forgive when forgiveness is requested.
Not only should we forgive when requested (Luke 17:4), but when we have been wronged we have the responsibility to seek reconciliation (see Mt. 18:15-35). We are instructed to go talk to the person who has wronged us. The Greek word for “talk” implies that we have evidence or proof of having been hurt, not merely have imagined that the other person is guilty.
In Luke we are told to forgive and be reconciled even if he or she comes seven times a day, having wronged us, but says “I repent. I’ve changed my mind and I’m changing my ways.” The emphasis is on reconciliation, not just communication. We may need to help in the change. And we need to protect ourselves while the change is being established it is well documented.
When the person to person, one on one, approach to reconciliation fails, we are to take one or two others who can verify our statements to the other person (Mt. 18:16,17). If the guilty person does not listen to them and does not listen to the larger group later, we have no further obligation to try to reconcile with that person.
In the same passages (Mt. 18:6-14 and Luke 17:1-4) we are warned constantly watch ourselves, “Take heed to yourselves,” being ready to learn and respond appropriately. To harbor anger, resentment, bitterness and similar emotions can make us mentally and spiritually ill…depressed, obsessive, vengeful, even criminal.
And we are very strongly warned against doing anything to cause children to go astray, to stop believing the truth and to do what is wrong.
This indicates to me that gentleness, respect, and humility, being aware of and acknowledging our own weaknesses, in our approach to others with whom we differ, will promote mutual understanding and relationships with appropriate behaviors.We may fear a storm between us in our need to escape our own individual tumults. But we have a good chance for a renewed relationship when we approach the “offender” with humility and respect. The offender may not have the slightest idea that an offense was committed! The possibility for new understanding and forgiveness of one another gives us an incentive and opportunity to sail in fair weather together. I find this preferable to my harboring ill will that corrodes, and may wreck, my own “ship of state.” As an ambassador of God, I must take care of my ship.
Unfortunately, some “others” have given themselves to destructive patterns of existence. They live with a distorted sense of self-interest, living in the “darkness” rather than in the “light” of good teachings. Using the characters in the parable of the Good Samaritan for comparison, some are merely apathetic, as the religious leaders were when they saw the man on the ground. Others are more like the robbers who deliberately injure others for their own personal gain. We must not join “robber” groups for companionship. All of us could be more like the Good Samaritan who stopped to give aid. (The story of the Good Samaritan is found in the Bible in the New Testament book of Luke, chapter 10, verses 25 to 38.)
None of us, whether robbers, ship-wreckers or fearful, is beyond God’s grace and love. God welcomes all people to new life in the Spirit and may direct us to bring this good news to others regardless of their or our past errors.
Read and consider the following scriptures in regard to yourself and to others.
Be kind toward one another, tender hearted, mutually forgiving, even as God has in Christ forgiven you. So, pattern after God as His loved children, and live in loving ways, just as Christ, too, loved you and surrendered Himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God to yield a fragrant odor.
Ephesians 4:32-5:2 Berkeley Version
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of (people) knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Romans 8:26-27. R.S.V.
As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘my beloved.’
And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ they will be called ‘children of the living God.'”
Romans 9:25-26. R.S.V
For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
Romans 12:4 and 5. R.S.V.
So has He given some to be apostles but others to be prophets; some to be evangelists but others to (be) pastors and teachers, to make the saints fit for the task of ministering toward the building up of the body of Christ, until we all may arrive at the unity of faith and that understanding of the Son of God, that brings completeness of personality, tending toward the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. As a result, we should no longer be babes, swung back and forth and carried around with every changing whiff of teaching that springs from human cunning and ingenuity for devising error; but, lovingly attached to truth, we should grow up in every way toward Him who is the Head–Christ, out of whom the entire body is harmoniously fitted together and closely united by every contributing ligament, with proportionate power for each single part to effect the development of the body for its upbuilding in love.
Ephesians 4:10-16 Berkeley Version