读经：诗112:1-10 弗4:17-5:7 赛63:1-65:16
Six Keys to Good Relationships
When she was nineteen years of age, Chiara Lubich gathered with a few friends in northern Italy. It was 1939 and, as bombs fell, they asked this question: ‘Was there an ideal that bombs could not destroy?’ Their answer was, ‘Yes, the love of God’.
They had experienced God’s overwhelming love and they wanted to share it with others. They imitated God by living a life of love (Ephesians 5:1–2). They helped those in need. They shared what little food they had. They found clothing for those who had none. They comforted the bereaved.
Such a warmth emanated from Chiara and her friends that people gave them the name ‘Focolare’, which means ‘hearth’ or ‘fireplace’. Focolare now has 2 million members in 182 countries. Members of the Focolare community make it their rule of life, 24 hours a day, to live by the golden rule of Jesus: ‘Do to others what you would have them do to you’ (Matthew 7:12).
Love is practical. Chiara said, ‘Love the other person as yourself. Not with words, but with deeds. Imagine how the world would be if the golden rule were put into practice not only between individuals, but also between ethnic groups, peoples and nations, if everyone loved the other country as their own.’
How can we imitate God and live a life of love?
1. Be filled with the Holy Spirit
Psalm 112:1-10It is the Holy Spirit in us who produces a life that imitates God. In this psalm, we see the kind of life God wants us to lead, and it includes all the fruit of the Spirit described by Paul in Galatians 5:22–23. It is a life of:
- love (‘compassionate’, Psalm 112:4)
- joy (‘delight’, v.1)
- peace (‘they will have no fear’, v.8)
- patience (‘their hearts are steadfast’, v.7)
- kindness (‘generous and lend freely’, v.5b; ‘they have scattered abroad their gifts to the poor’, v.9)
- goodness (‘the righteous will be remembered for ever’, v.6b)
- faithfulness (‘their hearts are secure’, v.8a)
- gentleness (‘gracious’, v.4b)
- self-control (‘surely they will never be shaken’, v.6a).
All this stems from knowing God – spending time reading and meditating on his word: ‘Blessed are those who fear the Lord, who find great delight in his commands’ (v.1).
Lord, help me today to live a life of love and compassion, joy and delight, peace and no fear, patience and steadfastness, kindness and generosity, goodness and righteousness, faithfulness and security, gentleness and self control.
2. Be transformed into the likeness of Jesus
Ephesians 4:17-5:7Jesus Christ set the supreme example of love by giving up his life for us. St Paul writes, ‘Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’ (5:1–2). As St Athanasius wrote, ‘God became like us in order that we might become like God.’
What does this ‘life of love’ look like?
Paul writes about how the Ephesians came ‘to know Christ’ (4:20), and how knowing him they were taught to ‘be made new in the attitude of your minds and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness’ (vv.23–24).
What is ‘holiness’?
Paul gives six practical examples of holiness – six keys to good relationships in a holy church (4:25–5:7):
‘What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretence. Tell your neighbour the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all’ (v.25, MSG).
This is a life of honesty and integrity. The danger of talking about ‘holiness’ is that it leads to intensity. But there is a fine line between holiness and being ‘holier than thou’, between being pious and poisonous! Putting off falsehood is a kind of holiness that frees us to admit we’re far from perfect. We can be vulnerable with one another. This leads away from hypocrisy.
‘Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry – but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life’ (vv.26–27, MSG).
Although anger is not intrinsically sinful, it often leads to sin. In anger, the devil sometimes finds a foothold in our lives that easily becomes an addiction. Anger is an emotion that we need to handle with care.
On the other hand there is a positive side to anger. It can be a God-given emotion. God expresses anger (5:6), but of course he does so under control. Jesus’ anger was a righteous anger towards sin. It was Wilberforce’s passionate hatred of slavery that eventually led to the abolition of the slave trade.
- Work and generosity
‘Did you use to make ends meet by stealing? Well, no more! Get an honest job so that you can help others who can’t work’ (v.28, MSG).
Holiness is often mistakenly understood as the need to separate ourselves from those we consider unholy. Some people think this way about their work colleagues, for example. Paul’s point is very different. He sees work as part of a holy life. Work in itself is good for the satisfaction that it brings but there is also toil, struggle and effort. So why do people go to work in the morning? One answer is: in order to be holy.
Paul finds it necessary to say do not steal any longer, which hints that some members of the early church were ex-offenders. The church clearly welcomed and cared for ex-offenders. Rather than taking from others, they should now contribute to those around them. The best way to do that is by working. Work in itself is ‘doing something useful’, as well as enabling them to ‘share with those in need’ (v.28). Whether or not they were ex-offenders, work is – for everyone – a part of being holy.
‘Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift’ (v.29, MSG).
Words matter. What you say is of vital importance. It can either build people up or drag them down. Use your mouth for good – for encouragement and for building others up.
‘Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you’ (vv.31–32, MSG).
Sometimes we have a picture of a holy community being a place where all the people are walking around looking holy and not really wanting anyone who is not holy among them. But Paul’s picture is far from that.
Paul’s vision of a holy church is a community that rids itself of all bitterness, anger and slander, and that welcomes those who are ex-offenders, those struggling with lifestyle issues, those who are divorced, those who have messed up. It is a community of people in need of forgiveness and a place where forgiveness flows freely because forgiven people forgive.
The church welcomes everyone, because it is kind, compassionate and gracious. At the same time, you are called to a life of purity without ‘even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people’ (5:3).
Rather than self-centred sins (vv.3–4a), you are called to God-centred thanksgiving (v.4b). There is also a strong warning here from Paul. There is forgiveness for sins, but those who end up setting their course against God’s ways will not inherit his kingdom (v.5).
Lord, I need the help of your Spirit to live a life of love. Thank you for the example of Jesus. Thank you that I can be forgiven because he gave himself for me. Help me today to live a life of love and to become more like Jesus.
3. Become like the compassionate father
Isaiah 63:1-65:16God’s love for Israel was like that of a father: ‘You are our Father’ (63:16; 64:8, MSG). ‘You’re our living Father, our Redeemer, famous from eternity!’ (63:17, MSG).
Just as God loved the people of Israel in the Old Testament, so God loves you as a father loves his children. Isaiah speaks of the kindnesses of the Lord: ‘All the Lord has done for us – yes, the many good things he has done for the house of Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses. He said, “Surely they are my people, children who will not be false to me”’ (vv.7–8).
God loves us in spite of the fact that ‘we’re all sin-infected, sin-contaminated. Our best efforts are grease-stained rags’ (64:6, MSG).
God, like any human father, suffers when we suffer or go astray: ‘In all their troubles, he was troubled, too’ (63:9a, MSG). ‘In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old’ (v.9b).
God has plans for you that no eye has seen, no ear has heard and no mind has conceived (Isaiah 64:4; 1 Corinthians 2:9).
Lord, thank you that you love me more than any human father. Thank you that because of your love for me, I am able to love those around me.
‘Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.’
Don’t go to bed grumpy!