Today’s post is from my new book Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus).
It’s the third chapter from Part 2 — Words of Caution.
Last Saturday we posted Chapter 2: Love The Unlovable.
Love Like Jesus is due to be published in 2018.
Chapter 3 — How Not To Become A Christian Doormat (How to know when to die)
A Dormitory Door Mat
There are these two roommates Walter and Craig who live on the fifth floor of the Barnhart dormitory at the University of Oregon. Craig is on the football team. He’s pretty sure he’s one of the best athletes on campus. He’s really into his sport and his friends, like a lot of guys are during their college years. Two of his favorite hangouts are the weight room and wherever the current party happens to be. He’s a Grand Theft Auto and Madden NFL kind of guy.
But his roommate Walter is different. He’s kind of bookish. He’s a good student. He belongs to the college writing club. He’s watched all the Lord of the Rings movies multiple times. He’s an English major but he’s taking a physics class, just for fun. He’s more of a Minecraft kind of a guy.
Well, one day Craig has a chance to move into an apartment off campus. The day the apartment comes open is the day before a home game, and he wants to move in right away so he can have a victory party after the game. He already invited a bunch of his friends. Getting people to come to his party was no problem. But getting people to help him move wasn’t working out. Not a single friend was available. So, even though he very much preferred not to, he asked Walter.
“Hey, I need you to help me move my stuff over to the apartment.”
“I’d like to but I can’t,” Walter said. “I have a midterm and a group project presentation tomorrow.” He also said yes to a request to give a presentation at his writer’s club right after the midterm. And his parents were arriving for a visit after writer’s club. But Walter was too embarrassed to disclose that to Craig.
“I don’t really see a problem,” Craig said. “I only need you for like, one hour.”
Walter didn’t respond but Craig could see the discomfort on his face.
“Come on Walter, don’t be selfish.”
For some reason every time Walter experienced a pang of guilt he thought of the dentist’s needle injecting lidocaine into his gums. Except instead of his gums, he imagined the needle penetrating his heart. And instead of pain followed by numbness, there was just pain. Craig had a knack for triggering that response in Walter. So did Walter’s dad. So did his mother. So did a lot of people.
And there was that word: selfish. A Christian can’t be selfish, can he?
“Okay,” Walter said, “I’ll do it.”
A full four and one-half hours later, Craig let Walter go. On his way back to the dorm his phone rang. It was one of his group project partners, the only one in the group who was at all interested in helping with the project. At least until now. “Something came up,” he said. “I can’t do my part.”
Now the whole thing was up to Walter. He thought about letting the project fail, at least in part. He could present in a way that preserved his own grade. But that thought brought out the dentist’s syringe, the one filled with guilt. What would his dad think if he did that? What would his mother think? What would God think?
Have You Felt Like This?
Have you ever felt like Walter? I know I have. He’s trying so hard to love like Jesus. He’s esteeming others higher than himself. He’s dying to himself. He’s denying himself, like he’s supposed to, right? He’s simply following Jesus’ words: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross . . .” And that’s what he’s doing, so he must be doing precisely what God desires for him to do – wouldn’t you agree? (Philippians 2:3, John 12:24, Luke 9:23)
Well, you’re right, he is right — and he’s also wrong.
Of course, Walter’s right to give of himself to love like Jesus. And he’s right to esteem others higher than himself. And he’s right to die to himself. And he’s right to deny himself. Jesus said, “. . . whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-44)
Then he said, “. . . even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
We all know why Jesus came. He came to die and, to love like Jesus loved, so should we. As Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship: we should die every day.
But here’s where Walter goes wrong. And here’s where I go wrong, and where you go wrong. We go wrong and we become a pushover when we leave out the Holy Spirit. Because leaving out God’s Holy Spirit causes us to go from someone who loves like Jesus to someone who serves like a doormat. To see an example of someone who died to themselves and yet followed the leading of the Holy Spirit we have only to look to Jesus Christ himself.
Jesus Christ, the one who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” did not die, until the Holy Spirit’s time for him to die came upon him. Think about it: Right after he was baptized by John, and having just received the Holy Spirit, Jesus went out into the wilderness where he fasted for forty days. There Satan came and tempted him three times. The third time they were on top of the highest part of the temple where Satan tried to persuade Jesus to throw himself down. But God didn’t want Jesus to die in Satan’s timing. So Jesus denied Satan’s request. (Luke 4:9-12)
Not long after that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. He read from Isaiah a messianic prophecy and explained that the scripture was referring to him, to Jesus. The people who heard that didn’t take it well. They were so offended, they were so outraged, they took Jesus to the edge of a cliff and attempted to throw him off. But God didn’t want Jesus to die in the people’s timing, so Jesus resisted. He muscled his way through the crowd, and he escaped. (Luke 4:28-30)
In his third year of public ministry, Jesus made the statement, “…before Abraham was, I am!” He was referring to his own divinity. And when his listeners heard this, “. . . they picked up stones to throw at him . . .” But God didn’t want Jesus to die in the timing of this group of listeners. So, “. . . Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple..” (John 8:56-59)
The last unsuccessful attempt at killing Christ outside of God’s timing occurred one winter day when the Jews asked Jesus to tell them if he was the Messiah. At the end of his reply, Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” They were incensed at this proclamation. They picked up stones to stone him, they tried to seize him, they tried to kill him. But God didn’t want Jesus to die in their timing, so Jesus “escaped from their hands.” (John 10:22-39)
How to Know When to Die
So, perhaps surprisingly, it’s OK for you to deny someone’s request, as Jesus denied Satan’s request. And it’s OK for you to resist and escape, as Jesus escaped. And it’s OK for you to hide yourself, as Jesus hid himself, and slipped away from the temple grounds. It’s OK.
You might be asking yourself right now, “But when? When is it OK? How do I know when it’s OK to refuse a request, or resist a crowd, or hide? And we’re also supposed to die to ourselves, so how do I know when to do that? How do I know when to die?”
Did you ever notice not one single miracle from Jesus is found in the biblical record, until after he received God’s Holy Spirit? Jesus Christ made every decision not to die — as well as his final decision to die for us all — after he received the Holy Spirit. And that’s how it is for you and for me. Without following the leading of God’s Holy Spirit, we’ll find ourselves trampled upon. We’ll find ourselves walked on. We’ll find ourselves dying to self but outside of God’s timing. God doesn’t want that. (Luke 3:22)
You know God doesn’t want that because you know that Jesus refused requests, and resisted the crowd, and hid himself, and escaped. And you know that at the pool of Siloam there were many gathered there who needed healing, but he, the Son of God, the One through Whom all things were made, the One Who is the Light of all humankind, he didn’t serve them all, but only served one man with healing. And you even know Jesus didn’t rescue John the Baptist when he was on death row. Jesus himself didn’t serve everybody, but only served those who the Holy Spirit led him to serve. (John 9, Matthew Chapters 11 and 12)
So to love like Jesus, we can’t just die at every opportunity. Because if Jesus only died when led by the Holy Spirit to die, if Jesus, only served when led by the Holy Spirit to serve, how much more do you and I need to die and serve only when led by the Holy Spirit to do so.
The key to not letting that dentist’s needle inject guilt into our hearts, the key to breaking free from that guilt that can so easily plague us, the key to loving like Jesus is to ask for, and follow, the leading of God’s Holy Spirit. We’ll go into the Holy Spirit in greater depth in a later chapter. But before we look at all the different ways Jesus loved people, it’s important to know that the Holy Spirit is the key. When you look at all the different ways Jesus loved people, you might feel overwhelmed. As you’re reading this book you might think to yourself:
“How can I ever do all of this? How can I possibly love people like Jesus? He loved so much, and he loved in such a variety of ways. He’s so amazing, and I’m so inadequate.”
Of course, you’re right. You are not the Christ, and you never will be. But as we’ve seen in this chapter, even the Christ was discerning about when he gave of himself and when he didn’t. Even Jesus didn’t help everybody.
Jesus was led by God’s Holy Spirit when to give of himself and when not to. Jesus was led by God’s Holy Spirit when to help, and when not to help. Jesus was led by God’s Holy Spirit when to die, and when not to die.
So pray for yourself. Pray for God’s Holy Spirit to lead you to give of yourself when it’s time to give of yourself. And pray for God’s Holy Spirit to lead you not to give of yourself when it’s outside of God’s timing.
Love like Jesus — according to God’s Holy Spirit.
That’s what Jesus did.
That’s how Jesus loved people.
That’s how you can love like Jesus — without becoming a Christian doormat.
The illustration at the beginning of this chapter is a fictional account inspired by true events.
Further study will be rewarded. See Luke 11:5-13.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, SCM Press, 2011
- Unborn Word of the Day, Crucifixion of Jesus was the Sixth and Final Attempt on His Life, March 11, 2008
Image via Tony Roberts – Creative Commons