December 1, 2014

From out of the heart . . .

Yesterday one of my neighbors invited me to the local “Festival of Trees.” We had an enjoyable time looking at everything from old fashioned décor to the latest in Christmas tree fashions. There even was one made out of PVC pipe. However, the show winner was, get this, made out of plastic water bottles. They had been cut in half and shredded to look like angel hair, then fashioned into a tree with lights. It was unique, if nothing else.

We also enjoyed singers, dancers, gymnasts, and other action on a stage, and got to vote on our favorite decorated cakes and gingerbread creations. It was a lovely afternoon and I thanked my friend for inviting me.

Today I read this passage of Scripture and thought of her. She is an easy person to care about . . .  Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:8–14)

I cannot imagine doing anything like the sins listed above toward my neighbor I spent the day with, but then realize that some neighbors are easier to love than others. On more reflection, I don’t think God wants my love for others to be based on how loveable they are. If that is the love He has in mind, then He could never love anyone.

No matter who we are, or how virtuous we might be, the Bible says that all have fallen short. At one time or another, I’ve failed to love others the way I ought. I haven’t murdered anyone, but the thought has been there. I’ve not taken anything that wasn’t mine to take, but the thought was there. I can imagine doing sinful things and feel just as guilty about those thoughts as if I had really done something bad.

Some might argue that thoughts are merely temptations and not sin, but none of us would want our thoughts made public. The Bible says that Jesus knows the thoughts and intents of the heart. I might be able to keep them from others, but can anyone keep secrets before God? I’d rather admit that they were there than try to pass them off, or excuse them as a bird flying over my head, as if there is nothing wrong on the inside of my head.

Didn’t Jesus also say that it is what comes out of the heart that condemns us? And Proverbs tells me to guard my heart, for out of it flows the issues of life?

The desires of the flesh and of the mind are not always what they should be, but Romans 13 says not to make provision to satisfy them. For me, that means when I think about anything that is against the will of God and unloving toward others, I’m not to let it stick around or entertain it. Make no provision for it. Offer nothing that will feed or nourish it. Starve it and put it to death.

Again, some people are easy to love. But these commands are not about them, even as they are not about those less easy to care about as God cares about us. The question is: am I thinking with the mind of Christ? If so, it does not matter who my neighbors are or how likeable (or not) they might be. The issue is what is going on in my heart.  

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