doing what is right in the eyes of everyone: our witness

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Romans 12:17-18

Any passage of Scripture has to be considered in its context. The directive to do right in the eyes of everyone is in the context living in the midst of tensions in relationships, perhaps at work, at home, or elsewhere. How do we navigate such?

We do what we can and leave the rest to God. God will take care of any wrong that needs to be made right, aside from any wrong we might need to make right, along the way.

There is a certain basic aspect of being a Christian, of following Christ in which we can’t worry about what the world thinks. We try to be true to Christ, to the gospel, to righteousness and justice as God prescribes, regardless.

At the same time, we must be sure that we’re not causing any offense of our own that will make it harder for people to see the light of Christ. We must not cover that light with our own darkness. Paul expresses this idea perhaps more directly here, again to be considered in its own context, but still appropriate for this problem in general:

Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

1 Corinthians 10:32-11:1

This should be our passion, something close to our heart. As we seek to follow Christ and his light for ourselves, and in doing so, be a light to others.

 

thinking needed during difficult times

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

Right now in the United States and across the world we’re facing a pandemic. This naturally intensifies stress, and is affecting all of life. So why would I point myself, and all of us to this word from Paul, and actually this Scripture, God’s written word?

First of all, it’s always good practice, something not just recommended, but prescribed for us Christians. And when you turn the pages of Scripture, you’ll find plenty of good in the midst of reality. Scripture is not couched in an alternative, imaginative, make-believe world, but in the all too real world, the world in which we live. Of course across different cultures and time, to be sure. But much of what we see there, we see here. And Paul’s word here actually refers to good found anywhere, all a part of God’s common grace given to humankind.

To be sure, we practically have to turn our faces, or ignore so much right in front of our faces that is less than good, and too often is bad, or even evil. We don’t ignore such things. To focus on what is true is probably more in the sense of what is true in a good sense. But what is true, noble and right includes taking seriously that which is not. To engage in this process requires discernment. It’s all too easy at least for me to descend into something that is less than good in reaction to what’s not good.

During this crisis, we will do well to find what is good in the sense of fitting and helpful. And to have discernment to see what is not. Paul’s words here necessarily mean that we’re going to want to be constructive in our critiques, beginning first with ourselves, if we’re going to help others with the kind of help that’s needed.

May God help us to think thoughts which impact us in ways that are uplifting in the sense of edifying, so that others too may be helped. And especially that we might all look to the one who can lift us beyond what we can imagine, or experience ourselves. In and through Jesus.

 

James on trials and uncertainty

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:2-8

James, though a pastor comes across, at least to us as rather blunt, and certainly to the point. He doesn’t waste words. His letter is considered the one New Testament book more in line with the wisdom writings of the Old Testament: Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.

James lived during a time of uncertainty. The church was young and he was the first pastor of the church in Jerusalem, Peter certainly a pastor, but more of an apostle to the Jews at large in the world of that time. God had given the church as he does today the gift of the Spirit to be a witness to the gospel by deed and word, first by the difference evident in their lives, and a witness as to what makes that difference.

Fast forward to today. We live in a different time for sure. And depending on where we live, possibly quite different circumstances. But one thing is for sure, as evident in this passage: trials will come, and many kinds of them.

As this passage makes clear, our response to such will determine whether or not we grow in Christian maturity, and to what extent we do. None of us will get this perfect. And there will be moments and maybe even times when we don’t consider such pure joy. But when, apart from our feelings, thoughts or anything else we choose to consider such pure joy, then we can begin to enter into what God has for us in the midst and through such trials.

We’re invited when we lack wisdom, which in ourselves is always the case, to ask God for it. That’s a relief, because left to ourselves, we more often, or at least I more often than not resort to something that is less than that, and can even be foolish. I’ve seen that time and time again in my life, since I’ve either failed to ask God for it, or operated as if God wasn’t much in the picture. Maybe a bystander who created everything, but then is not involved in that creation, certainly not the God of the Bible. It’s interesting how we might believe something intellectually, but act as if we don’t. We need to then ask ourselves if we believe it at all. God can help us with our lack of faith, as we call out to him, like the man did to Jesus.

So there’s purpose and encouragement in this passage, both short term and long. This is true regardless of what we face, whatever trial it may be. As we respond in faith according to God’s word here, God will be with us, and continue to mature us, giving us the wisdom we need. In and through Jesus.

our lives are in God’s hands

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

James was a pastor, but he could be blunt and was certainly to the point. This is a good example of that. And it’s the kind of word we often need. It seems like if we hear something that comes across to us as only a nice suggestion, we easily slough it off, and forget it. But this is a word that braces us for our full attention, and doesn’t leave an out, another option.

If we can get it into our heads that we’re only a mist, our lives are here one day, and gone the next. That’s hard for us at any age, although as one gets into their senior years, there’s no escape from the realization that our bodies are slowing down, and that we’re indeed aging. Sadly anyone’s life can be snuffed out in an instant, in a car accident, or over a short time with an unexpected illness.

James’s words don’t exclude planning. It’s fine and good to plan, even important, but always with the contingency that all depends on the Lord and his will. Our lives are in God’s hands, not in our own, thankfully. So we can rest assured in that, submitting our plans to God, indeed our very lives, that he might direct us and give us wisdom in everything according to his good will. In and through Jesus.

a need for today: wisdom

The beginning of wisdom is this: Geta]”>[a] wisdom.
Though it cost all you have,b]”>[b] get understanding.

Proverbs 4:7

When I look at my own life, hopefully prayerfully in the light of God’s word with God’s help, I see growth only by God’s grace of course, over the years, but I also see deficiency and the need for more wisdom. And when I consider society today, specifically in the context of American politics, I see a lack of wisdom all too often, and too often I’ve been part of that.

Wisdom is basically knowing what is best to do and not do. It is for all aspects of life, for life itself. It begins with the fear of God, and involves accepting God’s embrace of love in Christ at the cross. We can live in God’s wisdom only in and through Christ, who himself is wisdom to us from God. We have to read all of Scripture in light of that. But still we have to see each part as well as we can within its own context.

In this passage in Proverbs (click above link for entire chapter, the subtitle in the NIV being “Get Wisdom at Any Cost”) the importance of wisdom and along with basics are shared. We have to go back and back again to passages like this, and let its truth soak in and change our priorities.

The decision to receive and essential ongoing follow through in walking in the way of wisdom God gives us will be life changing. It’s a decision which means a new direction for us in life. The clearer that is to us, and the more intentional, the better off we’ll be, and the more true success from God we’ll find.

Of course we won’t be perfect in this pursuit, and will stumble along the way. But that should make us all the more determined by God’s grace to continue to move in this direction. Wisdom is what we need, and what God wants to give to us. In and through Jesus.

keeping our mouths shut

Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,
and discerning if they hold their tongues.

Proverbs 17:28

One of the great secrets of true success in life is learning to keep our mouths shut, instead of blurting out our true thoughts, things we would like to say. It often seems right at the moment, but if we give it some time, and pause, we’ll know better, and most of the time, we’ll be grateful we didn’t speak.

We have to be careful, too, because we “non-verbally communicate” as well. It’s amazing how oftentimes people around us can pick up our true attitude toward them. So we need to guard our hearts and be in prayer, that we might not have an attitude which is ungracious, and cuts others down and off.

James wisely counsels us in proverbial like wisdom to be “slow to speak” (James 1:19). To be slow to speak means for a time to not speak at all. To keep our thoughts to ourselves, even as we lift up a prayer to God that he will help us be kind, listen, and if we speak, speak that which is helpful for the situation. In and through Jesus.

straight paths

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

I think the note on making our paths straight from the NET Bible is helpful:

The verb יָשָׁר (yashar) means “to make smooth; to make straight” (BDB 444 s.v.). This phrase means “to make the way free from obstacles,” that is, to make it successful (e.g., Isa 40:3). The straight, even road is the right road; God will make the way smooth for the believer.

God is for us humans. That is unequivocally demonstrated in the Word becoming flesh, God becoming one of us in the Person of the Son and in that, God becoming human. And of course the life, and the death and resurrection, and all that followed and follows that.

We too often seem to equate God’s will with misery. But actually it’s just the opposite. Yes, we won’t always be happy since there is so much brokenness and tragedy in this world. But we’ll still be blessed and have God’s peace.

And God will make the way straight and yes, successful, in his will. Not success as the world would see it, though there may be some overlap since the good of God in creation touches all. God gives us what we need to live in his will as we trust and obey.

God will certainly make the way when there’s no way, what only God can do. Not just for our blessing, but that we might be a blessing. In and through Jesus.