Set Free to Forgive and Love

 
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There are a lot of disappointed people right now. There are a lot of disappointed Christians too. People who make a mess of their relationships. People who make a mess of friendships, family relationships, work relationships, even churches. People disappointed about their relationships because they're thrown off-kilter by self-sabotage.  

What they don't realize is that they're off-kilter as a consequence of their selfish need to get something for themselves. They don't think about what they want to get out of a relationship or what they give to the relationship either. All that matters to them is the getting. Obvious examples of this are men who just want to meet a woman with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a fit, tan body. In the same way, people take a job for the money or people who only go home for the holidays to sweet talk a rich aunt. All they focus on is the getting. They don’t stop to consider that this is the way of destruction, misery, and disappointment.

A more subtle way we make a mess of relationships and end up disappointed is when we feel unappreciated by the beloved. As soon as this happens, as soon as we feel unappreciated, we use other people to feed our need for love. But, if we're in a relationship with this mindset, if we say to ourselves, "This is why I'm in this relationship, so that I can feel love, so that I can get love," as soon as our beloved doesn't love us the way we want to be loved, or says no to us, we end up disappointed. Now we ask, "Why am I here?" We say, "I hate you!" We don’t stop to consider that this is the way of destruction, misery, and disappointment.

Add this to the checklist each of us carries around in our head of all the terrible things the other person has said and done, and suddenly the quota of love and affection we expect to get from the relationship is thrown off-kilter. "She only did the laundry twice last week, so she must not love me." "When I asked him what was wrong he said, 'Nothing, I'm fine,' but I knew he wasn't fine." All the ways we plot and scheme to get people to love us make a mess of our relationships and leave us disappointed.

When this finds its way into the church, now we're hiding the worst parts of ourselves from each other and God. We want to be loved, but we don't want to reveal the worst parts of ourselves. Who wants to love the ugly, horrific, weakest parts of us? Instead, we retreat to the areas of our life that we imagine are the best, the greatest, strongest. We retreat to our intellectual, emotional, and physical strongholds to escape having to admit that in relation to our brothers and sisters, in relation to God, our kind of love is selfish and its end is destruction, misery, and disappointment.

We're unstable. We're always looking around. We're always comparing ourselves to other people. Our relationships are a mess. We can't get along and relate to each other at home, at work, or in church. Why? We make it all about us, that's why. We don't think about what the other person needs to get out of the relationship, and we don't think about what we give to the relationship either.

In order to show compassion to each other, to love each other as brothers and sisters, to be tenderhearted and courteous, as St. Peter says (1 Peter 3:8), we must turn the focus away from ourselves and the biases we bring to any relationship and instead focus on Jesus.

Jesus loves in the way of selfless, self-giving. His sacrificial love covers sin. His love does not seek its own good, but only the good of the beloved. Jesus doesn't ask, "What are going to do for me?" He doesn’t ask us, “What will I get out of this?” He asks, "What do you need?" What's the result? The question hits its tipping point at Calvary.

Jesus dies for the sin of the world. That means he dies for the person who disappoints us. He shed His blood for the person who doesn't love us the way we want to be loved. He screams out of His God-forsakenness for all the people who aren't right for us, because they don't make the relationship what we want it to be. He also suffers, and bloody well dies for self-sabotaging, destructive, disappointed us.

We can dwell in reward-punishment models of love. But that just creates more drama, more off-kilter relationships, and more and worse behavior from everyone. On the other hand, we can freely give forgiveness and love to each other in the way of Jesus. We can give up on getting and instead pray that Jesus changes our heart. Only Jesus' forgiveness can set us free from treating the people we love the same way that we treat our dog. Only Jesus living in us, and His Spirit working in us, can (and will) curb and restrain the self-defeating, disappointing, selfish ways we try to get love.

Jesus dies for the sin of the world. That means he dies for the person who disappoints us. He shed His blood for the person who doesn’t love us the way we want to be loved.
— Donavon Riley

Only the Gospel, and Baptism, and the Lord's Supper can set us free to forgive and love Jesus-much. But don't get it twisted, only Jesus can love us Jesus-much. We can love each other Jesus-much only if Jesus is doing the work in and through us. We can’t forgive and love Jesus-much unless Jesus does His Christ-Jesusing in and through us. So then, when we do forgive and love each other selflessly, it's not us. It's Jesus, who works in and through us by way of Gospel, and Baptism, and His body and blood.

There are a lot of disappointed people right now. There are a lot of disappointed Christians too. They're stuck in the way of destruction, misery, and disappointment. But, for them and for us, the only way to end this disappointment is by way of Jesus. The way of Gospel, and Baptism, and His body and blood "for you." The way of forgiveness. Jesus the Giver and the gift. Jesus, our faithful One, and our selfless, self-giving Lover. Jesus, who sets us free through His forgiveness and love to forgive and love each other without judgment, covering each other's sin, bearing with each other, not asking, "What are going to do for me?" Not asking, “What will I get out of this?” But, "What do you need?"

This is the way of faith and love instead of misery and self-destruction. This is the way of peace instead of disappointment. This is the way of Jesus’ forgiveness and love for all the disappointed people, and for us.

Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Manager for Higher Things, a contributing writer for 1517 Legacy Project, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. He is also the co-host of The Banned Books podcast and the As Lutheran As It Gets podcast.



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