The Purpose Driven Life: Cultivating community takes courtesy. Courtesy is respecting our differences, being considerate of each other’s feelings, and being patient with people who irritate us (Titus 3:2). In every church and in every group, there is always at least one “difficult” person, usually more than one. God puts these people in our midst for both their benefit and ours. They are an opportunity for growth and a test of fellowship.
We are given a challenging task by Jesus in John 13:34-35 with these words: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Jesus chose to use the word commandment, so we should take this task seriously.
It’s preceded by Jesus washing the feet of the disciples and another command in John 13:12-17:
When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
Then Jesus warns them that one of the twelve will betray him. One by one the disciples ask, troubled, “Is it I, Lord?” The potential of betrayal, of failing Jesus, is always present … but consider this in the context – John 13:20 says: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives any one whom I send receives me; and he who receives me receives him who sent me.”
Being a Christian, as Jesus intended it,k means being like Jesus, and with this verse Jesus makes his intent very clear: being a Christian means being a Christian with other people. And not the people we choose, necessarily – but the people whom God sends us. One of them could be our Judas. Jesus welcomed Judas, loved him, encouraged him, and trusted him with responsibility; Judas was the treasurer, although he stole from the funds (John 12:6). Jesus knew this, and Jesus was not fooled. We think that, if we knew what Jesus knew about people, we could choose those who would be the best of disciples and from them create the best possible church.
That’s not how it works … instead, you receive the people God sends you, and you love them the way that Jesus loved people. And you allow them to reciprocate, in their way; people who are struggling are going to have trouble loving others, and do it poorly. You receive their best and forgive their worst, as long as the spirit of Jesus within you asks you to bear with them and love them.
Washing feet would be easy if we could pick and choose the feet we wash. We’re drawn to the pretty feet and the charming people of the world. We’re drawn to the good people, and have a desire to build a special friendship with them, a little elite group of special people with whom we can get all our needs me because they think like us, act like us, and are just like us. This is basically a selfish ideal, because it is a group of people who meet our needs. If we try to broaden this to a group that meets one another’s needs, watches out for one another, then we have an exclusive clique, with a sign up that says “Members only.” This is not how Jesus loved people.
Jesus was tough, and asked people to follow him; then he left. He grew closer to those who expended the effort to follow him and keep up with him. Jesus balanced tough love and kind love, high expectations and warm forgiveness; we are to do the same. Balancing tough love and kind love, expectations and mercy, teaches us how to be in relationships.
But in the church we aren’t the ones in charge of whom we share the relationship of grace with … we are to receive the ones that God sent us. We wash the feet of those whom God sends us. Life would be so much easier if we could pick and choose, and wash only the pretty feet.
1 Corinthians 12 is the chapter about the body of Christ and spiritual gifts. In verse 12 we are reminded that the Holy Spirit connects people into a body of Christ as the Holy Spirit chooses. These people, already connected by the Spirit, often feel that they do not belong and that they don’t fit in. They feel like a “foot” and say “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body.” The body needs hands, and they want to be like the others. Paul says, “that would not make it any less a part of the body.” The body needs hands, and the body also needs feet. Each person has something to offer the whole, and each person is needed.
1 Cor 12:18 But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single organ, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
Every part of the body is needed and has a purpose.
But … our minds go to the person who does not seem needed in any way. There’s typically one person who is hard to get along with, anxious, critical of themselves and others, and is basically just like grit in the gears. Like a bit of egg shell in your omelet. The way they talk, the way they act, just gets on your nerves. So how does the body need them?
They are your teachers in what it means to love someone as Christ loves people.
Christ loves us when we are disagreeable and not at our best. These people will teach us to be like Christ. Paul makes some very unusual statements, beginning at 1 Corinthians 12:22:
22 On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, 25 that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
These statements make a lot more sense when we remember that 1 Corinthians 13, the chapter about love, is just a few verses away.
When we examine people, we conclude that they are not needed or beneficial. We would prefer that they leave and make room for people who are pretty, charming and wealthy. People who would add a lot to the group, and take care of us rather than make demands upon us.
But the person who, in our eyes, is weaker is actually indispensable. The person who is less honorable or less presentable is, instead, to be honored and sheltered with modesty. God chooses to give greater honor to the inferior part. This is a body that runs by grace, not by works; it is not focused on task so much as on relationships that transform people. All to often, however, it’s not the disagreeable person who is transformed, but that dealing with them and the challenges they bring transforms us.
Consider a pearl … at the center of all that lovely translucence is a piece of sand or grit. An irritant, which the oyster carefully loves and covers with the material with which its shell is made. That covering protects the oyster, but it also takes what is not beautiful and makes it beautiful by clothing it with what the oyster is. We need to receive the people God sends us for the time that they are to spend with us … let us clothe them with the best of what we are and surround them with love that calls them to follow Jesus and be the best person they can be. And sometimes they stay and change, or they leave, but we are changed and transformed by the act of learning how to love them.
That person you don’t get along with – God tells you to honor them. Love them, the way Jesus would love them; let them love you back. You would prefer not to deal with them; they are uncomfortable and they challenge you. They are not dispensable … but they are indispensable for your spiritual growth. You need this person in your life; God sent them to you for a purpose. They are sand for your oyster and will teach you how to form pearls.
Welcome all whom God sends you, and learn to love them as Jesus would.
Some quotes in italics are from Day 19 of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002).
The photo is by amboo who?, courtesy of the Flickr Creative Commons License, and can be viewed at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/amboo213/2438930791/