TL;DR: Peer pressure ain’t got nothin’ on personal-pressure, and if we don’t break our grip on ourselves it will kill us all!
Total Eclipse Of The Heart
In yesterday’s The Word With Friends I discussed the word sin. In the interest of time I had to cut a lot out, and I want to expand on it here. Don’t worry, it won’t be as dry as that sounds!
The evolution of the idea of “sin” is an interesting one. At its foundation, as I said in the video, were a variety of Hebrew words and ideas: to dodge, to rebel, to pervert, to miss, to trespass… these were the root idea from which branched all ideology about what it was to do moral wrong. These ideas were very much handed down from God to Moses, and they formed really the core of the Law.
When the city of Jerusalem was rebuilt around 530BC under the watch of Ezra and Nehemiah the traditional cult — where everyone worshiped around the tabernacle and the Law was read only among the holy men — was banished as Ezra stood and read the Law to the entire city. He was bringing God one step closer to the people, but what should have been an amazing blessing quickly perverted into a shackle.
The problem with breaking new knowledge among a populace is that there are those who just… well, they just get it wrong. The Pharisees, though it isn’t clear exactly when they gave themselves that name, were founded by a cadre of men who, upon hearing the raw words of Ezra (the Law in its bare form) picked it up as a holy crusade and segregated themselves in an attempt to become the perfect mold of a person that God had mandated.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to please God more, but they quickly perverted that purpose to instead construct rules of behavior and then ruthlessly enforce those rules on others. In a scant 200 years their ruthlessness had so grabbed hold that the Greeks began to pick up the idea themselves, with even Aristotle discussing the topic in his Poetics. It is in that time that the Greek word hamartia was formed. It is commonly held to mean “to miss the mark”, but as I discussed in the video the true root is really closer to “to be robbed of your inheritance”.
What began as an instruction about the risks and pitfalls of human behavior took on a stilted slant, an idea that your actions take something from you. This idea very much fascinated the Greek thinkers, and you can see the outlay of this idea of sin or error all across their empire. But a few hundred years later, when Jesus was born and raised, the Pharisees and the Greeks held very clearly the idea that sin was a shameful, detestable thing.
When Doves Cry
The Romans picked this idea up and gave us the word sons, guilt, that ultimately became the English word sin. But all of that, every step in the process and every link in the chain, was advanced by men who felt horrible about themselves and used language, intellect, and religion to exact punishment on themselves and others for it. It is this root, the root of self-hatred, that Jesus began to cut.
The church has raged since long before Jesus about the balance between grace and law, of when an action moves from being not-so-great to abhorrent. We have argued for thousands of years about how we can predict when God’s patience will run out and how we can piss Him off the least.
But, brothers and sisters, have you ever tried to live a relationship that way? Have you ever ceased trying to please your spouse and instead tried to anger them the least? It is a losing proposition. We have to change the context, we have to change the frame, the perspective we look through.
Here I Go Again
When the Father said to Joshua, twice, “be not afraid, neither be dismayed,” this was a foundational instruction: He wasn’t just talking about Joshua’s ability to go take the Promised Land; it was a directive to His people that our relationship with Him isn’t so tenuous and rigid as we think. Jesus hammered on this idea again and again: “Who, by taking a thought, can add one inch to his height?” What He is saying is to stop the “don’t”, stop the “I cannot” and move instead to the “I get to”. He was advocating a perspective shift.
We use the word sin and the idea behind it to abuse ourselves, and the outlay of that is that we inflict it upon others. This is true both of the legalists who want to assign everyone to Hell, and the universalists who want to say that there is no Hell. Neither side is valid, because both sides ignore the most critical lesson of the Lord’s: balance.
When Jesus gave the most important commandment many people say He gave two. He didn’t. He says it Himself: the second is like unto the first. That’s stilted language, but it means these are not 1a and 1b; these are A = B. Love God with everything you are. Also Love people with everything you are.
The practical truth of that statement is this:
Spend your heart to doing things that put a wider smile on God’s face. But temper that by spending your heart to edifying other people so they have an open heart to spend to doing things that put a wider smile on God’s face, because that puts an even wider smile on God’s face. I think that still isn’t clear enough.
I Want To Know What Love Is
One of the phrases that drives me most nuts is “Love is sacrifice.” It is said heavily in the church, but it’s also highly used by the rest of humanity, too. We believe that true Love means you will suffer for your beloved; that you will give up everything for them because that’s what Love mandates.
That’s utter nonsense!
When my wife had back surgery and couldn’t do for herself I did things for her. That, by definition, is a sacrifice: I traded things I didn’t really want to do for the benefit of someone else. But can you spot the horrid wrong in that? If I stayed with my wife and did these things out of obligation to avoid her yelling at me then these actions are not sacrifice, they are hate. They are spite. They are evil and offensive.
Love is not sacrifice. Love is visibly sacrificial, but that’s just visibly — that’s what it looks like from the outside. The truth is that I stayed and did these things for my wife because I Love her and seeing her comfortable and happy makes me unspeakably happy. I didn’t “have to”, I had the honor to do it.
Don’t You Want Me?
The problem with the entire concept of sin is that it fundamentally confuses our relationships to God and to each other! What defines an action as “sin” or “wrong” is not the action itself, it is the motivation of it. Did I do that thing to edify someone else or did I do it to try to make myself feel better? Did I eat meat in front of that vegetarian because I was hungry and absent-minded, or did I do it in my heart-of-hearts because I wanted them to see me eating it? Right? Do you get what I’m saying?
So many marriages are fundamentally broken because someone is trying to gauge if they are getting the right amount of sacrifice from the other person, because we’ve stupidly been taught that THAT is what Love means. If you Love someone, or they Love you, simply because of what they are willing to do for you then you have a seriously broken relationship!
Any successful marriage, and in fact any successful relationship — including the one with God — is built not on actions, but on trust and respect; on the idea that you Love the idea of blessing that other person and they Love blessing you. The actions of “sacrifice” are the natural outlay of that trust and Love, not the cause or proof of it.
We put so much pressure on ourselves and each other to prove Love, but that is so backwards. We should instead be focused on showing — not “proving” but joyfully demonstrating — our Love.
Who Can It Be Now?
Put away this corrupted idea, this ungodly pressure, of sin. Get back to analyzing your motives and your reasons for what you do. That will clarify for you which relationships you are invested in and which you are not. That will help you to improve yourself. That will help you to find your own value, to find your own worth. That sets your proper calibration and motive.
It allows you to see the places where you can give your Love more joyfully and ensure that where that isn’t your motive you either modify your motive or modify your relationship status. And there is the real evaluation of sin: are you in this relationship for the right reasons? And did that action align to that reason or go against it?
Father, I am unsure I can really find the language to explain what You’re showing me here. I tried, but it seems to still be lacking. Break through me and give them the message they need to hear. I pray for healing in our relationships, healing in our minds, healing in our hearts, and healing in our bodies. I want nothing more than to have that awful discord of missing voices rectified. You know my secret prayer, my unspoken need. I pray for all these things in the mighty name of my Brother, my King, my Savior, and Your Word, Your Son, and Your Anointed Christ, Jesus. Amen!