How do we know that a child belongs to a certain family? Probably one guide is their looks. They are likely to bear a likeness to other family members, particularly their parents. They may also have character traits which remind us of other members of the family. When we become Christians we begin to look like our new adoptive family, particularly like our Father God and our eldest brother Jesus. St Paul had plenty to say about what a true Christian should look like, what they should do and also what they should not do!
The readings at our noon SLT service on Sunday were Psalm 26:1-8, Romans 12:9-end, Matthew 16:21-end. My reflection is given below:
When a new baby arrives in a family, everyone wants to see the child and possibly have a cuddle. Usually each person will say how beautiful the baby is and congratulate the parents. The next thing that often happens is that each person tries to see who the child looks like. There’ll be comments such as ‘He’s got his father’s nose’, ‘She has long fingers just like her mother’, and so on. I think it’s pretty difficult to see much when the child is a tiny baby but certainly as time goes on and the features become better defined, it is possible to see who the child looks like. Often it’s possible to see a resemblance to both parents at the same time, or at different ages a child may look more like one or the other parent. A child may also be compared to their siblings.
As children grow up it’s not just the external features which show resemblance to their parents, but often character traits. The child may be shy, impatient, compassionate, lazy and it could well be that once again people will say ‘Just like her father’, ‘So much like his mother’. The same will happen with the talents a child shows. Not everything about a child depends on what they have inherited. It also depends on their upbringing. The same child brought up by a different family might turn out differently as the ethos of the family and the opportunities for development offered will be different.
When we become Christians we are adopted into a different family, the family of God with Jesus as the eldest son in the family. The family has a different ethos and we gain a new inheritance in the character traits given to us by the Holy Spirit who comes to live in us. We still look the same on the outside but the inside of us should be changing. Instead of doing what comes naturally to us, Jesus asks us to deny our natural tendencies and take up our cross. Instead of looking at what the world can give us, we are to lose our lives in order to find them.
Jesus says that he will come again and repay everyone for what they have done. I very much doubt if he will be standing there with a list of tasks, checking if each person has done them, but I do think he will be looking for the family likeness in us. If we truly are members of God’s family, we will look like God in many ways and look like the eldest in the family, Jesus.
St Paul, in his letter to the Romans, lists some of the ways a person shows that they belong to the family of God. He gives a long list of things a Christian should do – loving others, serving God, exhibiting patience in suffering, persevering in prayer, giving to others, welcoming strangers, showing empathy for others, living harmoniously, being humble and lowly. The list isn’t exhaustive but it gives a flavour of the kinds of thing a Christian would do. Each will do what there is the opportunity to do. We’re not called to be clones of one another.
That list is the proactive side of Christian living. Then Paul goes on to advise about the reactive side – what to do when life throws unpleasant things at us, as it most surely will. Those who persecute us are to be blessed by us. This is not a character trait which most of us would have naturally, but we are enabled to do this if we allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit. We have to be careful who we listen to. Jesus called Peter ‘Satan’ because what he said was not in line with what God’s will was. Jesus needed to listen to God’s voice, not Peter’s, if he was to fulfil his mission.
If Jesus needed to be careful about which voice he listened to, so do we. If someone acts against us, those around us will often advise us to play them at their own game, to get even in some way. In the Old Testament there was provision for this with the guidance of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’. The people were allowed to repay an evil done to them in a proportionate way. The way of the Christian is not that of even proportionate vengeance. If you notice what Paul says, he advises us not to avenge ourselves but ‘to leave room for the wrath of God’. If we start taking revenge we elbow God out of the situation and take away the room he needs to work on our behalf.
That doesn’t mean that we simply sit back and accept all that life throws at us without taking any action at all. We have practical steps to take. We are to bless those who act against us, which indicates that we pray for them. It’s very hard to hate those whom we pray for. We are to provide for their physical needs in whatever way we can. In this way, rather than escalating the level of evil in the world, we will actually be overcoming it in the same way that Jesus did. We will be showing the family likeness in our lives.
The psalmist also knew that this was the right way to live. He was able to ask God to act for him precisely because he had trusted in the Lord and walked in truth. He had kept clear of the company of those who were false and deceitful, wicked and evildoers. He was confident in asking God to examine his inner life to see the quality of it. He was not just conforming outwardly to what was right.
The key issue for the psalmist was his integrity. The word is of Greek origin, meaning whole. It indicates a way of living that is characterised by wholeness, where the person you are has thoughts, speak words, takes actions that all belong to the same belief system. Paul advises us to live in harmony and peace with others as much as we can. Integrity means living in harmony and peace with yourself, with no aspect of who you are conflicting with any other aspect. It means sticking with what you know is right regardless of other voices which may try to tempt you to do otherwise. You will then be known for your moral character, for keeping your word, speaking the truth, acting justly. Even when no one is looking, you will still do what you know is right.
When Jesus, our eldest brother, the Prince of Peace, returns he will be looking to see if we have lived as Paul advises: ‘Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God.’
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor