Those of us who follow Jesus know that we live by grace. The reality is that all of us, Christian, agnostic, and atheist, are people who do wrong. No matter how hard we try, we regularly miscommunicate, hurt other people, are prejudiced toward certain people, are driven by sexual motives, selfish motives, and greedy motives. Such is the message of Romans 3:23 and 24 (For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins). Most of us do not need the Bible to tell us that we are people who do wrong, and we certainly see bad behaviour in others. So, those of us who follow Jesus are thankful that we can live by faith and that God looks graciously upon us through what Jesus has accomplished on the cross and forgives us for the ways in which we regularly do wrong.
Sometimes we are tempted to take this loving, gracious, forgiveness too freely and we Christians have been known to be some of the most hurtful and unkind people on the planet. We might recognize our wrong and ask for God’s grace in the quietness of our homes or church buildings, but the ramifications of our hurtfulness extend out from us like the aftershock of a major earthquake. Tucked into one of the lesser-known books of the New Testament of the Bible are these words.
Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.
See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people.
Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:14-18
They are a fitting reminder to us that God calls us to continue to be good and winsome people. We are to be industrious, appropriately bold, those who stand up for the weak, patient with others, paying back good for evil done to us, paying forward goodness to all people, joyful, spiritual, and thankful. In these words, there is no call to angry protest when our rights are repressed; but there is a call to stand up for the rights of others who are poor and repressed. None of this is easy! We have just said that we are “people who do wrong.” It is not easy for us to put aside our own feelings of hurt to correct the hurt that has been done to others. In this world where individual rights trump community rights and everyone wants their voice to be heard, living a life that honours the poor, the oppressed, and the weak will change the world. Jesus has asked us if we will join him in doing our best to live this way. He offers us grace when we fail.