The One and Only Test

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So let us look into each other’s eyes

And read the stories written there between the lines

And take a list of all the wrongs we keep

And tear it into pieces

Let mercy be the only thing we’re harboring

‘Cause eventually we’re gonna see

That all that’s left is to love

That’s all that we have

That’s all that we ever really had, (All That’s Left[1]).

Some people are so easy to dislike.  They say and do things daily to make themselves stand out as targets for all your anger and frustration.  Buddy was this for me.  Daily I have had to forgive Buddy, and daily I would slide back and find myself criticizing Buddy to my friends, who also dislike Buddy.  We would point out his faults to each other, building up our mutual reasons for disliking Buddy.  Then, alone, I would forgive Buddy again.  Daily.  And daily my dislike for Buddy would grow until just the sight of him was enough to anger me.

I could list for you Buddy’s many faults, and you would probably agree with me that he has no redeeming qualities.  But I won’t do that.  Listing Buddy’s faults would serve only to reinforce my own dislike of this man.

This morning, God revealed to me that what I was doing was wrong.  And of course, I knew that it was wrong.  But this morning, God made it very clear to me that for all his faults, I am the offender, not Buddy.  The Christian life is so simple.  But it is in this simplicity that many people stumble—I have stumbled.  Daily.

Suddenly I understand that it all comes down to just one simple test: love.  Forgiving is good and necessary.  But forgiving is just the first step toward the ultimate goal: love.  It’s not enough that I forgive Buddy.  I must love Buddy.

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself.  I am the Lord, (Leviticus 19:18, emphasis mine).

Jesus boiled the Ten Commandments (and all of the Jews’ 613 laws) down to two simple ones:

One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate.  He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel!  The Lord our God is the one and only Lord.  And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’  The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  No other commandment is greater than these,” (Mark 12:28-31, emphasis mine).

Simple, but not easy.  1 Corinthians 13 is the guide for love, and according to these guidelines, I have repeatedly failed to love Buddy (and others, too):

  • Love is patient . . . – my patience with Buddy would run out daily.
  • . . . and kind – although I have not been unkind in my direct encounters with Buddy, I have daily assassinated him with my words.
  • It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out – in a completely messed-up way, I was actually delighted to catch Buddy every time he committed yet another offense—and I always made sure that the management knew about it.
  • Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance – all my endurance and hope was based on Buddy continuing to mess-up so that I would be proven right about him.
  • [Love] is not irritable . . . – fail.
  • It does not demand its own way – fail.
  • It keeps no record of being wronged – fail—big time.
  • Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude – fail, fail, fail, fail.

I’m not proud of my behavior toward Buddy, but being honest about myself is the first step toward a real and lasting change.  Forgiving is not easy—especially since we must forgive regardless of whether the offender is sorry or even changes his behavior.  Love, under the same circumstances, is even harder.  This is why we need the indwelling Holy Spirit to help us live a life that truly pleases God.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Forgive me, Lord!  I know that You love Buddy and died for him.  Please help me to truly forgive and love Buddy.  Amen.

[1] Steven Curtis Chapman, “All That’s Left,” Re-Creation, 2011, emphasis mine.

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