Expanding the Question
EXPANDING THE QUESTION
In last week’s midweek reflection we pondered the high standard of God’s call upon our lives. He calls us to pursue excellence, not mediocrity. He instructs us to clothe ourselves with Christlike character, not merely to avoid blatant wrongdoing. Therefore the primary question that we ought to ask of all our choices, habits, and priorities is not “Is there anything wrong with this course of action?” but “Will this course of action actually help me run as a faithful follower of Jesus?” There was nothing inherently wrong with the handheld Yahtzee game that my coworker gave to me about 19 years ago. But for me it quickly became an obsessive distraction, and it had to go. It didn’t help me run. So I put it away.
But today I want to call attention to another question that is tucked away in the original question “Will this activity help me run as a follower of Jesus?” Here’s the clue: running well as a follower of Jesus includes loving other people well. Which means that I should always be asking this question: Does this course of action help other people run as faithful followers of Jesus? Does this activity or lifestyle choice help other people run after Jesus? Or does it hinder them? It is not enough to run well only for one’s own self, because Christian running is others-oriented: love your neighbor in the same way that you love yourself. Or: stir up your neighbor to run after Jesus in the same that you stir up yourself to run after Jesus.
To let this sink in, consider how awful it is to lead others into sin. Manasseh led an entire nation into egregious sin (2 Chronicles 33:9). The scribes and Pharisees blocked the road to heaven and set people on the road to hell (Matthew 23:13-15). False teachers upset households (Titus 1:10-11), draw others into their lawless conduct (2 Peter 2:1-2), and hinder people from submitting to the truth (Galatians 5:7-10). Causing a little one who believes in Jesus to stumble is such a horrible thing that it is preferable to be cast into the ocean with a giant weight hanging around your neck (Mark 9:42).
Paul understood this. That’s why he said that he would much rather not exercise his freedom to undertake certain actions if those actions, though lawful, would lead a weak Christian to sin against his or her conscience. “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” (1 Corinthians 8:13 ESV) “Therefore let us… decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Romans 14:13 ESV) “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” (Romans 15:2, italics added) That’s the question: Is this course of action truly good for my neighbor? Will this particular conversation build up, edify, and strengthen my fellow Christian? Will this activity or outing help my brother or sister run after Jesus?
The prospect of being a negative influence might tempt you to opt out of the ministry of influence altogether. If influencing people wrongly is such a terrible prospect, then maybe it is better to withdraw into a place where you’re not influencing others at all. But that is not the path of wisdom. The command to love others means that you cannot opt out of relationships, and the command to encourage others means that you cannot be content with non-influence. The reality is that to be human is to be an influencer: you are supposed to and actually will reproduce your manner of life in the lives of other people. That’s how God designed human community to work. The truth is inescapable: you are under a God-given obligation to run faithfully after Jesus so that you can help others run faithfully after Jesus.
Sometimes you, like Asaph, will have to wrestle with God about the consternations of your soul so that you can continue to function as a faithful witness to others. Asaph was deeply troubled about the apparent prosperity and ease of the wicked in contrast to the apparent futility of living righteously. He shares his troubling reflections in Psalm 73:3-14. But we must realize that he shares these thoughts publicly after he had resolved them before the Lord. If he had shared these thoughts publicly as a bitter complaint against God before he had experienced resolution, then he could have led others astray. Asaph knew this, which is why he said: “If I had said, “I will speak thus [referring to his unresolved turmoil in verses 3-14],” I would have betrayed the generation of your children.” (Psalm 73:15 ESV) Earlier Asaph said that “[his] steps had nearly slipped” (Psalm 73:2 ESV). So the upshot of verse 15 is that if Asaph had actually slipped, then he easily could have caused others to slip too. Not good! Instead, we are called to “commend [God’s] works” to the next generation (Psalm 145:4 ESV).
Therefore, run in such a way that you can help others run, knowing that helping others run is part of your own good running. If you have unresolved running issues, then address them for your own benefit and for the benefit of others. Draw others into activities, conversations, and habits if and only if those activities, conversations, and habits are apt to strengthen their walk with the Lord. Always be thinking about how to bring some benefit to a fellow believer. Exhort others so that their hearts will remain soft before the Lord (Hebrews 3:13). Speak good, wholesome and fitting words that convey grace to the hearer (Ephesians 4:29). Live in such a way that others can follow your example (Philippians 3:17). Utilize your spiritual gifts “for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7 ESV). “[Admonish] the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14 ESV) Learn how to refresh the hearts of God’s people (Philemon 7). “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24 ESV).
Brothers and sisters, look ahead to the finish line. Sharpen your focus, and keep steady your pace. Then look around at all the others in the race, and by God’s grace do everything you can to help them run.
NOTE: Header Image/Featured Image Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash