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The Beauty of Every Day: Chapter 6 - Perfection in Loving

By J.R. Miller

      Jesus taught that Christian perfection is perfection in loving. He said we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, that we may be sons of our Father, who is in heaven. Then he added, "You therefore shall be perfect." He also gave some specific suggestions of the working of this law of love, showing what it includes.

      It was the teaching of the times that people should treat others--as others treated them. "An eye for an eye--and a tooth for a tooth," was the way it was put. But Jesus said, "That is not the meaning of love. But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." People say that of course he did not mean he would do this literally. If not, just what did he mean? If someone were to smite you on the right check, what ought you to do? What would Jesus himself do? It is not in civilized countries in our times, that one actually strikes another in the face; but what kind of treatment does face-smiting stand for?

      It may be regarded as a type of anything of the nature of personal insult, wrong, or indignity. If we would know just what Jesus would do in a case like this--we have an actual illustration in his own life. When he was on his trial, an officer smote him on the check with his hand. Did Jesus literally turn the other cheek? No; he asked the officer why he had smitten him. There was no anger in the question--it was not a hot word that he spoke. He did not return the blow. He showed no temper. He bore the insult without resentment, without bitterness, only challenging its justice.

      When we study Christ's conduct in all his life, and note what he did when he was wronged or insulted, when they spit in his face and buffeted him--we find that he was always most gentle and patient in return. He did not resist him who was evil. He did not contend for his rights. He endured wrongs without complaining. When he was reviled, he reviled not again. When he suffered cruelty or injustice, he threatened not.

      There are certain trees which, when struck, bathe with fragrant sap--the axe that cuts into them. Thus it was with Jesus when he was hurt--it only brought out in him more tenderness, more sweetness of love. When they drove nails into his hands and feet--the blood that flowed became the blood of redemption!

      In all this manifesting, Jesus was God, showing how God loves. "He who has seen me--has seen the Father." We are to love--as Christ loved.

      Thus Christ by his example of patience and love--teaches us not to take revenge. He makes it no longer a dishonor to bear an indignity patiently, without anger or retaliation--but the highest honor, rather, a mark of godlikeness. That is the way God himself does.

      We can find no place in the world, where personal wrongs and injuries cannot reach us. People will not always deal fairly with us. There will be someone who is not gentle, someone who will speak words which are bitter and unjust, who slights or cuts us, who wrongs or insults us, who, as it were, slaps us on the cheek. As Christians, what should we do? We know what the world's men do in such experiences. Shall we act differently? Men of the world think that meekness, patience in enduring wrong, the spirit of forgiveness, are marks of weakness. Oh, no; they are distinctly marks of strength. Revenge is characteristic of the world's people--but to be a Christian is to endure wrongs. We are to give love for hate, to return good for evil. Thus only can we be the sons of our Father, and become perfect as he is perfect.

      Another duty set down among the laws of the kingdom is, loving our enemies. "I say unto you, Love your enemies." How many of us, who call ourselves Christians, habitually do this? How many of us pray for those who persecute us? Yet that is what we must do if we would be perfect--as our heavenly Father is perfect. It is easy enough to love certain people and be kind to them. It is easy in your evening prayer to ask God to bless those who have been kind to you that day, who have spoken affectionate words to you, who have helped you over the hard places, whose love has brightened the way for you. But here is one who was unjust to you, who treated you rudely, who spoke to you or of you bitterly, falsely, who tried in some way to injure you. Is it easy, when you make your evening prayer, to ask God to bless this person and to forgive him, to do him good? Yet that is what he requires. "Pray for those who persecute you."

      When we have learned to pray really in this way--for those who wrong us, treat us injuriously, hate us--we are Christians. That is the way God loves. If we love as he loves, we shall be perfect. "Love is the fulfillment of the law." "God is love," and to be like God--is to love. Wesley said, "Pure love alone, reigning in the heart and life--this is the whole of Christian Perfection."

      The word perfection frightens some people. They say they never can reach it. It seems an inaccessible mountain summit. But Christ never commands an impossibility. When he says, "Be perfect," he means to give grace and ability to reach the high attainment. He means here especially perfection in loving, as defined in his own words. No other perfection is attainable.

      A writer tells of the finding of a human skeleton in the Alps. It proved to be that of a tourist who had been trying to secure an Alpine flower, the edelweiss--but had slipped and lost his life. Many men, in striving to reach some high honor, some great joy, some rich possession, have failed and fallen. Only a few of earth's climbers ever gain their goal. But here is a white flower--which all who aspire to reach shall find. "You shall be perfect in love--as your Father is perfect."

      Perfection ever is a lesson which has to be learned. It is not an attainment which God will put into our hearts, as you might hang up a picture in your parlor. Rather, it is something which we have to strive after, which we have to achieve and attain, in experience. If we learn one by one the lessons which our Master teaches us, we shall at length become perfect. It may seem now only a far-away vision--but if we continue patiently learning, we shall realize it by and by. We cannot attain it in a day--but every day we may take one little step toward it. The day in which we do not grow a little less resentful, in which we do not become a little more patient, tolerant, and merciful toward others, a little more like Christ in love, in gentleness and kindness--is a lost day.

      "You shall be perfect"--that is the finished lesson, that is the radiance of character, to which we are coming. Every hour we should draw a little nearer to it. Cherish the blessed vision. Never let it fade from your heart for a moment. Every temptation to be angry, is an opportunity to learn to live a little better. Every wrong anyone does to you, gives you another chance to grow more forgiving, to learn more of meekness and long-suffering, to get into your life a larger measure of the love that bears all things, endures all things, never fails.

      One says: "I never can learn this lesson--it is too hard. I never can love my enemy, one who hates me and treats me with insult. I never can cease to bear grudges. If this is what the lesson is, I cannot learn to live it!" Without divine help--we never can learn it. The evil in our natural hearts, we never can eradicate. We cannot change black into white.

      That is just why Jesus came into the world to be our Savior. If we could have changed our own hearts, there would have been no need for a divine helper to come. We cannot, without his help, change resentment to love in our own hearts. We cannot, without his grace, learn to love our enemies, to pray for them. We cannot learn to be kind to the unthankful and the evil, unless the Spirit of Christ is in us. Jesus said to the disciples, "Apart from me--you can do nothing." It is not a mere human work we are set to do, when we are bidden to be perfect. We cannot too clearly understand this, or too thoroughly remember it. But when we are willing, God will work with us. If we truly strive to be perfect in love--God will help us to reach the lofty aim!

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See Also:
   Chapter 1 - While We May
   Chapter 2 - The Glory of the Common Life
   Chapter 3 - Seeds of Light
   Chapter 4 - He Calls Us Friends
   Chapter 5 - Not Counting God
   Chapter 6 - Perfection in Loving
   Chapter 7 - Shut Your Door
   Chapter 8 - Things That Hurt Life
   Chapter 9 - Getting Away from Our Past
   Chapter 10 - Thomas' Mistake
   Chapter 11 - Friends and Friendship
   Chapter 12 - The Yoke and the School
   Chapter 13 - The Weak Brother
   Chapter 14 - The Lure of the Ministry
   Chapter 15 - Narrow Lives
   Chapter 16 - The True Enlarging of Life
   Chapter 17 - Through the Year with God
   Chapter 18 - The Remembers
   Chapter 19 - Caring for the Broken Things


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