By Norman P. Grubb
THE question of our relationships with people is so important that we think it is worth a most careful examination. There is nothing upon which we Christians put more emphasis than on the need of unity. There is nothing that we are quicker to deplore than examples of division. Yet the fact is that to live in free, open, happy relationships with others is an achievement of the highest spiritual order; and those who have dug down to the bottom of the subject, who have thoroughly examined and learned the technique of brotherly love (for there is a technique), and who can apply it on all occasions, are all too few.
Let us get this point clear. We have seen that there are spiritual laws which govern all phases of the Christian life, and that they are discoverable from the Scriptures and applicable to our every condition. We have exhaustively investigated the laws of faith, as they are related to the supply of need, to our relationship with God, to our individual circumstances, to our sphere of service (and let us not be afraid of this word "law", for it is only the term we use to describe some segment of the unsearchable wisdom of God which He has been pleased to reveal, and which man then grasps, labels "law" for convenience, and proceeds to use. "All's love, yet all's law!") And now in the same way, we want to examine the law which governs the exercise of brotherly love on every occasion.
We shall find that it is only another application of the same law of faith. We have seen the way by which the tangles of our self-governed life can be exchanged for the blessings of Christ control, and the challenge of frustrating circumstances can be turned into the adventure of believing God. It can be the same with the set-backs of inharmonious relationships.
We will take the simplest and most obvious instance. There is someone we have difficulty to get on with. There are clashes. One rubs up the other. Mannerisms, petty selfishnesses, annoying habits; too self-assertive or too self-effacing; too tidy or too slovenly; too cheerful or too mournful; too critical or too gullible. We all know the sort of thing in a thousand different garbs. None can live with others without it happening.
What is to be done about it? Temperaments just do clash, as much as colors. Strive as we may, the opposition rises in us, the criticism, the resentment, the heated words, the strain, the shame at our failures.
Let us look back a moment. If the same law of faith solves our problem, how did it work when we were up against a difficult circumstance rather than person? We learned first to recognize that we are human and have human reactions. We fear, feel helpless, or bewildered, and so on. We then learned, not to come under false condemnation as if such reactions were sinful, but to see that we directed them aright; up, not down; not to give way to doubt and depression, or, in other words, to accept the devil's interpretation of the situation, but to find out God's point of view.
That, we then learned, took some effort to discover, an effort in equal proportion to the weight of the pressure on our spirits. We have to go apart deliberately into the secret place and there, by prayer, by reading of the Word, by consideration of the circumstances, rid ourselves of the earthly outlook on the thing and replace it by the heavenly. See it as God sees it. See it from the throne where we sit with Christ. See it in the light of all the power given to Him and to us in Him. Finally we act on that heavenly vision. We speak the authoritative word of faith. "Be gone", or "Come", in Christ's Name, as the case may be. We then go out from the secret place to live in the faith of that declaration and act accordingly. Oftentimes we may feel our weakness all over again, and oftentimes retire again within ourselves to repeat that word of faith and take fast hold of God; but by His grace we persist until one day, maybe as quietly as the evening dew, the thing happens according as we believed.
Apply that now to a difficult person as to a difficult circumstance. Repeat the process stage by stage. Recognize frankly the unpleasant feelings. Do not be condemned by them, just recognize that that person has that effect upon you (and you may be sure that you have that same effect on him). It is just a question of human temperaments. But recognize also that this is the earthly point of view: it is how you see your neighbor and how this or that about him rubs you up the wrong way; and you must not remain in that point of view, for, by ourselves, we are the helpless prey of the devil.
Now use the same process. Go a step further. Go to the secret place, spread the matter before the Lord, not so much to pray and groan for deliverance, perhaps you have often done that; go to get His point of view on your neighbor, even as you get His point of view on a difficult situation. What does He say or think about him? Ah, that takes on a different aspect. For God does not see us all clothed in our pettinesses, in those little selfishnesses and idiosyncracies which annoy. He sees us in Christ and Christ in us. He sees His Beloved Son and us in Him. Now that makes all the difference. We look again at our neighbor. We see Christ in that life (supposing him to be the Lord's). We see the changes Christ has wrought. We praise and love, for Christ in us unites with Christ in him. It does not mean that the faults are not there, but it means that the greater fills our vision and the lesser retires to its proper place; for nearly all disunity comes through magnifying the lesser and minimizing the greater in a person.
Now we go out to begin again. By God's grace we are going to reckon on Christ in our brother, rather than see the flesh or even the weak human. But that means something else of great importance. We said that brotherly love is a process of faith. It is. Real love means faith, means we trust our brother. Let us test our love by that. How often we will say: "Of course we love so and so, but, but, but...", and out will come all the reasons why we could not trust him. But real love is trust. God even trusted that fallen sinners could and would respond to Christ. There was a sense in which He reckoned on the response of a wicked world or He could not have died for it. And if we cannot trust even a brother in Christ, we can always trust Christ in him; and we can remember that God trusts him and has long patience with him, even as He has with us.
Now, faith is potent. What we believe in we are producing and propagating. Our very looks, words and actions are always propagating our faith. We are always ministering either faith or unbelief, life or death, Christ or devil, every minute of the day. One or the other streams from us. No man lives unto himself. Therefore, if we are reckoning on and believing in a brother's weak point, we are actually strengthening these things in him. If, on the other hand, we are reckoning on Christ in him, we are building up the image of God in him. Therefore our attitude to our brother not only affects us and gives us either release or strain, either bondage or liberty, but it affects him; and we are responsible to God for the way we affect our brother.
Victory may by no means come in a moment. Even as in the battle of faith over a difficult situation, we have to hold the ramparts of faith against many an assault of unbelief and stand fast, so in the battle for brotherly love. We may fall back again and again before an assault of criticism or annoyance or resentful feeling. Well, return again and again to the place of love and faith which sees Christ in him.
The best action to take and the most costly, and therefore most effective, is to tell our brother frankly of the facts of the situation and of God's dealings with us. We shall get nowhere if we merely heatedly tell him where he rubs us up or appears to us to fail. We must involve ourselves also in the statement, by admitting our resentful reactions. That is the approach by the way of the Cross, not telling him to die on it, while we sit and watch him; but dying ourselves first by confessing where we have been wounded and hurt and hard. That will certainly bring a relief and a release to us. Frankness always liberates; and in many cases, such an approach, combining confession with faithfulness, will open the way to a frank talk and honest solution of the problem, or at least a spirit of openness by which the subject can be frankly re-discussed when it re-arises.
To see Christ in him is the solution; there is no other. And even if he does not respond, love then will flow freely in one's own soul. And even if my neighbor is not a child of God, the same principle is valid; for if I cannot see him as one who has Christ in him, I can see him as one whom Christ seeks, and at whose heart's door he is knocking, and in that sense I can see him as Christ sees him, as one He would save.
But now another question arises. This procedure may be feasible when no intentional wrong is done us by our neighbor, when the discord is rather more temperamental than deliberate. But what of the many instances when some real wrong is the cause, some unguarded or malicious statement, some unkind or obstructive act, something that really hurts me or a dear one, and stirs indignation or calls for retribution and rebuke?
Let us remember the one golden rule. Every battle of life is fought and won within ourselves, not without. Gain the inner spiritual victory, and the outer follows as sure as the day the night. How hard it is for us to learn that we control and conquer from within. We are used to dealing with the outward, with things and people, and we fly to the outward for supply; wrestle against the outward in adversity, cry out against the outward when wronged. Poor blinded creatures, scratching about for the bits and pieces on the outside, when all the wealth and power of the universe streams into us through the Creator, and He is to be found where spirit meets with Spirit within!
Who were the poised and powerful among the twelve spies whom Moses sent out? Were they the ten who were influenced by the outward, by the giants and walled cities of Canaan, and who cried out on their return: "We be not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we... It is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof?" Or the two, Caleb and Joshua, from their standpoint of inner vision and victory, whose minds were stayed on God and who said: "Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it... neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us?" Who proved right?
David had a profound and unusual insight into this truth when meeting with a sudden gross and public insult. When sorrowfully leaving Jerusalem with his company of loyal supporters at the time of Absolom's revolt, he was accosted by a relative of King Saul's, who cursed and stoned him. "Come out, come out, thou bloody man, thou son of Belial: the Lord hath returned upon thee all the blood of the house of Saul..." This was too much for one of David's chief officers, Abishai, who drew his sword and asked permission to kill him: "Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head." A convenient way out of our difficulties which we often feel like taking! David's answer was remarkable: "What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah? So let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him: Curse David." And then a little later: "Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him." And then a quick rise in faith: "It may be that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing." A man who is a mouthpiece of the devil was said by David to be commanded to curse by the Lord! Truly a lightning transition of outlook from the natural reaction of Abishai's "Kill him", to the supernatural one of David's "Let him alone, the Lord hath bidden him"; a transition possible only to one who was long accustomed to walk with God. The underlying principle is plain to see: a difference of inner attitude affecting outer action. One saw the thing from an earth-level, the other the same thing from heaven.
So in every case of wrong done, there is a way of peace, poise and victory. But it is not found on the outside by leaping to condemn the wrongdoer and to assert our own rights. Once again it is by the application on the inside of the one process of faith. Here the fight will be much fiercer. Our sense of righteousness will have been aroused. We have been wronged. The fault is obvious. The wrongdoer should be made to see his wrong and apologize. The wronged one should have his character cleared. It is not even morally sound that the wrongdoer should get away with it unrebuked, unrepentant. He should be shown that sin is sin.
Yes, that is true of the plane of righteousness pure and simple. It is equitable for the man of the world. It is the justice of the law. But, in the Gospel, a new principle of action has been revealed, revolutionary, dazzling. "The meek shall inherit the earth." So quietly said that the world passes it by as one of those "soft" sayings of Christianity. Yet it contains the only explosive power which could blow war out of world policies, and, as it says, will and does inherit the earth.
It is the Cross in action; and Jesus, who fulfilled it, has been gaining His promised inheritance of millions of human hearts through two thousand years, and will one day rule, as prophecy assures us, in person over the whole redeemed earth.
We say to our injurious neighbor, as Abishai said: "You must die! If you will die, die by repenting, confessing, apologizing, righting the wrong, then I will freely forgive." But that is just what God in Christ did not do. If He had, we should all be bound for a lost eternity. That is the way of the law.
But God, in face of man's defiances, disobediences, ragings, insults, mockeries, decides that He will die in the Person of His Son for us. Christ dies at the hands of wicked men, our hands. God loves on. He even becomes our suppliant and beseeches us to make it up with Him. He, the offended One, does not remain in cold isolation till we make some approach to Him. He comes to us. He breaks through the barriers that separate us. He becomes flesh to reach us. "What more can I do than I have done?" is His own heart's cry through the mouth of the prophet.
And the consequence? Melted human hearts. Men and women by the thousand who will spill their blood for love of His Name. Treasures poured at His feet in endless abundance; treasures of brain and substance, treasures of loved ones and life itself. A very world in darkness and distortion that still through twenty centuries stretches out its suppliant hands to Calvary, recognizing the glory of that bleeding Figure, glimpsing the secret of its power, knowing it holds the only key to effective brotherhood, yet not willing to pay the price of that narrow way.
But to us, His disciples, the challenge comes right home, right to these practical situations of our daily contacts. Can we die when our brother offends us, or shall we insist that he does? Shall we take that same despised way which leads to real power through seeming weakness, or the apparently sensible way that really leads to weakness through seeming power? The way that conquers him by first being conquered ourselves, or that tries the hopeless task of forcing him to his knees by outward compulsion issuing from the inner weakness of our uncrucified selves?
It is not easy. The spirit is stirred to righteous indignation. Real bitterness is felt maybe, or resentment, or a strong sense of a wrong that should be righted. To retaliate would give relief, to write the strongly worded letter, to take decisive action, to resign or dismiss as the case might be, or to take the case before others for just judgment.
But just a moment: give God a chance. "Be ye angry," but "sin not." Let Him speak first. And what does He say? Is it not always the same? "I only work through death and resurrection. What about your natural self? Are you not very much alive with resentment and indignation? Have you not sin in that respect, even if your opponent has in other respects? I will deal with you first. Will you die out to yourself?" You respond. You know it is His voice. You consent. By faith you reckon yourself once again as dead and buried with Christ, the sin under the blood.
And now He speaks again. "What about your attitude to your brother? Honest now! Do you see Me in him just now? Do you recognize him as My child whom I love, and does your heart warm to him as a consequence? Or is his fault so magnified in your sight that these other greater facts about him are forgotten?"
Probably it is so, almost certainly so. Well then, reverse the outlook. See him from Christ's point of view. Honor him as one in whom Christ dwells. Count on Christ to work His will in him and to adjust what is wrong.
Ah, now the viewpoint will change. We shall find that a great deal of our resentment was hurt self, not just simply honest indignation at a wrong done. It was because he wronged me that I felt like that. We wanted to retaliate because we wanted to relieve our damaged feelings; self lay at the root of most of it, and we may always be sure that to act in the flesh only brings response from the flesh.
Now we can see clearly. Self is exposed in ourselves and dealt with at the Cross. Christ reigns again within, and what we now want is not just our rights with our brother, but that he may be blessed and that God may have His best in him. Now we are in a fit condition to act as God directs. Perhaps it may be a word spoken or letter written, but the tone of the letter will be as much admitting our own failure as his: or maybe silence and faith will be the way. But assurance and peace will be in our hearts, and of this we may be certain, that "the meek inherit," and resurrection life will follow death, life not merely in us but in him, for the one who wins within commands without.