BEHAVIOR, RELATIONSHIPS, AND THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
                            By: Jerry S. Maneker

"...for the tree is known by his fruit." (Matthew 12:33)

In many ways, Jesus is a behaviorist.  He is very much concerned with our behavior as it is manifested in our
relationship to God and to others.

Whenever Jesus commands His disciples to "love," the word "agape" is used.  This word is used to describe God's
attitude toward Jesus (John 17:26) as well as His attitude toward the human race (John 3:16 and Romans 5:8).  This
type of love is expected of Jesus' followers toward other people as well.  We are to show forth mercy and compassion to
others as God has shown forth His compassion and mercy to us (John 13:34; 1Thesselonians 3:12; 1Cor 16:14; 2Peter
1:7).  Indeed, we are to thereby express the nature of God to one another (1John 4:8)

As Hogg and Vine state, "Christian love, whether exercised toward the brethren, or toward men generally, is not an
impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for
whom some affinity is discovered.  Love seeks the welfare of all, Rom. 15:2, and works no ill to any, 13:8-10; love seeks
opportunity to do good to 'all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith,' Gal. 6:10.  See
further 1Cor. 13 and Col. 3:12-14" (Notes on Thessalonians, p. 105)

Jesus says that you must show mercy and compassion, that is, "agape," toward all other people.  Your feelings and
desires at that given moment are irrelevant!  You are to show forth to others the mercy and compassion that is
reasonably expected from one who has received God's unmerited favor; that unmerited favor given  to people who do
not deserve His grace and forgiveness.

This expression of "love" is a reasonable expectation for Christians!  However, whether one realizes it or not, God has
shown forth His grace and mercy to all people.  Your talents, health, wealth, relationships, dreams, sense of purpose,
environment, and a host of other variables that enrich your life are solely due to God's mercy upon us.

Everything we have is from God!  This is what Paul undoubtedly means when he says, "For the invisible things of him
from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power
and Godhead; so that they are without excuse...." (Romans 1:20)

All people, therefore, are without excuse in their ignorance of God, His gifts, His love, and His mercy.  Hence, it is
expected that we all, Christian and non-Christian alike, show kindness and sensitivity to each other, and even to  
animals of whom we are stewards, and do our very best to not  in any way do any harm.

We are to seek to uplift the major dimensions each of us share as human beings: the physical, the intellectual, the
emotional, and the spiritual.  Our task in life is to nurture each of these dimensions in our fellow human beings.  I use
the word "task" because the exercise of "agape" is frequently just that--a task.  We often don't feel like giving of
ourselves to nurture or defer to others.  Our desire to nurture ourselves and our desires frequently outstrips our desire
to nurture others.

However, we are called upon to put others’ needs first, yet not neglect the nurturance and integration of our own needs
in order to truly be authentic, to live an abundant life, and to be able to truly minister to the needs of others.  We must
learn to integrate our intellectual, physical, emotional, and spiritual lives so that they are of one piece.

Unfortunately, we have frequently been taught that our spiritual lives must be separated from the other aspects of our
lives, thereby resulting in our spiritual lives frequently being consigned to Sunday mornings where we take up a pew and
listen to a sermon; spend the rest of our time dealing with our other dimensions, frequently devoid of, and removed
from, the spiritual dimension of our lives.  We read the Apostle Paul’s assertion, “For to be carnally minded is death; but
to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6)

Yet, what we fail to understand is that the more we separate the physical nature of our beings from the spiritual nature
of our beings, the more likely we are to focus on the physical nature. The old adage that forbidden fruit is always the
sweetest is certainly true, as we certainly see in the Garden of Eden account.

To be able to place the spiritual dimension of our lives on the front burner of our lives, it’s essential that all of the other
aspects of our lives be integrated in some meaningful way with that spiritual dimension. Hence, for example, our
sexuality must be seen by us as spiritually meaningful and seamlessly integrated with our very spirituality.  It’s no
accident that the Song of Solomon is in the canon of Scripture!  The same must hold true with our intellectual lives (e.g.
2Corinthians 10:5); our emotional lives (e.g. Galatians 2:20, Colossians 3:3).

So we must, of course, deal with the integration of the many aspects of ourselves; this task can easily overtake our
concern for the needs of others.  Hence, we have to be careful that we don’t become self-absorbed and narcissistic in
our integration of our different dimensions so that we become insensitive or less sensitive to the needs of others.

Almost all problems in relationships occur because the "self" gets in the way of acting out compassion and mercy.
Hence, much divorce, abuse, various forms of predatory behavior, incivility, and greed frequently rule the day.  Our
society is increasingly becoming sociopathic.  That is, we are more concerned with meeting our own needs to the virtual
exclusion of the needs and even the desperation of others.  The "self," frequently manifested in the quest for power,
prestige, and wealth, becomes our god and thereby usurps the role of God that enables a society to become and
remain civilized.

One of the many unfortunate consequences of the "self" becoming our god are the rationalizations for our selfishness.  
We seek and encourage ourselves and others to detect motives and reasons for selfish and sociopathic actions.  
Indeed, psychiatrists, psychologists, and other "expert witnesses" are used in courts of law to show mitigating
circumstances that implicitly justify the egregious behaviors in question.

For example, a father abuses his child and is brought into court to answer the indictment.  He confesses to the crime,
but explains that he, too, was abused and therefore he didn't know another way to handle his frustrations.  Frequently,
such an explanation is viewed as a justification to reduce the sentence that would otherwise be imposed.  Indeed, one or
more psychiatrists may be called to show how this father, due to the stresses in his life and the conditions of his
background, suffered from an "irresistible impulse" to abuse his child and should be given "therapy" instead of being
punished for the crime.

It seems to me we must come to the point where we realize that it doesn't matter what the reason or motive is behind
predatory behavior.  The consequences to the victim are the same regardless of the reasons for the act!  If you kill
someone because you have a brain tumor that caused the act, that tumor is certainly a mitigating factor that would
justify lack of punishment.  However, all other rationalizations and justifications used to squirm out of assuming
responsibility for one's actions and their consequences are irrelevant.  A lot of psychiatrists and psychologists make a
handsome living testifying as to one's state of mind when, in fact, no one can know another's state of mind and even if
one could know it, it should be irrelevant in criminal matters.

Similarly, if one hurts you in one or more of the dimensions of your life, the reasons for their behavior are irrelevant.  If I
cheat you out of some money, it is irrelevant if I say to you, "I'm sorry.  I needed the money to pay off some debts."  If I
ask for forgiveness, or even if I don't ask for forgiveness, you should forgive me, but you would be a fool to trust me with
your money (or with much of anything else, for that matter) again.

We must look at behavior, not motives or reasons, in our relationships with other people.  The issue is, "How does this
person treat me?"  "How does he act toward others?"   The tree is known by its fruit.  If the actions are decent and
loving, that person is decent and loving.  Motives, reasons, and justifications notwithstanding, what's in one's heart can
only be discerned by others by that person's actions.

Only God can see and truly know the heart!  We humans can only, and must only, discern the nature of the other
person by his or her behavior.  And only by his or her behavior!

The measure of a person doesn’t really consist of his or her qualities or talents but consists of the life-time impact he or
she has had on others.  As we are taught, when we are born we are crying and others are smiling, and we are to live
our lives in such a way that when we are dying we are smiling and others are crying.

Such a life lived is the best indicator of the Christian life!


      


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