It has been five days since the senseless shooting of theatre goers in Aurora, Colorado. Usually after a terrifying incident like this one, you hear stories about the heroic acts of people helping others, so I was surprised to read the story of a young man who set his crying infant son on the floor, and ran out of the theatre, leaving behind not only his son, but his girlfriend and a four year old daughter as well. He then fled the theatre, got in his car and drove away. His girlfriend borrowed a phone, presumably well after the chaos had settled, and called him. They were later reunited at the hospital where he proposed, and she accepted. (I don’t pretend to know any of them or the situation well enough to understand their motivations, but based on the facts I have, I would not have said yes.)
Thankfully, this young man seemed to be the exception; there were in fact heroes there too. According to the reports, a complete stranger protected that abandoned fiancée and her daughter. Several other young men gave up their lives to protect their girlfriends from the flying bullets. The girlfriends all survived. The comments that I have heard, all suggest that protecting loved ones is what real men do. There are probably many men who have told their sweethearts that they would take a bullet for them, but I don’t know how many thought that they might really have to do it one day.
Jesus said that there is no greater love than to give up your life for a friend. (John 15:13) He knew when He said it that He would be giving up his life within a day. His purpose for coming to this earth in human form was to give up His life so that we wouldn’t have to give up ours. Yes, we will one day all give up our earthly bodies, but they are only the wrapping of our souls. We can live eternally, because Jesus was willing to die in our place. He commanded us to love others in the same way that He loves us. Just so that there is no ambiguity, that instruction is repeated several times in John 15:9-17:
- We are told to remain in His love, (John 15:9) and we will do that by obeying His commandments. (John 15:10)
- Then He clarifies that His commandment is to love others just as He has loved us. (John 15:12)
- We demonstrate that we are His friends by following His commands, (John 15:14) and once again He repeats that His command for us is to love other people. (John 15:17)
We won’t all be required to demonstrate our love for someone by dying in their place, but we can still make other people a priority ahead of ourselves. We can lay down our lives in service to others while we're living.
Perhaps you’ve heard of “The Golden Rule”: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In other words, treat others the way you want to be treated. Unfortunately, we can’t always count on other people to do the same. We know that we are to love our enemies, (Matthew 5:43-48) but that doesn’t mean that they will stop being our enemies. Perhaps they will be so overcome by our good attitude, that their attitude will change, but even if it does, it could be a long, slow process. It is possible that how they treat us may never be the way that we treat them.
How then do you explain the promise found in Luke 6:38: Give, and it will be given to you? How do we know that our kindnesses will be returned if we can’t depend on other people to do their part? If people are going to treat us like dirt anyway, why should we bother to go out of our way to be nice to them? The answer is God. Not only should we live as though we are working for God, (Colossians 3:23-24) but God is in control, and He is the One who will reward us for what we do. We can’t count on others to repay us for our good deeds, but we can count on God. He may not repay us as soon as we would like, or in the way that we expect, (Ephesians 3:20) but just as He says that vengeance is His, (Romans 12:19) and He will repay for the hurts we receive, He will also repay us for the kindness we give. (Galatians 6:9)
The Bible not only says that this reward will be given to you, but that it will be given in “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over”. What does that mean? I am not well-known for my fabulous culinary talent—as a matter of fact, perhaps the opposite is true—but I have attempted to do some baking from time to time. What I figured out from my limited experience is that if you measure brown sugar, you can fit a lot more into the cup if you press it down. The same is true for flour. There seems to be a lot of air mixed with it until you tap it or shake it down. When you press down and shake together, you can fit a lot more in your cup. That’s the way God is willing to give to us, until our cup is overflowing and we can’t hold any more.
I love to listen to people give their testimonies and to hear how their lives have significantly changed because they have given their hearts to Jesus. Some of them recount pretty dramatic transformations—conversion from a life of crime, freedom from drug or alcohol abuse or other harmful ways of living. For some, they found freedom from their old desires the instant they accepted Jesus. Sometimes people have changed their entire focus in life, from being high finance, career-oriented business people to becoming missionaries for the poorest of the poor in Haiti or sub-Saharan Africa.
II Corinthians 5:17 tells us that if we are in Christ, we are a new creation—the old has gone; the new has come. Of course, such remarkable changes as the examples listed above are not always evident in every person who becomes a follower of Christ. For one thing, they may not have found themselves in such a dramatic position to begin with. Some of us work at putting our old habits behind us every single day. And very often we feel like we have failed because we keep fighting the same battle over and over again. Contrary to what some people imagine, life doesn’t become sweet and easy just because you decide to follow Jesus. As a matter of fact, sometimes it gets a lot harder because Satan gets a little upset when we change sides. So we will always have the battles to face. (John 16:33) The good news is that God isn’t surprised at our imperfections. He already knows all about them, and He doesn’t condemn us. (Romans 8:1) Jesus took all the punishment for all of those imperfections when He sacrificed Himself on the cross. Our penalty has been paid, and God loves us like He loves His own Son. There is absolutely nothing that we can do that can separate us from His love, (Romans 8:38-39) even if we make the same mistakes over and over again.
Becoming a new creation does not necessarily mean an instantaneous transformation from our personalities and habits. It means that we see Jesus, ourselves and other people differently, (II Corinthians 5:16), and because of this we strive to be the people that God wants us to be. (Ephesians 5:1) Our choices are based on different priorities, and we keep doing our best to make the right choices even if it is a challenge. It might take a lot of time and a lot of hard work, but there will come a day when the battles are over, and the creation that God envisioned us to be is complete. The effort will be worth it.