In II Corinthians eleven Paul is dealing with false prophets and to make his point he starts listing all the evidence that supports him being a servant of Christ (verse 23). It reads like a summary of suffering and hardship and when he gets to the end of the list he punctuates everything in verse 28.
“Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.” (II Corinthians 11:28)
Daily pressure? You cannot read through any of Paul’s letters without seeing his deep love and concern for all those Christians he has worked with. He completely invested himself in the spiritual well-being of others.
There is no better example of this than I Thessalonians.
“For this reason, when I could endure no longer, I also sent to find out about your faith, for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor would be in vain. But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always think kindly of us, longing to see us just as we also long to see you, for this reason, brethren, in all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith; for now we live, if you stand firm in the Lord.” (I Thessalonians 3:5-8)
Knowing what the Christians were facing, his concern is palpable. I can almost picture Paul waiting by the window, watching for Timothy, praying for a favorable report. His response to the good news says everything, “now we LIVE, if you stand firm in the Lord.”
The thought of carrying that kind of sincere concern for other Christians frightens me. It exhausts me. To my shame I don’t know if I have ever truly felt that away about someone else’s faith.
This week I was able to visit with a couple that I dearly love. They are humble and godly and are constantly thinking of ways to serve others. Their most recent act of service was taking in and taking care of a six year old little girl who had to be removed from her mother. They embraced her like she was their own, showing her love and affection and providing her safety and stability. They introduced her to the gospel and involved her in bible studies and worshiping with the saints. They established routines for her and starting laying a foundation to provide this little girl an eternal future. The little girl bounces around, smiling, full of energy. She is thriving in the environment they have created.
Earlier this week they were informed that she will be returning to live with her mother. Friday will be her last day in their home. My heart breaks for many reasons. It breaks because this little girl is being taken from warmth and love and stability and being put back into an uncertain situation at best. It breaks because she is being removed from a home filled with the love and knowledge of God and returning to a home saturated with the world. It breaks because I know my dear friends have received just as much from this little girl as they have given. My heart breaks because their hearts are broken. I have no doubt that their concern for her is exactly the same as Paul’s concern for those Christians in Thessalonica.
So I’m left here wondering what to do? How would I handle such a situation? I’m a little angry and I’m a lot sad. There are so many instances in life when we open ourselves up and expose our hearts just to have them broken. It is easy to shut down and say, “Why bother?” and close ourselves off to others. I believe this is what many of us do in order to protect ourselves from such heartbreak. So how did Paul handle it?
“Brethren, I do not regard myself of having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)
In Philippians chapter three Paul is expressing the overwhelming value of knowing Christ Jesus. He is expressing how utterly useless all of his accomplishments are in comparison to knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection. He has completely sold out so that he might gain Christ. Paul says, “forgetting what lies behind…I press on toward the goal.”
So how does this apply to my dear friends? They will hurt and there will be pain. The pain might lessen over time but it probably won’t go away completely. But they will press on. They will continue to serve. They will embrace the opportunity to open themselves up again and will, most likely, be hurt again. Why would they do this? Because it is what Jesus did and their goal is to know Christ.
Did Jesus know that He would be rejected? Did he know that the very people He came to save would stand in front of Pilot and shout, “Crucify! Crucify!”? Did Jesus know that His dearest friends on this earth, friends He had poured Himself into, would abandon Him and even deny Him at His darkest hour? Yet He opened Himself up, He embraced those around Him and He pressed on.
The reality is that we never reflect the character of our Lord more fully than when we have been hurt and we have been rejected and we decide to open up our hearts and continue to love and serve those around us.