Saturday, July 29, 2017

July 29

2 Chronicles 24:1-25:28; Romans 12:1-21; Psalm 22:19-31; Proverbs 20:8-10

I've got to be honest here: I get lost sometimes in Paul's theological argument in the early chapters of Romans.  Perhaps it's because I never really enjoyed philosophy when I took it as an undergrad; perhaps it's because I've only read it as a single chunk once or twice and, thus, lose the train of his thought.  Regardless, I always breathe a small sigh of relief when we get to chapter 12.  Paul's words here are easily accessible, but no less difficult.

Over the last ten or fifteen years, I've come to this conclusion: Obedience isn't complicated.  It's not hard to understand or, really, even to figure out.  It isn't complex or terribly nuanced.  It is, however, extremely hard.  "Give to God's church" is a straightforward command, but it is painful for us to release our illusory control over the money we're given.  "Love your enemy as yourself" and "forgive as you have been forgiven" are easily comprehended, but so very difficult for us to do.  "Don't gossip" isn't unclear at all, but that doesn't make it any simpler to obey.  "Honor your wedding vows," even when your spouse hasn't.  Obedience isn't complicated; it's difficult.

I thought that again today as I read this passage of Romans.  A few examples:
    "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought" (Rom. 12:3).
    "Honor one another above yourselves" (Rom. 12:11).
    "Do not repay anyone evil for evil" (Rom. 12:17). 
Got it, got it, got it.  Ain't easy, ain't easy, argh!

Every year I read these words.  Every year I'm challenged to live more obediently, more faithfully, more like Jesus.  Did he not embody the above commands, as well as the others in our reading?  And every year, the command for living with God's people that I find most difficult to live out remains the same: "as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Rom. 12:18).  As far as it depends on me - those words force me to look at myself and my contributions in a disagreement.  I'm not absolved by believing that my opponent has the greater share of responsibility.  I can't hide under the guise of waiting for him/her to acknowledge the stuff he/she brought into the situation.

I cannot wait for my friend to apologize.  I cannot nurse the hurt and bitterness of my spouse's betrayal.  This is beyond turning the other cheek - this is moving forward and toward the person who has offended me.

I don't like it, and I don't want to do it.  Oh, I understand what Paul is telling me to do; it's not incomprehensible*.  It's just so, so hard, and I have to die a little (or larger) death to obey.  I don't like to die to myself!  It's easier to "wait for God to change my heart" or "pray that the other person will be convicted."  These statements absolve me of my responsibility to obey, which is what my flesh wants anyway.  I want God to make an exception in my case.  

His written word to me, and to you, still stands, though.

How will you respond to God's call to obedience?  Will you accept the easy-to-understand-but-hard-to-do words written here by Paul?  As happened to me this very morning, when you're in the shower and you're revisited by the hurts and injustices caused by a brother-like friend, will you forgive and absorb the death of your right to be right?  Will you sue the contractor from church whose bid was inaccurate and whose timeline is impossible?  Will you give generously to your local church, even though you can't see how ends will meet if you do?

Truly, it all comes down to this question: do I trust God to take care of me and my hurts and my future?

Lord God, obedience is hard without trust, but my trust will grow stronger as I obey.  Teach me to trust you and your good word to me.  Give me the honesty to accept your commands and the strength and courage to obey.  Thank you for your faithfulness; I can be sure that as I obey, you will not let me falter or fall.  You are a good, good God.  Amen.

- Sarah Marsh

* A rare case where double negatives work grammatically.  (grin!)

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