Today: Proverbs 17:5-14; Romans 2:17-29; Romans 3:1-8; Amos 1-2

Psalms 85

“Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.”  Proverbs 17:9

“Starting a quarrel is like breaking a dam, so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.” Proverbs 17:14

Proverbs 17 gives some good relationship advice. Healthy relationships require us to FORGIVE each other, especially those we are in very close relationship with. Our perpetually offended culture thinks we have a right NOT to be offended but that is just ridiculous. Others are going to make mistakes. WE are going to make mistakes. Trying to cancel anything that rubs us the wrong way guarantees misery and miserable relationships. Might as well call that sort of thinking “Crappy Relationships for Dummies” or “How to Ruin Your Marriage 101.”

Many people think that every offense requires aggressive response. There are times to speak up but so often it is best to humbly forgive, to give the benefit of the doubt, to keep silent, to smile and love. Sounds a lot like that popular Bible passage about love…

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Romans 2

The book of Romans is Paul’s letter to the Jewish Christians in Rome. Some of them were lording their Jewish heritage over the non-Jewish Christians. They were the chosen ones, convinced that they were “a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children.” They were the ones who possessed “in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth.” (v.19-20) Right?

Paul says to the Jews in Romans 2 that “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (v.24) And that is exactly what happens when we represent Christianity to others as a heartless, legalistic system of laws. I grew up in a very legalistic church and house, where the focus was on all the rules that need to be followed rather than on a joy-filled victorious relationship with Jesus Christ. When I rebelled against that teaching, I also ran away from God. I thought the legalistic way was how God wanted us to be.

Fortunately God didn’t let me get away with my rebellion. He pursued me and called me back to Himself. He taught me about His love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. He showed me the parts of Himself that had been missing from my earlier training.

Real relationship with God is not a physical system of do’s and don’ts. God is spirit; relationship with Him is a matter of the soul.

A soul that is deeply in love with Christ WILL act a certain way. The Holy Spirit sanctifies over time. A soul truly in love with Jesus will become more loving, more serving and humble… more like Christ. But the soul relationship has to come FIRST.

Legalism turns all that around. It STARTS with the physical. It tries to shove people into a constrictive, soul-killing system of law. Legalistic churches are often filled with a lot of people who think they are doing this Christianity thing, but they are only following the rules. They can come across as super judgmental and narrow minded because they feel threatened by anyone who doesn’t agree with their system of rules. I can also tell you from experience that these sorts of churches usually include some of the most wonderful, loving, absolutely-in-love-with-Christ people as well. I’ve met a lot of them! The danger is when people think following the rules is the goal and miss the relationship part. It’s too easy to just follow the well-defined rules and not work on real relationship with God.

The Jews had fallen into the same trap. God wanted relationship with them. He tried reaching out to humanity through Abraham and his descendants. But they couldn’t keep their hands off their neighbors’ idols, false religions, and women… So God gave them guidelines. And they promptly created a stuffy religion out of the rules rather than pursue spiritual relationship with God.

One of their physical rules was circumcision. Paul explains in Romans 2 that true circumcision, true Jewishness, is “of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.” (v.29) Following Christ is the same. It isn’t a written code but a relationship with a real being who knows us personally, loves us and cares about us. It’s so much better than a bunch of rules!!