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2 with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
"...forbearing one another in love."
Everyday, opportunities for forbearance abound. Whether it's a difficult person, a sinkful of dirty dishes, or that person walking maddeningly slowly in front of you, those moments when you draw a deep breath and feel your jaw muscles tighten are everywhere.
Forbearing is something that hopefully we each strive to do each day. In our families. In our churches. With our Christian or non-Christian friends. With that cranky bus driver who pretends not to see you waving your arms wildly, and drives off. To be patient, to be long-suffering, to keep our temper. To keep silent, when bitterness is strong within us. We learn to control ourselves, to count ten, to endure, reinforcing what we learned since childhood and which seems to be such a big part of adulthood, in order to cope at work, with our families--with people in general. It's nothing new, after all.
But Paul raises this commonplace standard of simply forbearing by the second half of his sentence. "...in love."
Love! Possibly the last thing on our minds when we're struggling not to throw punches!
It was a sobering realization that simply keeping quiet, simply controlling myself from not demonstrating outward signs of anger, is not the ultimate purpose, is not the point of being longsuffering, of forbearing in a Biblical definition. We're just doing a better job at hiding the bitterness and anger--burning inside us, damaging us. And thinking that we're doing well because we didn't break any dishes or noses simply feeds our pride and makes it worse. We feel good for not having demonstrated any of the bad feelings inside; and it makes us feel justified in entertaining them further. I've experienced it myself; you are tempted to brood over it, nurse your grudge for longer, because you feel entitled to it since you didn't vent it. That's unhealthy, even from a secular point of view. From a spiritual point of view--we've missed the whole point. This is the same Bible that tells us God judges hatred within the heart as well as the external action of murder.
Paul says: "forbearing one another in love." Those two words at the end change everything. We forbear, we endure, because we love them, because we are willing to for their sake. Like a longsuffering parent cleaning up vomit for their cranky toddler. We bear with them, out of love. Out of wanting their good. Out of being able to see beyond their weaknesses, to have sympathy and patience. Out of having Christ, and the truth, free us from the parallel yet opposite extremes of people-pleasing and self-centredness.
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"I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called, 2 with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love..."
A thought-provoking sermon was preached on this verse, which challenged me to examine the qualities listed here.
Lowliness and meekness. These two words have almost vanished from our vocabulary today, yet they describe different aspects of humility which would do us good to think more on. The preacher emphasized that meekness does not equate with weakness, an important point given the popularizing nowadays of what I call an aggressive-defensive attitude. We're told to stand up for ourselves and not to take sh*t from anyone, that haters are going to hate, not to let anyone put us down... Which has more than a grain of truth in it, yet is imbalanced and incomplete as a mindset in itself, from a Christian perspective.
Biblical meekness as modelled by Moses--whom the Bible called the meekest man on the face on the earth--and of course, the Lord Jesus Christ, requires spiritual and moral strength.
Remember Moses' life work. Resisting Pharaoh and bringing the Israelites out of slavery to freedom. Leading and judging them through wars, food/water shortages, plagues, rebellions, etc. It takes a lot of moral and spiritual strength to stand up to a king, and confidently perform supernatural miracles--just as much as the less glamourous, but just as difficult job of dealing with the endless complaints, criticisms, and fears of the Israelites during their 40 year journey.
Far from being a weakness, Moses' meekness was what enabled him to stay stable (and sane, because I would have lost my wits) because he did not treat his role and his work (and the inevitable criticisms and challenges) as the basis for his identity and self-worth. His meekness and lowliness kept him grounded, kept him from self-pity, from entitlement, from greed and abuse of power, from many of the temptations that leaders face.
Likewise, Jesus demonstrated the same stability and strength in how He ministered, healed, taught thousands of people; dealt with threats and hostility from the established community leaders; patiently mentored His disciples; and endured the suffering and humiliation of the cross. This lowliness and meekness enabled Him--the Son of God--to love and relate to the social outcasts, the weak, the sinful:
"...for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls." Why we can come to Him without hesitation or fears.
Both Jesus and Moses were the Bible's standards of God-honouring meekness and lowliness--men who did not seek their own honour and power, did not covet people's admiration and approval, who simply did what pleased God and served others, without wanting credit for it or seeing it as a way of establishing their identity.
And neither of them were anything close to pushovers, or doormats--what we tend to think of as the inevitable consequence of meekness and lowliness.
That's food for thought for us!
Lowliness and meekness as demonstrated by Moses and Jesus reflect how one's priorities, above all, are not on secular things. I've been studying Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in the book of Matthew, and I find myself understanding the "treasure in heaven" theme in terms of priorities. God's will, or ours? God's commands to live a holy life, or the desire to live out a sinful idea of pleasure? Spiritual values of righteousness, mercy, humility, or earthly values of wealth, possessions, power, affirmation, comfort?
Lowliness and meekness are only possible when our actions and mindset are directed by a different set of priorities.
to be continued in part 2
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How do we pray for the haggard-eyed students with absent expressions and highlighter-stained fingers, anxiously sharing about that upcoming exam they've been preparing so hard for?
God, please give them the grade they want.
God, please don't discourage them by the grades they get.
God, help them to have peace in their hearts to accept whatever grade You give them.
God, please give them the grade they deserve after all the hard work they've put in.
God, help them to have the right mentality towards exams and grades, to have perspective.
God, help them to trust You and rely on You better through this experience.
I've heard all these alternatives, and have myself prayed variations on them.
I no longer have to worry about exams and grades, something I am thankful for; but with memories still fresh, it's only natural to feel a helpless, heavy compassion on behalf of the students who are so burdened by it. What should we be praying for them, exactly? We all want God to just give them the good results they want so badly, but we have to acknowledge that "if it's Your will"--wondering uneasily how we would deal with it, if it really isn't.
As students in a society that only increasingly emphasizes education as a means of safeguarding your future, measuring your worth, and determining how others see us, we all constantly struggle to maintain a God-honouring, balanced, healthy mindset towards grades and being assessed. Easier said than done, right.
Bob Schultz, the author of Boyhood and Beyond, had a simple but sobering insight that really helped me adjust the mindset I had towards grades: rejoice in the truth.
It's easy to rejoice in the truth when the truth reflects well on us; we don't need to be reminded to do that.
What's more difficult to live out is when it doesn't.
If you were lazy, procrastinated, shirked the work you should have put in--if your grades reflect that, the right response would be to humbly accept it and treat it as a difficult, but necessary lesson for yourself.
But if you worked hard, yet still struggled--couldn't understand, couldn't get it--and your grades reflect that, it would be much more painful to accept.
However, why not accept that it's the truth? There should not be so much stigma in admitting that you just didn't know your stuff, and need more time, need another chance. Your hard work is not negated just because it didn't end up with the results you wanted. It might simply be a step in the process.
Let's be honest. Even if we barely understood what the paper was about, if we somehow got a good grade on it, we'd celebrate and feel like it was a kind of achievement. Regardless of whether we actually knew our stuff or not, we'd settle for getting a good grade just so we can move on, and feel happy about it. We're prioritizing results over the truth. We've been taught that it's better to reject the truth, if the truth reflects badly on us.
I remember crying when my mom made me repeat a grade once (maths was the bane of my childhood existence) overwhelmed that I had been officially branded as stupid. I had resorted to cheating, peeking at the answer key, because I wouldn't admit I didn't understand the concepts, even though I could barely do the questions. Interestingly, it was the end of the world for me, but not because I didn't understand my maths--it should have been, but that was not the real issue at stake to me. I was more concerned that it was now public knowledge. To accept the facts and acknowledge that I didn't understand was a blow to my pride.
Maybe this sounds like a detour into educational philosophy, and maybe it is. But it reminds me of how, before we can bring ourselves to confess "I have sinned," there is no chance for repentance, for life.
It is no longer a condemnation of who we are, because it isn't the sole indication of our identity or our worth. Just as we are no longer defined by our sin, and are free to live out our identity as God's children, we are not defined by our grades, by our achievements, by how a certain educational system assesses us. And that's why we can rejoice in the truth.
We need to not be so afraid of the truth, as it liberates us and enables us to truly progress, to grow.
"The truth will set you free."
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I used to complain that of all my siblings, my parents gave me the most difficult name. The Chinese character for慈 (ci) has exactly 13 strokes--just for that character alone--and is a rather unusual one that is not easy to pronounce, even for some Chinese people. Over the years I have learnt to endure it being butchered in a mind-baffling multitude of ways, some of which almost come close to ingenious, without any facial muscles flinching. Chi. Chee. Zee. Zhi. Zzz. Jrrr. Qi. Si. See. And the list goes on. I even got called "Silk" by a class of kids I taught once, because the teacher I was assisting couldn't get it right and I was too embarrassed to correct her.
What gets lost is the meaning behind that difficult character; love--to be more specific, mercy/compassion; love from a higher being to a lower one. Just like how the Greek words agape, philos, eros differentiate between different types of love. God's precious and enduring love, if you want to take the complete meaning of my full name. Not easy to pronounce, maybe, but not easy to comprehend either!
I remember many years ago thinking about this, and feeling how apt it was that my parents chose this name for me, as my personality could be pretty well described by that Audrey Hepburn quote: "I was born with an enormous need for affection, and a terrible desire to give it." People categorized me (and I accepted it) as kind/loving/tender-hearted; I hated violence or conflict, I loved animals and children, I was easily moved when I saw suffering of any kind--I remember crying inconsolably once because an old man on a bicycle pulled up along the bus I was on, and as I watched him cycling precariously with his skinny legs among the big cars and flashing lights of Orchard Road I was suddenly, terribly aware how vulnerable he was, how easily he could be knocked over by one of the cars, how his bicycle didn't have any lights and it was late at night...
Which all sounds very sentimental and sweet, perhaps, (or maybe just a morbid and hyperactive imagination haha) but doesn't actually come under love. Let's be honest. English, though my favourite language and the strength of my being, has some deceptive limitations. We use the word "love" way too easily and too carelessly. When we talk about learning to live out a Christ-like love, we sometimes end up reducing it to a warm fuzzy inborn capacity to be tenderhearted; that sensitivity, that empathy, which is just innate in some people's personalities, right? Well, that's not enough. In fact, it's painfully inadequate.
Peter broke down the process in a way which reminds us how real love--far from being a natural, spontaneous, simple thing--is rather the product of spiritual discipline and maturity, of godliness, the fruit of the Spirit, the labour of studying the Word, of knowing God. It ought to be all those things, granted, but in our fallen world, it just isn't. Our hearts are still in the process, and painfully so, of being transformed.
2 Peter 1: 5-7:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.
Love, from the very overuse of the term and concept, may have been reduced to a deceptively simple concept--or at least a seemingly straightforward one. But in this list we see the progression through other different virtues, finally only culminating with love.
Being able to truly love someone isn't just something that has to do with how nice a personality you were born with, or how nice a person you usually are. It's something we work at. Something incredibly hard to achieve as it's not only a progression but also a culmination of the other aspects of our spiritual life.
Think about why Peter chose each word in the verses above, and why they came in that specific order. We need hope to love, or cynicism and despair and human limitations would kill us. We need to know what perseverance and hard work and self control are, to love. We need to be wanting to obey God, desiring to obey God, actively seeking to obey God. And--I love how mutual affection comes right here, a perfect balance--we need to love the other person as an individual, to understand and embrace who they are, to affirm their strengths even as we recognize their weaknesses.
Here Peter is not describing a condescending generic love for the masses, for the "unworthy lost," for humanity in general but divorced from the actual gritty reality of loving individual, imperfect people.
Remember how Jesus, in all of the hundreds of people He ministered to, never once lost sight of them as individuals, never treated them as just another needy person, just another applicant. He stopped to heal those who would have been passed by and ignored, like the lepers. He affirmed the potential in those who were labeled unworthy, like Zacchaeus. He comforted the outcasts, aware of all their sins, all their struggles.
Are you struggling to forgive someone? Are you trying to love someone, to love wisely and well and selflessly as Christ did? Don't sit there expecting God to magically take away your irritation, and fill you with a warm fuzzy desire to "be nice to them." We can only truly love when the Spirit is working hard within us, when we are dealing with our own sin, when we are seeking God in our everyday life.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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