At some point, it seems we gain a sense of confidence about the things we know. We develop a knowledge base and choose to become satisfied with our current state. It is almost as if we cut off our ability to learn and to grow because we feel like we have matured to the point that we no longer need it. We become confident, maybe overly confident, about the things that we know and do not allow any other information to be considered. We know what we know and we become stuck in this. Anything that challenges what we know, we dismiss or become angry. We defend what we know with all our might. And, in turn, we lose the ability to listen, grow and learn. This seems to especially happen with our faith. And the chances of it happening seem to grow exponentially if we were raised in church. We become less willing to hear and learn and dismiss anything that doesn’t coincide with what we think we know. We look for people that think like us and dismiss all else. What happens, though, is we grow stagnant. When we are not learning and growing, we become stuck and unable to live out our faith. We can even become frustrated and angry. We are no longer teachable.
An easy example of this is when we look at scriptures we have heard over and over again. We have heard them taught every way you might can imagine. For instance, the parable of the prodigal son is one. This has been taught from a thousand different angles. So when this becomes the scripture for us to read or we hear a message about it, we can begin to tune out. We can turn off the switch and go into autopilot because we know the answers – or at least we think we do. If we do decide to listen and something is unusual that we hear, we just dismiss the entire message. We are not growing and we are not teachable because we have decided we know it all.
But that really isn’t how God’s Word works. This isn’t really how the Christian faith is to be lived out. This isn’t why God has given us this guide we know as the Bible. It isn’t so that we can look at it and memorize it and quote it but not live it. It isn’t so that we can use it to judge others or beat others over the head with facts we aren’t even willing to accept ourselves. It isn’t so that we take this Word and decide one way of looking at it and stop growing. We are given God’s Word that speaks to us where we are. If we believe that the Word is alive and active, then we cannot know it all. It requires us to be teachable, all the time. It means we are never an expert. We never have all the answers. It forces us to listen, even when we think we know it all. God gave us this Word so we could become more like him – not more confident in who we think we are.
If we are going to be teachable at all times, it means we must be willing to listen – really listen. Listening requires active tuning in without trying to answer all the questions. It means keeping our mouths closed and minds open because we do not know it all. We do not have all the answers. And that is hard – especially when we have grown up studying the Word. But since we are not God, there is still so much to learn.
Today’s scripture is Romans 13:8-14.
In this scripture, Paul is teaching what it means to live in the way of Christ. He is challenging believers to wake up – to pay attention – to listen to the direction of Christ. He is pushing them to go beyond where they already are and not to become stagnant in their faith. Don’t stay in one place, stuck in your beliefs. Grow and stretch – and these words certainly do stretch us.
13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
13:9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
13:10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
13:11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers;
13:12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;
13:13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.
13:14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Love one another. It seems so simple. It is written so many times in the Bible that we could identify this as one of the major themes. Jesus said that to love God and to love others is central to it all. We know that we are to love our neighbor. And so, when we hear this again, we could easily hear…blah, blah, blah. It could be like the teacher on Charlie Brown – wank, wank, wank. We tune out all the rest because we think we have it. We feel sure, because we have heard it so often, that we understand it. Yet, I wonder if we are living it. Understanding it, hearing it, knowing it is completely different than living it.
That may be why God has it so many times in his Word. This may be why the Bible repeats it and there are stories of it over and over again. God taught it, Jesus lived it, but do we? Do we really get it? Do we really love our neighbor? Do we really live honorably? Do we live without quarreling and jealousy? Do we live without hatred and meanness? Do we live without judgment and name calling? I don’t think so. I think that even after all the lessons, we still don’t get it. And it could be because we aren’t willing to hear it any longer. It could be that we have decided that we know it all and cut all the rest off. It could be that we are no longer teachable. And that should scare us.
Loving our neighbor requires us to love without judgment. If we only love those that look like us and believe like us and act like us, we haven’t really done anything. If we gang up together with other people that are just like us, we look like the enforcement rather than love. Jesus constantly went to those who were different, who were not accepted, who were the least – and brought them love. He tried to love the religious people but they were often so stuck in their own worlds that they could not understand what love really looked like. Have we become the religious people? Are we so determined that we are right that we cannot reach out to others? Have we become an exclusive club rather than a welcoming home for those that are weary? Have we decided who belongs rather than showing the love of Christ to all?
I’m not sure we reach many people with God’s love when we become forceful or hateful or malicious. I’m not sure we set a good example when we look like we know everything and everyone else is simply stupid. I’m not sure that approach solves anything. And it could make us a bit overconfident about the things we think we know.
The challenge really becomes – what does it really look like to love our neighbor? And I think it looks differently than we imagine. I don’t think it only means to love those who look, think, believe or act like us. I think it means exactly the opposite. And that may be the greatest challenge of all.