Sweet Holy Spirit, guide us today in the imprint of Christ’s footsteps to pursue justice, counting our neighbor’s welfare to be as important as our own. Amen.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
6 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each will have to bear his own load.
6 Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Empathy is the feature of our own emotional health that allows us to resonate with another human being. It keeps them from being just a fixture in our own little world, and places them on equal footing with us. Empathy reinforces humanity, it directs our hearts toward the needs & suffering of others, and it guides us to action to see justice done for the oppressed. Empathy stirs our heart, it engages our mind, it motivates our spirit to do what it best for someone other than our self. It is a gift that keeps us alive, sane, and functioning as a member of a responsible, God-honoring culture & worldview.
Being emotional has often been viewed as a weakness. There have been people and cultures that have maintained that a strict anti-emotionalism will help you to be a better human being, that it helps you to ‘grow up’ and deal with the hardships of life better. For some, being detached emotionally is a sign that you have accepted reality and are now able to function as an adult. Emotionalism is for the weak.
This couldn’t be any farther from the truth, and we can look to Jesus for our example.
When meeting with people who were in need, hurting and broken, Jesus’ response was never cold and calculated, detached and solely observant. Listen:
Matthew 15:32 “Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”
Mathew 8:14-15 “14 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him.”
Matthew 9:1-3 “And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. 2 And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”
Mark 10:14 “But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”
Luke 19:41 “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it,”
John 5:6 “When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?””
John 11:32-35 “32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
The common thread between Jesus, the people, their situation and the emotional response that Jesus had comes down to two small words “He saw.” That’s it. He observed their suffering, their situation, and simply in the seeing, His heart was provoked by emotion. And in that ’emotional’ state, Jesus acted in the mercy and justice of God to do what was right. He related to those who suffered, and He helped them carry their burdens, and usually took them all together.
This is the example of Christ. This is empathy at work. God is not cold and detached. There is not maturity that results in dismissing the heart and hurt of people who suffer.
Can emotion be used to take advantage of others, can sob stories capture the heart of another and remove them from rational thought? Absolutely. But don’t let the possibility of feeling deeply keep you from feeling. Don’t ever let the possibility of someone’s dishonesty keep you from serving others as Christ already has served them. Empathy doesn’t just keep others human in our own hearts, it keeps us human, too. A lack of empathy, a lack of compassion kills our own heart, and allows us to focus solely on self, dehumanizing others and seeking comfort away from their suffering. It removes us from the sphere of the work of God.
He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Empathy & wisdom, paired together, help us walk in the path of the truth & mercy of God as we follow Christ.
Empathy without wisdom condones improper behavior and sinful struggles. Sometimes people hurt because of poor life choices and an improper worldview. These are the instances where empathy leads to compassion which leads to loving correction. It doesn’t keep us from meeting with them, but it guides us as we seek to guide them toward God, understanding their brokenness & our own.We are all responsible for our own choices & actions.
Knowledge without empathy is simply a cold observation of one’s perception of reality. It is cold and uncaring, even if we are right in regards to observing their moral transgressions. God’s mercy in the face of His own justice revealed grace for us & a glorification of Himself in the process. Had He simply observed, we would remain dead in our sin, damned by our own broken actions & motivations.
Pairing them together, we are kept responsible to God & others, seeing a need, and meeting a need while engaging the heart of the other as Christ has done, and drawing them toward Him. Mercy & justice, working together.
6 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Sweet Holy Spirit, guide us today in the imprint of Christ’s footsteps to pursue justice, counting our neighbor’s welfare to be as important as our own. Amen.
Galatians 5:16-26 ESV
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
It’s kind of hard to ignore fruit on a tree. It is the symbol of the health of the tree, it identifies the type of tree, it indicates a zone or region where that type of fruit can be grown. There’s a lot to be said by just looking at a tree. About a year ago, we were out walking in the woods as a family, and coming to a trail head we encountered a persimmon tree. The kids have never tried persimmons, let alone wild persimmons. They. Were. Tart…and dry, dry, dry! I asked them if we had created a memory that day. Sometimes as a parent you have to create teachable moments.
When it comes to the fruit of our life, we have to realize that we are walking, talking teachable moments for other people. We are showing the fruit of our hearts and intentions on a regular basis. In how we interact with people, how we respond to difficult situations, how we talk about people when they aren’t around…our fruit is obvious. Is there selflessness coming from us, or self-centeredness? Do we build people up or tear people down? Are we driven by compassion & mercy or do we just look out for number one? Do we run with the whims and desires of our physical body, or do we exhibit restraint and self-control, knowing how to discipline our bodies?
1 Corinthians 9:27 No, I train my body and bring it under control. Then after I have preached to others, I myself will not break the rules. If I did break them, I would fail to win the prize.
Hebrews 12:11 No training seems pleasant at the time. In fact, it seems painful. But later on it produces a harvest of godliness and peace. It does this for those who have been trained by it.
Colossians 1:9-14 That’s why we have not stopped praying for you. We have been praying for you since the day we heard about you. We keep asking God to fill you with the knowledge of what he wants. We pray he will give you the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives. Then you will be able to lead a life that is worthy of the Lord. We pray that you will please him in every way. So we want you to bear fruit in every good thing you do. We pray that you will grow to know God better. We want you to be very strong, in keeping with his glorious power. We want you to be patient. We pray that you will never give up. We want you to give thanks with joy to the Father. He has made you fit to have what he will give to all his holy people. You will all receive a share in the kingdom of light. He has saved us from the kingdom of darkness. He has brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. Because of what the Son has done, we have been set free. Because of him, all our sins have been forgiven.
God desires fruit from us, & He has a right to see it come about in us, reaping a harvest for Him. Jesus told the parable of the wicked tenants, people who did not own the vineyard and would not recognize the authority of the one who did. The fruit they were intended to raise was usurped by their own selfishness & greed, and they wound up paying the price for their misdeeds.
If we bear the fruit that God requires, and if we live lives of fruitful multiplication, we can be assured that our Master will be pleased with our effort. We are ultimately accountable to Him for the fruit of our life, our choices and our desires. If we value good fruit, and pursue practices that encourage good fruit then we will produce good fruit. If we choose to do otherwise, our lives will exhibit those choices instead.
Fruit bearing requires submission & daily obedience, but we will never regret that choice.
Lord, keep our frailty before us, that we might set our hearts on You. Be our strength & be glorified in our sustaining. Amen.
“18 For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, 19 since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. 21 For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles.
24 Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.”
And so we enter the main thrust of Paul’s first point. When we are confronted with God, we find that there are two differemt reactions. The first is to honor and glorify Him, admitting our own shortcomings, or to be given over to our own pride, denying His righteousness and choosing to serve self instead. That may seem overly simplistic, but it is the truth.
Every morning when I wake up, I am given a choice. Either I can live for God or I can live for myself, there is no in-bewteen. I can either look at the day and understand that God’s desire for me is best or I can seek to serve myself, following my own path. He has not presented us with an option that says that we can do both of those things, living according to His will and our own. Paul lays it out clearly, the Spirit speaking through him, that everyone is without excuse when we make this decision, as God has made Himself plainly known through creation itself. And when we choose to gratify our own desires, choosing self over service to Him, we have chosen depravity, idolatry and that our minds become darkened & foolish.
And to an unbelieving world, that sounds harsh. But in reality, that’s what happens when we choose self, we exchange the truth for a lie. There isn’t some magical mid-point between truth & lies, no flex point or grey area. And that is where guilt comes in, and why we can see it as a blessing. If we didn’t feel guilty, if we weren’t convicted of our sin, we would never change. If God just patted us on the head and sent us off while silently shaling His own? That would be cruel & heartless. To see our sin, our shame and the mess we make of our life and to just quietly let us wander into the mire and quicksand of death? There couldn’t be love in His heart if He was to let that happen. And so Paul lets us see that God made Himself clear through creation, that He planted certain things in our hearts that draw us toward Him, even if we don’t know what to call Him or have access to His Word. Creation itself has His fingerprint all over it. And being allowed to experience this wandering, to be delivered over to our sinful cravings, we have the opportunity to experience guilt & conviction, the one thing that will point our hearts back to ward Him and away from self.
Our hypersensitive society is repulsed by the idea of guilt and shame, thinking no one should ever feel bad for their choices. But in reality, that is the greatest cruelty they could offer their ‘fellow man.’ To refuse to say that something is wrong, is to willingly watch another person wander directly into death. To say ‘live and let live’ is to show an absolute lack of care or concern for the well being of another human life and the lives that are attached to it. It is a savage person who tells another person to let their sinful instincts have their way, to eat, drink and be merry, with no fear of consequence or repercussion. It isn’t love that perpetuates this attitude, it is disdain. It plainly says, “I don’t care about you, but I am going to tell myself I do so that I feel no guilt in what harms you.” In this way, ‘tolerance’ can be the greatest cruelty.
Paul is warning the Roman Christians and everyone else who would read this letter about the dangers of sin. And why? Because he cared for them like God did. And when we care for people, we cannot let them continue to wander in their sin, or deny that their sin even exists. Love cannot turn a blind eye. Instead, it follows the command to GoLove others enough to let them see their sin, which is the example that Jesus set for us. He was lifted up, while offering Himself as the sacrifice for our sin, so that we might see just how serious the wandering of our heart is, and why we must turn our eyes toward God. To live in the rhythm of grace means to be plain and open about sin. Love doesn’t disguise sin, it reveals it for the poison that it is, and it speaks with the voice of the Father, a loving parent who disciplines thier child precisely because of His love for them.
“5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding;
6 think about Him in all your ways,
and He will guide you on the right paths.
7 Dont consider yourself to be wise;
fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
8 This will be healing for your body
and strengthening for your bones.
9 Honor the Lord with your possessions
and with the first produce of your entire harvest;
10 then your barns will be completely filled,
and your vats will overflow with new wine.
11 Do not despise the Lords instruction, my son,
and do not loathe His discipline;
12 for the Lord disciplines the one He loves,
just as a father, the son he delights in.”
“1 Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle and singled out for God’s good news — 2 which He promised long ago through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures — 3 concerning His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was a descendant of David according to the flesh 4 and who has been declared to be the powerful Son of God by the resurrection from the dead according to the Spirit of holiness. 5 We have received grace and apostleship through Him to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations, on behalf of His name, 6 including yourselves who also belong to Jesus Christ by calling:
7 To all who are in Rome, loved by God, called as saints.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul’s primer on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ begins with a greeting that does everything he can to point the focus at Jesus Christ rather than at the reader. All in all, in just this way of saying ‘Hello, it’s me Paul,’ contains close to 20 references to God and only 6 to the reader. There is no doubt, from the first moment, that this letter has an agenda. That agenda is to direct believers, new and old, toward the undeniable truth that God is the center, Christ is the focus and the Spirit is the One who draws us there.
There is such a relief, such a freedom, that comes from having the focus shifted off of us and onto Jesus Christ. The first steps of discipleship then echo that call to come and die to self, and to then, inturn, live to Christ. Even in saying hello, it is apparent that this new endeavor of the soul is going to create a rhythm that is based in Him, on Him and for Him. This life of being a disciple isn’t anything that might look like our old life, that might resemble whoever it was that we used to be. Instead, we begin in that first step to do what we will be doing in eternity, namely kneeling and confessing His Lordship over all. We begin by confessing Whose we are, as Paul does in the inaugural 6 words, “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ.” and in being owned by Jesus, again, we find such freedom. The weight and responsibility of ownership shifts off of our insufficient shoulders and rests firmly on the shoulders of the One who carried the weight of humanity’s sins on His own shoulders. So, in our kneeling, He makes us able to stand. In confessing His Name, He gives us a new identity. In submitting to His Lordship, He makes us Hiis grace-covered ambassadors to the nations.
All of this confirmed in a simple greeting by a man the readers haven’t even met yet.
As we greet each new day, week, month, moment, opportunity or year, as Christians, we a compelled to remember our discipleship and where the focus of our life really rests. Each day is meant to be a practice of His presence and a rememberance of His grace-filled love. As disciples, we cannot look to self, but to our Master. This new life is a complete retooling of the entirety of our being. We are being reset, recast, into His image, His likeness. All of life then, has its lens adjusted, focused and dialed in to the heart of God by the blood of Christ and the direction of His Holy Spirit. We gain a new direction and in turn find contenment in Him. We give over the controls for the lens of our heart to Him, knowing that He knows better than we ever could what will bring richness, joy and purpose into our lives.
Paul’s introduction echoes these senitments, and so much more. This is about Him, not about us. The rhythm of grace that compells us to GoLove others in His Name finds it foundation in the beating of His heart, not in the compulsions of our flesh. The struggle that ensues, between flesh and Spirit, will wind up being a major topic of conversation as this amazing letter progresses. But as for us, let us greet this day with the rememberance of Whose we are, and use these moments we have to draw the hearts of others around us to see what we have found when we come and die, finding life abundant in Jesus Christ.
“16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was troubled within him when he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshiped God and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Then also, some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers argued with him. Some said, ‘What is this pseudo- intellectual trying to say?’
Others replied, ‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities’ — because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the Resurrection.
19 They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, ‘May we learn about this new teaching youre speaking of? 20 For what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these ideas mean.’ 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.”
Verse 16 allows us a glimpse into the heart of Paul, and in turn into the heart of an evangelist. But not only that, we see the heart of a man who understands the heart of Christ and what his priority ought to be as He walks with Him. Paul is troubled in his spirit. And why? Because this great city, Athens, is full of people who are lost, wandering and who are spiritually bankrupt. Faith of any kind had first become an intellectual exercise for them, then it was part of their cultural identity, but it was lacking in their hearts. Add to that the fact that what faith they may have possessed was wasted on dead, stone idols and we see a picture painted of a city that is in the grip of moral and spiritual poverty.
Now, the Athenians would have still thought themselves to be something great, mayeb not at their peak anymore, but still they lived in Athens, and how many cities could contend with the grandeur of Athens? They were still riding the wave of where they had been before the Romans came through and thought themselves something important. This is pretty obvious when we look at how they respond to Paul, insulting him with the term “pseudo-intellectual.” But because what they heard from him was novel, they decided to grant him an audience.
In Western culture today, there are many, many people who think that they are intellectually above faith of any kind. They look down on people to cling to their Bibles and gather each week in churches. They see faith as a crutch for the ignorant, maybe even something that preys on the poor and weak-minded. I’ve heard all the arguments and talking points. They want nothing to do with faith, because, in thier mind, it is an unreasonable dependence on something that has no emperical evidence. They can’t see it, quantify it, catalog it and examine it the way they want, and so it is pushed aside.
Religious apathy, pride and a worship of self-intellectualization are at the center of this mindset. It’s all about what you know and how well you can express yourself, and faith cannot play a part in the process. Most of us know people who think themselves to be fairly intellegent, and they are always leaning on that faith in their intellegence to carry them through. As we GoLove them in the Name of Jesus, we are going to find hard packed soil and hardened hearts many times. But that is where our own preparedness to speak of Gospel things, and to present evidence of the truth of Christ is so important. We must pray before we engage with them (as we should with any opportunity to witness) and we should still have that heart that Paul had, the heart that had compassion on the lost. The heart that hurts for those who are so wrapped up in their own ideas and philospohies that they cannot see hope, who cannot know love (only ever examining it) and who don’t know the peace that faith offers when we come to God in Christ. These people are not impossible to talk with, and you don’t have to have your doctorate to do so (although a good dose of hard-headedness doesn’t hurt.) But we speak the truth in love, standing firm as we do so, and present the hope that only Christ can bring. The heart that hurts for them is the heart that will continue going back to present the hope of Christ.