Meekness & Mercy: God’s Design for Interpersonal Relationships

“Its not fair.” We have all heard the expression as our kids stomp off to bed, protesting the latest perceived parental injustice. They are not the only ones.

The adults in the room have also appealed to the phrase. When our boss asks us to stay an hour late, we talk about how unfair so and so is. When Bob takes our tool, we want it back. We don’t want his; just ours. We don’t expect Sally to come to both the wedding and the bridal shower. But since we went to her wedding, we expect her to attend at least one of our events. Nothing crazy; just what we are owed. We long for fairness.

A Slap for A Slap

The God of the Bible affirms that the idea of fairness and equity should govern human legal systems. The judicial system should handout punishment that is proportional to the crime the person has committed. The punishment should consider neither the criminal’s nor the victim’s social standing (Lev. 24:17-22). Moses instructs the first judges of the new Israelite nation to do the following: “then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Punishment was never to exceed the harm caused by the crime. The justice system should be just.

Because the idea of fairness works well when applied to the courts, the religious leaders of Jesus’s day believed fairness could serve as the perfect ethic for interpersonal relationships. If the guy sitting next to you in school posts an unflattering picture of you on Instagram, you could post a Tik Tok video mocking his outdated shoes. Two videos would be excessive, but one would be permitted. If your brother bit you, you could bite him back. And if your boss took credit for your new idea, you had the right to talk behind his back for a day. Slap for slap, insult for insult, and hurt for hurt.

The Better Way

Though this idea of an eye for an eye resonates with the human heart, it stands at odds with the ethic of the kingdom of God. Instead of telling his followers to fight insult with insult, Jesus commands Christians to fight the fires of Hell with the grace filled foam of meekness and generosity. Jesus says, “But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil (Matt 5:44).” 

Jesus shifts personal relationships from the ethic of fairness and equity to the ethic of meekness and generosity because this is the basis of his interactions with us. When Jesus saves, he saves through his merciful and generous love. Where he to give us what we deserved, he would dispense punishment and death. But he does not send bolts of lightening to usher us into the fires of hell the moment we think our first bad thought. He lives, dies, and rises again to pay the penalty for that evil thought and all our sins. The apostle Peter sums up the gospel writing, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (2 Pt 2:24).” Moreover, we were not actively seeking Jesus. We were lost sheep like those who walked under Jesus’s cross mocking our savior. Jesus patiently endures these insults and then brings us into the sheep fold. Jesus does not fight fire with fire. He does not treat us fairly. He does something far greater.  He triumphs over sin, enduring it and generously extending grace to overcome it.

Because of the cross, Christians should resist the urge to fight fire with fire (Matt 5:38-44).  When someone insults the believer with a slap across the cheek, Jesus tells his listeners to turn the other cheek. Instead of responding with their own pithy putdown, they quietly endure evil. If their business partner wrongfully sues to gain more shares of their company, Jesus tells the believer to quickly go to court and settle. When the government demands that you carry a soldier’s equipment for a mile or that you must give your land to the new freeway development, the Christian should go settle, going the extra mile to preserve peace. And if a friend or family members ask for $1000 because they recently lost their job, the believer writes the check without asking for repayment or giving the stink eye. The believer does not stand upon the principle of fairness, for he realizes that his salvation, his spouse, his reputation, and his stuff come from God’s mercy. Moreover, he knows that God will justly deal with all sin one day. Either the penalty for sins will be covered in the blood of the cross or it will be extracted from the wicked in Hell. God will also restore what the righteous have lost a million times over. The Christian does not have to fight fire with fire for she is a child of the king. He will prosecute vengeance and preserve our reward19

Is Government Bad?

Though the Christian should not respond to relational violence with his own aggression, he can still lay claim to government structures for protection in cases of extreme violence. Just as God instituted divorce as a merciful means of saving innocent spouses from being entrapped to an adulterer, God instituted governments to protect innocent people from vicious displays of violence. In other words, the reality that most people do not operate according to the ethic of Jesus necessitates the existence of the of government. When the ethic of non-violence fails to prevent a person from doing great harm, those in jeopardy should call the police and appeal to the justice system. Paul did as much when the Jews attempted to wrongfully condemn him to death.  The apostle Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 13:4, “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” Women being terrorized by an abuser can seek a restraining order and police protection. Soldiers can defend their shores from invasion. A store owner being robbed can call the police. Christians can appeal to government for help as the Apostle Paul did repeatedly. God ordained human governments for the good of his people.

But even in this sphere, the believer should not seek vengeance. A police officer who comes to a shoplifting call and pays for the teenager’s $15 of stolen food to prevent him from spending months in juvenile detention has lived out the ethic of Jesus. Meekness and generosity belong in every sphere of life, including government.

May God help us all to generously extend mercy!

Why Liars Need Promises & You Don’t

Promises exists because truth does not. We swear by heaven that this time we will do what we say because we did not follow through all those other times.

But when people use oaths, their listeners should not assume that they have entered a no-spin zone. In Jesus’s day, the religious leaders had created a whole system of disingenuous oaths that could be sworn by Al than honorable person. For example, if a dishonest painter wanted to convince his clients that he would keep his contract while having no intention of doing so, he would swear by the temple. If the owners of the home took him to court, they would have no case because his oath based on the temple was meaningless. If however the painter swore by the gold on the temple, he would have to put on his big boy pants and finish the house or face the legal consequences. That was a real oath. Confusing, yes?

Jesus was not amused by this tangled mess of words and condemned the pharisees’ manipulative games saying, “But I say to you,

“Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.  Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil (Matt 5:34-37).”

In other words, Jesus calls us to reject oaths and to embrace the plain, simple, and unnuanced words of truth.

Oaths and Sovereignty

Jesus condemns the practice of swearing oaths because God is omnipresent. He exits outside of time and space, observing all human interactions throughout the globe in the now. King David famously notes in Psalm 139:7-8: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” God does not need an invitation to preside over our actions. He and his ethic remain in place regardless of whether we recognize his presence with our words.

Moreover, his ethic is an ethic of unadulterated truth. Psalm 119:160 declares, “The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever.” Jesus holds his humanity and his followers to his ethic, making truth-telling one of the ten commandments. Exodus 20:16 states, “You shall not bear false witness.” The apostle Paul concurs writing,

“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with it practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator (Col 3:9-10).”

Men and women who lie stand in opposition to the loving goodness of God. Even those who seek to excuse their sins through manipulative oaths to God will find themselves the recipients of his heavenly displeasure and eternal judgement. As Jesus notes later in the gospel of Matthew, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (12:36-37).” Idle, worthless, deceptive words will be judged by the standard of truth regardless of where or how they are spoken. Jesus is the God of truth today and forever.

The Dangers of Pinky Promises

Many souls understand the danger of swearing by God. Every time they utter a white lie and then swear by god that they are telling the truth, they peak up at the sky to make sure a lightning bolt is not on its way. To side step judgment while creating an oath, they swear on their grandmother’s grave or on their mother’s legacy as a cook that such and such is true. They may even get super series and pull out the pinky promise.

Jesus condemns all these earthly promises as well, noting that men and women, “cannot make one hair white or black.” Despite our boasts, we cannot enforce divine justice. If the boyfriend promises you that you are his one and only girl and then violates that promise the next Friday night when he takes your best friend to dinner, he is powerless to enforce the consequences of his promise “to drop dead.” While God can send floods, plagues, and armies to uphold his covenants, the sleazy boyfriend cannot. Even good promises like a trip to Disney World cannot be accomplished through human effort alone. As James notes in James 4:15, “Instead you ought to say, “if they Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” Those who make promises on their mother’s grave are foolish. And those who look for and accept such promises are equally foolish. Men and women remain powerless to accomplish their will.

Plain Speech

Instead of appealing to oaths to assure our listeners, those who know Jesus should always speak the simple truth. They should state the truth plainly in love. God speaks this way. He told the prophet Isaiah, “I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right.” Because the spirit of Christ resides in the believer, she too will plainly speak what is true and right in all settings for God reigns everywhere.

The Dress Dilemma

At this point, some Christians will raise their hand to object, noting that at times lies will do less harm than the truth. For example, if a husband tells his wife that she does indeed look fat in her new dress when asked, his date night might end right there and then. Hello leftover hotdogs! To keep the evening moving along, he lies and tells her that she looks great. Hello Ribeye! But at this moment, he has sinned against his wife, preferring himself above her. In seeking to sidestep a controversial statement, he has opened his wife up to criticism from their waitress, a coworker, and a host of other people who will also notice that her dress is not a winner. When one of them bluntly tells her the plain truth, she will be doubly hurt by her husband. She will have been both publicly shamed and lied to. The trust between the husband-and-wife fractures. The next time he tells her she looks great, he will have to swear a little oath to overcome her doubt. All this proves once again that oaths exists because the truth does not. Lies always destroy.

Are Wedding Vows Sinful?

Lastly, some sensitive souls have read Jesus’s words and concluded that military, legal, and marital oaths constitute a violation of God’s law. However, the simple swearing of an oath is not a sin. In Matthew 26:63-64, Jesus testified under oath that he was the Son of Man. Moreover, God made oaths with Noah, Abraham, and Moses.

Oaths exists because the kingdom of earth is saturated with false speech. For a sinful, broken society to function, sinful men and women in the kingdom of man must create ways to differentiate between when they are speaking falsely and when they are speaking truthfully. To create this space, they employ oaths to signify that what follows breaks from their normal pattern of false speech. With this understanding in play, Christians can take legal and formal oaths because they have already committed to the ethic of truth at conversion. An human oath simply codifies in human terms the Christian’s previous spiritual commitment to truth telling. The Christian is free to take oath. But he is not free to talk in a way that necessitates he give his listeners the assurances of promises. In her daily speech, the believer’s words should also be the simple truth. Her yes should always yes and her no should always no. May Hod help us all to speak the truth in love.

Sex, Singleness & Marriage in the Kingdom of God

Though most souls affirm that beauty can be expressed through sexual intimacy, few know how to nurture. Many of us learned about sexual intimacy in the shadows of pornography far removed from the light of relationship.

This explicitly charged discipleship model has trained us to view sexual intimacy as a private concern worthy of celebration. It makes personal gratification the measure of success. If a man finds satisfaction with his wife, he deems that to be good for society. Similarly, if he finds gratification with a woman who is not his wife or with another man, he thinks society should affirm those expressions of private sexual appetite. According to the wisdom of our postmodern society, most all expressions of sexual fulfillment are deemed valuable and worthy of affirmation. Too much brokenness and hurtful judgment already exists. In other words, those who limit intimacy to traditional, heterosexual marriage stand opposed to human fulfillment and flourishing.

This approach to sexuality has increasingly taken root in the church. After all, Christian Messiah came not to affirm the legalism of his day but to promote love. Jesus never directly addressed the complex issues associated with homosexuality or polymerous relationships. He was too busy caring for the sick, hungry, and broken. Moreover, some think that since God created both sexes, he will welcome all expressions of sexual intimacy. In other words, Jesus longs for every soul to experience sexual fulfillment, joy, and acceptance. Still the question remains: is the popular narrative really how Jesus approached human sexuality?

It is not. Jesus calls us to live out our sex life within the context of God’s law.

More than Sex

To be clear, Jesus does care deeply about human flourishing and by extension human sexuality. The scriptures frequent touch upon sex, praising its good expressions and criticizing its abuses.

But Jesus does not believe human fulfillment is derived from sexual intimacy. Rather, Jesus locates love and acceptance in the soul’s relationship with God. Despite the blind musing of some authors, the historical narratives reveal that Jesus never married and never enjoyed sexual intimacy outside of marriage. Jesus experienced the favor of God outside of the context of sexual intimacy through his fulfillment of the law (Matt 3:17). He then goes on to call his followers to this same level of purity irrespective of their sexual urges, declaring, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

This proves to be an exceptional moment in redemptive history. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve, the progenitors of humanity, violated the very simple first Law of God which consisted of avoiding the fruit on one tree. When they ate the forbidden fruit, they corrupted their nature and then bequeathed that brokenness to every human being who came after them. Because of that first transgression against the Law of God, human sexuality, physicality, and reason were forever bent towards evil. No soul could obey the law. Men and women were forever separated from God for holiness could not fellowship with corruption. They were many things, but purity was not one of them.

When Jesus died on the cross, he fulfilled once and for all the payment for sin. By his blood, he cleansed all who would repent and believe from the penalties and moral stains of their evil deeds. The very power that enabled Jesus to keep the Law operates in the soul of every believer, producing experiences of joy, contentment, and fulfillment. In other words, human flourishing comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ which enables men and women to enjoy the favor of God.

A Quick Word on Singleness

This fulfillment can be achieved irrespective of a person’s marital status. The thief on the cross never knew the joys of Christian marital intimacy and yet entered heaven full of joy (Lk 23). Jesus notes, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven (Matt 22:30).” Picking up on Jesus’s eternal focus, Paul writes, “he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better (1 Cor 7:38).” The apostle is asserting that singleness and a lack of sexual intimacy does not negatively impact the soul’s experiences of spiritual fulfillment. The married and unmarried can both know the joys of salvation. Instead of hindering happiness, singleness and abstinence founded upon the gospel often help facilitate one’s relationship with God.

Sex in the Kingdom

For sexual intimacy to support human flourishing, it must align with God’s design for the sexes through the saving grace of the gospel. In Genesis 2, God made men and women in-part for the purpose of life-giving sexual intimacy. Jesus reaffirmed the Genesis mandate in Matthew 19:4-6 and condemned adultery. While marriage certainly fosters procreation, it also should foster spiritual growth of the husband and of the wife for it is based on expressions of selflessness. Theologian John McArthur writes, “The two key attitudes in a successful marriage are self-denial and self-giving, both of which are contrary to human nature but made possible to those who trust in God through Jesus.” The husband is to love his wife “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25).” The wife is to humbly support her husband, affirming his leadership (Eph 5:22,33). Admittedly neither spouse will perfectly reflect Christ. But in these moments of failure, the beauty of mercy and meekness cemented in the marriage covenant shine as each spouse both asks for and extends forgiveness to the other. In this context of selflessness, sexuality flourishes (1 Cor 7:3). Both the husband and the wife enter intimacy to express their love for the other. In-turn, they discover the fulfillment of selfless love. Sex becomes the most intimate expression of the ethic of the kingdom of heaven which states, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them (Matt 7;12).”

Sex Outside Marriage

When intimacy sneaks its way outside of the marriage union, sexuality becomes an expression of personal consumption. Instead of seeking to affirm her partner, the adulterer exploits her partner for her gain. Once she has her physical urges met and emotional wants stroked, she dispenses with her partner regardless of his sense of satisfaction. Since he is not invested in her success, he too can turn their one-night stand into an unflattering Instagram post. Trust evaporates. According to an article in the Atlantic, intimacy divorced from commitment proves to be less frequent, more medical harmful, and less fulfilling than the sexual intimacy found in long term relationships. In other words, sexual freedom produces less sexual intimacy.

It also leads to spiritual death. The apostle Paul notes that “neither the sexual immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality” will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9). Those who insists on sleeping with their boyfriend, a having office romances while married, and enjoying open marriages will not enter by the narrow gate. Adultery left unchecked will ruin the soul.

Your Mind And Sex

But according to Jesus, adultery is not the only form of sexual malfeasance that wrecks the soul. Jesus cares just as much about the woman fantasizing about her neighbor as he does about the man who sleeps with his coworker while on vacation. He strengthens the religious prohibition against adultery to include the heart saying, “everyone that looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” To be guilty of adultery one never has to be in the same room with the object of his or her lust. No clothes need come off. To lust, the soul needs only to covet sexual intimacy with someone who is not his or her spouse to be guilty of lust. Once the mind meditates, explores, and expands upon ideas of intimacy outside of marriage, it joins Adam and Eve’s open rebellion against God, declaring the human heart to be the arbitrator of what is good and right. Sadly, the mind that refuses to mourn its lust, preferring to hide in a lifetime of dirty images, will never know comfort of salvation.

The Solution to Bad Sex

To avoid spiritual death, the soul must put forth every effort to be rid of lust. Jesus notes in Matthew 5:30, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better to lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” The savior of the universe does not want Christians to fight lust with physical mutilation. The context of Matthew 5 reveals that Jesus is discussing matters of the heart. He is calling his listeners to perform open heart surgery to remove all sources of sexual sin.

In 2003, outdoor enthusiasts, Aron Lee Ralston, slipped while climbing in Utah and found his arm pinned against a mountain by a bolder. After waiting five days for help and having exhausted his water, Ralston took matters into his own hands. He pulled out the 2-inch blade from his pocketknife and slowly and methodically cut off his arm. Over the span of 2 hours, he sliced his way through skin, arteries, bones, and eventually the nerve. He amputated his arm to save his life. Had he kept his arm, he would have died.

The Christian should take the same radical approach to lust. If his smartphone provides his hearts with avenues to lust, he should drop his cell service. If her Netflix account fosters sexual fantasies, she should drop it and be thought a neanderthal by her family. If that Facebook connection allows one to dream about sexual intimacy with an old high school sweetheart, the believer should quit Facebook and be thought unfriendly. The Christian should realize that unchecked adultery leads to death and hack off anything that would cause the heart to stumble into lust. If the believer takes the knife to his heart, Christ promises to help. The God who fulfilled the law will empower the soul to pluck out its eye and to cut off its hands. The soul that fails to discover freedom from lust proves it has truly mourned its sin. In other words, the heart that does not fight adultery is most assuredly already being destroyed adultery.