“But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To the one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either.” ~ Luke 6:27-29
Recently a situation ensued which caused me to reevaluate myself as a neighbor. My wife and I strive to be good neighbors and to get to know the people who live near us, but we certainly have much room for improvement, so it’s both necessary and helpful to reassess ourselves from time to time. I must say that until lately, I’d never experienced an encounter quite like the two I’ve now had with the individual who inspired this blog post. Harsh accusations and verbal threats were hurled against me and against my character. This person even threatened to take out a newspaper ad telling everyone what a terrible person I am! I was completely caught off guard, and while my first inclination was to defend myself and bark back at this individual, thankfully, the Lord gave me grace to hold my tongue and to instead evaluate myself in light of this matter. And through this altercation I was reminded of several truths:
- Charles Spurgeon said, “If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be.” While this quote is hard to swallow, it’s absolutely true. No matter what someone might say about me, I am far worse than they can possibly imagine. In fact, God’s Word says I am far worse than even I can possibly imagine (Jeremiah 17:9). By nature, we are all children of wrath, and left to ourselves, we’ll carry out the wicked and evil desires of our flesh (Ephesians 2:3). There is nothing good that dwells within us (Romans 7:18). Without grace, even our good deeds are polluted and self-serving (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:9-20), and we despise the very God who made us (Romans 1:18-32).
- That leads into the second truth I was reminded of: I deserve far worse than someone calling me a bad person. Yes, words hurt. While sticks and stones may break our bones, words pierce deeply. However, insults we may endure from other people are nothing in comparison to God’s eternal justice. Since God renders to each according to his works (Romans 2:6), and since the wrongdoer will be punished for the wrong that he has done (Colossians 3:25), I am definitely owed far worse than an insult against my character! Without Christ, judgment awaits all of us; a judgment that will cause us to feel the eternal weight of God’s glory treading down on our backs; a judgment we’d be unable to withstand for even one moment (Romans 5:8; Psalm 110:1).
- While I actually deserve much worse than the insulting comments that were hurled at me, in the midst of these accusations, I was a recipient of God’s grace. Oftentimes I think highly of myself, so I needed this gracious reminder that I am deserving of the eternal wrath of God, that nothing inside of me is good, and that even though my life is slowly but surely being transformed into the image of Christ, there is still a lot of wickedness and deceit dwelling within me. The thoughts and temptations that arose in my mind during these harsh encounters were troubling, but God reminded me that it is only by His grace that I was able to refrain from a venomous and malicious response.
- Another reminder, actually the greatest reminder of all, is that nothing but the blood of Jesus will suffice. I cannot pay the penalty that is my due, but Jesus Christ can and He did (Romans 5:8). While some will argue that God couldn’t simply require only one way to Himself, we should be eternally grateful that He even made a way to Himself at all! We aren’t owed anything, and the very fact that God the Father sent His Son to die a sinner’s death on a cross, reconciling us to Himself through faith, is the greatest promise of all (1 Corinthians 15:3-11).
So as I consider this encounter of an insulting kind, and as you consider troubling encounters you may have in this life, let us be grateful to God for these much needed reminders that we are all unworthy sinners who stand at the mercy of a loving God who pardons all who come to Him by faith. And may we bear in mind that all of our neighbors – whether great, lousy, or somewhere in between – need God’s grace, just like you and me.