We’ve all heard that the things that you use – and especially those things that you borrow – ought to be returned in better condition than you found them.
If that’s true for things, it ought to apply even more to the interactions we have with people. What do I mean?
As we interact with others, we have an effect on them, one way or another. They can walk away from us feeling anything from defiled and demoralized to built up and encouraged.
Our goal should always be to leave others better off than before our interaction with them. Particularly, it should be our desire for every soul we encounter to have higher thoughts of God and greater faith in Him as a result of having been with us.
People should feel glad that they’ve spent some time with you, and should have a sense that they can be better off because of it.
Bringing this about takes some conscious effort. In our utilitarian age, it’s all too easy to see the worth of others in terms of their usefulness to us. Consequently, our approach to people ends up just like our approach to things. We use them, and do so without a whole lot of thought of the condition we are leaving them.
The Bible overturns this way of thinking with its emphasis on elevating others – even above ourselves.
The classic passage in this regard tells us, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interest of others” (Phil.2:3,4)
The basis the Bible gives for this instruction is Christ. This is the attitude Jesus had. He did not regard the privileges He had as God as something to be grasped, but He willingly suspended them by becoming a bond-servant for the good of others.
As this attitude was Christ’s, it’s to be ours as well.
Once we realize the need to be more oriented toward others, we are ready to consider the mark we are actually leaving on them.
Constant talking about yourself, complaining, criticizing, gossiping, revealing of bitterness, and unloading of burdens will leave those in your wake depressed.
Seek to be friendly, interested, encouraging, and willing to help carry a burden, and you’ll tend to lift up those around you.
Of course, seeking to elevate others does not mean what you say and do will always be well received. Speaking the truth, for example – even in love – is not always welcome. Nevertheless, whatever we say or do is to be done for the building up of others.
“No man is an island.” Every day your life sends forth ripples that affect the lives of those around you. Are those ripples eroding the souls of those you come in contact with? Or do they bring forth fresh supplies of peace, hope, love, and joy?
A sermon of Augustine’s contains this extended list of pastoral duties:
“Disturbers are to be rebuked, the low-spirited to be encouraged, the infirm to be supported, objectors confuted, the treacherous guarded against, the unskilled taught, the lazy aroused, the contentious restrained, the haughty repressed, litigants pacified, the poor relieved, the oppressed liberated, the good approved, the evil borne with, and all are to be loved” (McNeill).
These duties are right in keeping with what we find in 1 Thessalonians 5:14: “And we urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men.”
In recent years there has been much emphasis on the need for a “personal relationship with Jesus.” And rightly so. Christ Jesus is the one mediator between God and men, and through personal faith in Him we receive His salvation (1 Tim.2:4,5).
The present emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus has come in large part as a reaction to dead religion that is based on rituals alone. As a result, the pendulum has now swung the other way, and we often find little place for rituals.
This is too bad, because rituals have a proper place. While rituals cannot replace a personal relationship with Jesus, they do establish ties and provide supports that help keep that relationship strong.
In forsaking rituals, we ignore vital helps that exist for our good. When this occurs in the church, it promotes a live-in relationship with Jesus, without the pure, bond of marriage.
Marriage is a good place to consider the value of rituals. While a marriage must have love to thrive, rituals of marriage serve to maintain it and enable it to grow.
The most formal of these is the marriage ceremony itself. When a man and woman are joined together in marriage, they do more than just pledge their loyalty to one another before God and human witnesses. They partake in a ritual that is designed to anchor their relationship ‘til death.
Anniversaries work in a similar way. When a couple observes their anniversary, they not only recall God’s faithfulness, but they remember God’s call upon them, and this has a strengthening effect as well.
There are informal rituals too. When a husband routinely tells his wife “I love you” as he hangs up the phone, he is practicing a ritual that serves to strengthen the bond of marriage.
The church, who is the bride of Christ, also has its rituals in order to strengthen her bond with the Lord. The most important of these rituals are the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Baptism is an initiation rite which brings assurance of God’s promises and remembrance on one’s accountability to the Lord.
The fact that baptism is objective and datable is useful in that it helps to establish one’s identity in Christ. For example, in his bouts with temptation, Martin Luther didn’t feel much like a Christian; but as he looked to his baptism he recalled who he was and God’s faithfulness to him.
The Lord’s Supper is a rite of renewal. Those who partake of it in faith are strengthened not only as they remember that Christ died for their sins, but also that God remembers His covenant with His people and will be with them to the end of the age.
We live in a day when many souls are adrift. A recovery of the faithful and proper use of rituals would provide an anchor to those who are tossed to and fro.
“Men may tell you there are difficulties in the Bible — things hard to be understood. It would not be God’s book if there were not. And what if there are? You do not despise medicines because you cannot explain all that your doctor does by them. But whatever men may say, the things needful to salvation are as clear as daylight. Be very sure of this — people never reject the Bible because they cannot understand it. They understand it only too well; they understand that it condemns their own behavior; they understand that it witnesses against their own sins, and summons them to judgment. They try to believe it is false and useless, because they do not like to allow it is true.”
J. C. Ryle in Thoughts for Young Men
Most parents have concerns over the influence of our culture on their children. They look at our present day world and dread the role it has in shaping their own flesh and blood.
Most parents also, however, overlook the role that they have as cultural leaders themselves. Consequently, they miss the opportunity to create a positive family culture that would help them retain the hearts of their children.
Every family has a culture. Each household has its way of looking at things and doing things. These include a variety of habits, expectations, standards, traditions, world views, and symbols. The sum of these attitudes and actions create a family’s culture.
What’s significant is that the culture a family has can bring about positive or negative consequences. It can build others up, or it can tear and wear them down. It can serve to attract or repel.
Because of this, it’s important to reflect upon your own family culture. What is the aroma of your household? Is it a sweet savor that draws people to it, or is it a sour stench that drives its occupants away?
How do the members of your family communicate? Are the words that are shared inclined to provoke anger or are they gracious as if seasoned with salt? Is the tone that prevails argumentative or peaceful?
Does your family have shared convictions? Or is every issue a free-for-all?
The answers to questions like these will help you better understand your own family culture.
In order to construct a positive family culture, there are three aspects that are worth keeping in mind – truth, beauty, and goodness. Together, these comprise the good life.
In our culture’s rebellion against God, it has forsaken truth for what works for the moment, beauty for false appearances, and goodness for self-gratification. But because we are made in God’s image, we continue to long for what is lasting and virtuous.
And this is where parents have a great opportunity through the culture that they create at home. Create an environment where truth and honesty is practiced, where beauty is treasured, and where goodness is demonstrated, and children will be attracted to it.
Over time they will see that the fads and trivialities of the world are not worth devoting oneself to. And they’ll see that Mom and Dad really do have something constructive to offer!
For every household, building a new family culture requires some reconstruction. It involves dismantling some old ways and raising up some new ones.
This requires grace and wisdom. And this is why Jesus is central to building a family culture that is winsome and robust.
Jesus Christ perfectly embodies the truth, beauty, and goodness that resonates with every human heart. And it is as we follow Him that we are able to embody these virtues ourselves – as individuals, families, churches, and eventually in the culture as a whole.
Anyone who has ever been married has experienced the drifting apart that can easily take place between spouses. Left unattended, this disconnectedness can lead to a host of problems which include depression, insecurity, resentment, infidelity, and divorce.
Though marital drift is common, the Bible gives much hope and direction for reversing it.
First off, the Bible reminds us that the primary purpose of marriage is companionship (Gen.2:18). When a man and woman are joined together in marriage, they establish a “covenant of companionship.” That is, they make a commitment to closely associate with one another – for life.
Too often husbands and wives are off doing their own thing, without any attachment to their spouse. When this occurs, it strikes at the very heart of what a marriage is all about. When a couple realizes it has fallen into this pattern, some simple steps are in order. Namely, spend more time talking with one another and doing things together!
The Bible also gives us worthwhile guidance regarding marital drift when it teaches that God’s purpose for us is maturity. The honeymoon period of a marriage does not last forever. Eventually, a couple must settle down to the routine of life. This is not something to begrudge as “ho-hum.” It’s one of the ways that God has designed for us to mature.
God’s word tells us that we are not to remain as children (Eph.4:14), but we are to grow in understanding (Col.1:9). A basic way that God brings this about is through the everyday dynamics that arise in every marriage. Marriage helps us grow up! And as a husband and wife keep this in mind, it draws them together.
Another biblical way to avoid marital drift is to be sure and deal with issues as they occur. Are you angry with your spouse? The Bible says, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph.4:26). If anger is left to simmer it will only lead to a root of bitterness that is sure to bring about division and distance in the marriage.
Along the same lines, sin that takes place within the marriage needs to be addressed quickly. Have you done wrong to your spouse? Confess it, and seek to remedy the situation promptly. Has your spouse wronged you? Don’t wait for him or her to make the first move. Sin leads to isolation. And the only way to prevent that isolation is to work through known wrongs as soon as possible.
From this it’s apparent that Jesus Christ is vital to every marriage. Christ gives the grace necessary to forgive and be forgiven. And in Him we become those who are able to give ourselves to another, as called for in marriage.
The Bible tells us that every marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and His bride, the Church. Those marriages that present this picture best are those that labor to overcome marital drift and strive to be faithful to the covenant of companionship.
Another prayer of confession, this time based on the ten commandments. . .
“Lord, we have been a stiff-necked people who love unfaithfulness. We have loved other gods before you and have become their slaves. We have not worshiped you in Spirit and in truth, and so we have mocked your glory. We have used your name in vain and profaned your reputation on earth. We have desecrated the Lord’s Day because we have not trusted you to give us rest. We have not honored our fathers and mothers, and so we have proved ourselves rebels. We have hated our neighbors and murdered them in our hearts. We have made adulterers of ourselves in the lust of our eyes or in the deeds of our flesh. We have stolen honor and wealth and privileges that are not ours. We have lied and falsely accused for we have loved gossip more than truth. We have coveted blessings you wisely and righteously gave to others. O LORD, have mercy on us for we have not kept your good and holy law. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us all our sins. Renew us and lead us by your Holy Spirit so that we may delight in your Law and walk joyfully in your ways to the glory of your holy name. Amen.”
A while back I heard some advice that I don’t think I’ll forget. The counsel was this: “Pray for the ability to see yourself as others see you.”
That’s good advice. We regularly assume that we come across to others in a certain way. But the reality that others perceive is often something different, and usually less flattering.
Our tendency is to put ourselves in the best possible light, while putting the motives and actions of others in a more questionable light. Left unchecked, this tendency skews your perception of reality in your favor. This distortion may make you feel better about yourself for a time, but it ends up hurting you and others.
Considering how we are viewed by others gets us thinking about those character traits that we need to be working on – rather than those of others. And that’s right in keeping with the emphasis of the Bible, which stresses getting our own houses in order before we go about trying to fix those around us.
Jesus communicated this graphically when he said, “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Mt.7:5). How easy it is to magnify the minor faults of others while glaring faults of our own go unaddressed!
Jesus points this out further with the words, “Physician, heal yourself” (Lk.4:23). It’s assumed that if a doctor had a remedy for some dreaded condition that he would first apply that remedy to himself before treating others. The same should be true in our relations with others. When we know of some good or virtue that needs to be put into practice, we need to be sure we are applying it ourselves.
Over and over the Bible stresses our need to examine our own lives, first and foremost. Only then can we become what God calls us to be, and only then are we really equipped to help others.
Most importantly we need to be concerned about how God views us. Consequently, we need to continually ask Him to pull back the curtain and show us ourselves as we really are.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Ps.139:23,24).
As we honestly ask God to reveal the truth about ourselves, much of what we see will not be pretty. But it’s essential work if we are going to live honestly before God.
And it’s also a hopeful work. God does not show us our flaws in order to condemn us. Rather, He uses our knowledge of them to cause us to seek His grace and be made new creatures in Jesus Christ.
Consider your life from the perspective of others. And especially consider it from God’s perspective. As you do, you will be in a position to heal yourself, and also bring healing to those around you.
I’ve been listening to an mp3 reading of the Imitation of Christ by Thomas A’ Kempis. This book was written in the 14th century as a compilation of work done by several members of the Brethren of the Common Life. Because of its edifying nature, Imitation of Christ has become, after the Bible, the most widely read book in the world.
Here is a sample of its content. . .
“This is the greatest wisdom—to seek the kingdom of heaven through contempt of the world. It is vanity, therefore, to seek and trust in riches that perish. It is vanity also to court honor and to be puffed up with pride. It is vanity to follow the lusts of the body and to desire things for which severe punishment later must come. It is vanity to wish for long life and to care little about a well-spent life. It is vanity to be concerned with the present only and not to make provision for things to come. It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not to look ahead where eternal joy abides.”
The version of Imitation of Christ that I’ve been listening to is by Hovel Audio hovelaudio.com/catalog. Some lower quality free versions are also available on the web.
A free PDF version of the entire book can be found at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library ccel.org/ccel/kempis/imitation.html You’ll find a lot of other good stuff on this site as well.
This past week our congregation was received as a member of the Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches. It all happened during the 2007 meeting of the Augustine Presbytery at Cary, North Carolina. You can learn more about the CREC here: crechurches.org
Pictured below at the happy event are John Pollion, longstanding member of Providence Church; myself; Elder Tom Plamondon; and Pastor Burke Shade of Cornerstone Reformed Church in Carbondale, Illinois (our sponsoring church).