I'm hoping to close out this series on the book of Hebrews in the next week or so, but to do that I'm going to have to gloss over some fantastic verses, so I hope you'll take the time to read these last two chapters in their entirety. They are incredibly rich: Hebrews 12 and Hebrews 13.
Hebrews 12:14 instructs us to "Make every effort to live in peace with all men." If you stop to think about it, that is an absolutely radical statement. All men? All men! Really? Does that include the people we want to hate? Because if we're honest, everybody wants to hate someone. Right now, many Americans want to hate Carl-Henric Svanberg (Chairman of BP) and lots of Brits want to hate Robert Green (English World Cup goalkeeper). But these aren't unique times, someone is always being demonized by some group. The "Hate is Not a Family Value" bumper-sticker was common during the Clinton era, yet vehement hatred was just as common during the Bush years. So maybe it's not surprising that Barack Obama's message of change has yet to quell the wave of hate. And think of the animus mustered for wayward husbands, from John Edwards to Mark Sanford to Jesse James. To be honest, it is my strong inclination to loathe John Edwards and Mark "Soul Mate" Sanford. But as a follower of Jesus Christ, I am called to live at peace with everyone. I am called to pray for those I'm inclined to hate, even for those who would persecute me, and wish only goodwill towards every single person. It is a high standard. How can we possibly meet it?
The truth, of course, is that we cannot, in our humanness, purify our emotions. Our battle in the flesh is futile, and the fruits of the spirit are divine. No one can just wake up in the morning and decide to be more loving, joyful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle or self-controlled. Apart from God, any progress is small and fleeting. Very simply, we need Jesus. By focusing and relying on Him we can become more like Him. And He is all of these things. Jesus is all-loving, full of joy, ever-patient, always kind, forever good, ceaselessly faithful, gentle and self-controlled.
But the great heart physician, does not perform His work without consent. He does not change you against your will. You will never become more like Him without recognizing that YOU NEED HIM. So may we take a hard look at our own lives. Do you feel like you could never ever be Carl-Henric Svanberg, Bernie Madoff, O.J. Simpson, John Edwards, or Mark Sanford? Do you think you are beyond certain sins, that it's just not in you? Well, until we recognize the dark, dark corner of our own hearts, we will never have compassion on these people, and we will never live in radical peace with all men.
This is a tough road. In fact, it's an impossible road, but for the grace of God. Although I want to hate and feel superior to wretches like those mentioned above, I need to remind myself daily that I too am a wretch, and that God's economy is never merit-based, but grace-based.
This week may we recognize God's abundant mercy and love, and live at peace with all men.