I can’t talk. Social graces are not in my natural skill set. I sometimes blame being ill as a child and missing those years at school when a person becomes properly “socialized” — meaning they learn what to say and not say by the reactions of other children. By the time we are adults that openness is gone and others react to our mistakes behind our backs.
However, not learning much as a child is not an excuse. Courtesy, good manners, and doing good involve thinking about others, putting other people first, and not being rude, vain, and self-centered. These are principles taught in the Word of God.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17)The last phrase in these two verses is especially meaningful to me. I came into the kingdom of God feeling very much like a person with an empty platter. How could I serve others? I didn’t have a clue what other people liked or wanted. I was just under thirty years old and yet felt much like the klutz of every gathering. I still often feel awkward with people and am not sure what to do and say.
These verses offer wonderful hope. They promise that God’s Word will equip me to be the person God wants me to be. I didn’t have to learn it in school. In fact, what I might have learned there may have had to be unlearned once I entered God’s school.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8)What I may have learned about doing good before Christ came into my life would not have fit God’s definition of good. In fact, Isaiah wrote about the difference. He said, “But we are all like an unclean thing. And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags. . . .” (Isaiah 64:6).
Human righteousness does not measure up. The question is how to know the difference. An unsaved person might do things that look good. Yet God says no to that and uses His Word to equip His people to do good, the kind of good things that please Him. Most people don’t know the difference, or that there is a difference.
I’ve learned that part of it is in the motive. Motivation is a hidden thing, hard to guess, easy to keep secret. I can take a pie to a shut-in. Am I doing it to bless that person, or to show off my pie-making skills? No one would know but me — and God.
The other thing that makes a difference is the source of strength. I can do things ‘for God’ in the power of the flesh (again, for selfish reasons), or I can do things because God is motivating me, filling me with His Spirit, and giving me all that I need to do it.
These things are hard to explain. Walking in the Spirit is a bit like trying to step into my shadow. As soon as I do, it moves. It is also like humility in that as soon as I start examining myself to see if I have it, I’ve lost it.
The good news is that by faith I can trust God to do the equipping. I might fumble, drop my platter now and then, even set it down to go do my own thing. Nevertheless, He persists and His Word persists. Not only that, when He does something, no one can undo it. His plans will prevail because He is God.