There’s This Thirty-Something
There’s this thirty-something in my life who is always asking me these great questions about the Bible: provocative questions, hard questions, but very interesting questions. And it’s caused me to look at the Bible differently. I read and hear so much about how the Bible is restrictive. But this person with the questions has got me thinking about the freedom God has given us. Freedom to make our own choices. Have you ever considered what’s not illegal in the Old Testament? For instance, prostitution is not illegal in the Old Testament, and neither is polygamy. I’m not saying that either of those are good, I’m just saying neither of those is illegal in the civic code given to Israel in the Old Testament. People are free to engage in these activities without legal repercussions, though the spiritual ramifications and life consequences are still there (see Proverbs 23:27 and 29:3).
The point is, God is radical when it comes to our freedom. He wants us to have the freedom to do what we want, even when it’s wrong. And it’s really made me look at my own ideas about what God wants me to do concerning the behavior of others. Because sometimes I want other people to do what I want them to do, and I can get frustrated when they don’t.
Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you are there. Maybe you want to spend money a certain way but your wife wants to do it her way. Or maybe you want more time to recreate with the guys, but she has other ideas. Or maybe it’s just deciding what to do for dinner (not that this question would ever result in a disagreement). Whatever it is, our perspective changes when we see the enormous respect Jesus demonstrated for the free will of others.
How Jesus Loved People: He Asked
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked the blind man sitting by the road near Jericho. (Luke 18:38-41)
“Do you want to get well?” Jesus asked the invalid at the pool of Bethesda. (John 5:6)
“Shall I come to heal him?” Jesus asked the centurion with the paralyzed servant. (Matthew 8:7)
“Will you give me a drink?” Jesus asked the Samaritan woman at the well. (John 4:7)
He asked. He asked people what it was that they wanted, or even if they wanted. He left the choice up to them.
He Let People Choose
Ever notice that Jesus never went out looking for individual Pharisees to engage? Nicodemus had to come to Jesus. (John 3:1-21)
And then there’s the guy driving demons out in Jesus’ name: “Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. (Luke 9:50)
And there’s the synagogue official who told the people not to come on the Sabbath to be healed. But Jesus said, No! Let them come! (Luke 13:14-17)
Even his own disciples tried to constrain the will of certain people. They refused to let the little children come to Jesus. And when Jesus saw this, he was indignant. No! He said, Let them come! (Mark 10:14)
Finally there’s Judas objecting to Mary pouring her perfume out onto Jesus’ feet. How did Jesus respond? He said, Leave her alone! (John 12:3-7)
Even when it broke cultural convention, Jesus let people do what they wanted to.
Even Hostile People Were Given The Freedom To Choose
When the prodigal son (adult son) demanded his inheritance his tone was more bitter and cold toward his father than most people realize. In that culture, in that time, when a son demanded his inheritance in that way, what he was saying to his father was, “I wish you were dead. You’re being alive, your very existence, is getting in the way of my inheritance.” But what does the father, who represents God in the parable, what does he do? Amazingly, he lets the prodigal do what he wishes. (Luke 15:11-32)
How To Love Like Jesus
There are exceptions of course. With a stern countenance Jesus imposed his will on the demons he cast out of people. (Luke 4:35) And when Peter cut off an ear with his sword Jesus said, “No more of this!” (Luke 22:51) Nevertheless the general pattern we see from Jesus is to allow people to do as they wish. Even when Judas came to betray him Jesus didn’t try to talk him out of it. He simply said, “Do what you came for, friend.” (Matthew 26:50)
So for me, and for you, to love like Jesus, we need to rethink our expectations of others. Jesus demonstrated a radical respect for the freedom of others to choose to do what they want to do. To love like Jesus we also have to show that same radical respect for people’s freedom.
You can too.
After he finished a parable or a teaching Jesus would often say, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Luke 8:8) In other words, Whoever hears hears, and whoever doesn’t hear doesn’t hear.
The choice is yours.
[Image via Matthijs – Creative Commons]