Handling Other People with the Gospel of Jesus - Part Two

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Too many Christian relationships enter the boxing ring. And it's usually over something petty, like a misunderstanding, a misperception...or just a plain ole' mistake. I don't know why many Christians, particularly in America, are so touchy and sensitive. I don't know why I, specifically, used to be this way. Perhaps it's pride...whispering in the ear of my heart...

"pssst...hey Rob, what do you think he meant by that? What was he really trying to say? Sounded to me like he was implying that you........."

You know how it goes. You've been there too, haven't you? And what happens next? That's right...we put on the Holy Spirit boxing gloves and get ready to "thow down," as they say here in the hood.
Our church plant got started this way, with well-meaning Christians disagreeing over normal stuff. But their disagreements went too far to the point where they were in serious conflict with one another. Each person seemed to have on a pair of Christian boxing gloves, going at it with each other...everyone professing to be motivated by the glory of God.

While meeting together with this small group two years ago, we blew through the breakfast and lunch buffet of the local Shoney's discussing how the gospel drives our relationships. I shared with the group that day what was a rather startling yet obvious teaching: gospel-driven Christians wear the gloves of forgiveness and forbearance. Forgiveness is like a work-glove, and forbearance like a velvet-glove. And that brings me to the second means of how to handle other people with the gospel of Jesus in this post.

2. Use the Two Gloves of Forgiveness and Forbearance

As I just stated, the gospel glove of forgiveness is like a work-glove. It is rough and tough. It is caloused. It can handle anything, take anything, receive anything. Forgiveness is that leather palm that covers the heart protecting it from resentment, bitterness, and malice. When the Christian is wearing this, he can handle even the most prickly and barbed person around. Paul ended the fourth chapter of Ephesians this way.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

The other glove is a velvet glove. It is the gospel glove of forbearance. It is tender and soft with those who are different from us...those we normally reserve adjectives like "strange" and "wierd" for. But they're just different...from us. Normally it's things like personality conflicts that get in the way in these cases. Other people just rub us the wrong way. And with these folks, we must handle them gently, humbly, and patiently. Here's the way Paul began this same chapter.

1 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.

Someone might easily mistake that the gloves ought to be reversed...that the gospel glove of forbearance is like the work-glove, and forgiveness like the velvet glove. Though that is normally how we see it, that's not the way of the cross.

Forbearance is not rough and tough, simply "putting up" with somebody cause we have to. And forgiveness is not smooth and soft because that would deny the intense pains and hurts we cause each other in our relationships.

No, the Christian must forbear patiently with gentleness, and forgive each other with diligent hard work. That's the real work of Christian unity. And that's why Paul began the statement in Eph. 4:3 with the Greek word, spoudazo, which means "to spare no effort, to hold nothing back." Unity is something every Christian must give their all to...all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. And that unity is obtained and maintained by forgiving each others' sins, and by forbearing with each others' differences.

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