THAT VERY IMPORTANT LITTLE WORD “AND”

Often Christianity is an either/or choice: the world’s ways or God’s ways, heresy or truth, immorality or obedience. Joshua said to all the tribes of Israel, “choose this day whom you will serve … but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). God says the same to us.

But often the choice is not one of either/or, but rather one of both/and. Jesus, quoting from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6:4) , said:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,

and with all your soul,

and with all your mind,

and with all your strength.

—Mark 12:30

It is highly unlikely that any one person would be completely balanced among each of these ways we are to love the Lord. Far more likely we’re doing rather well in one or two of them and not so well in one or two of them, with perhaps one or two being somewhere in the middle. I would suggest those reading this article take a minute and rank the four — heart, soul, mind, strength — as which one is your spiritual strongest suit, down to which one is your weakest one. Okay. Now what?

First, thank God for your strong suit.

This may take some discipline for those who would immediately go to their weakness, but I encourage you to start with where you are strong. Why?

Some people expect to hear from God only when they mess up, assuming that when they do well God will not say anything. (Perhaps they were raised by a parent or two who acted this way towards them.) But Scripture says otherwise about God.

Jesus told a parable of the servants and the “talents” (sums of money). The master was pleased with the activity of one of his servants and said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy servant” (Matthew 25:23). As the master represents God in the story, we should note how God likes to speak to us when commendation is deserved.

If your perception of God is that He’s always after you when you make a mistake but seldom if ever commends you when you do well, please know that your perception of God is wrong. Go get some good spiritual direction if the problem is theological or some good Christian counseling if it’s psychological. Otherwise you will eventually become bitter towards God and tell others, wrongly, how bad God is.

Additionally, we start by thanking God for our strong suit because why would we invest the time and effort in spiritual growth if our analysis of ourselves is that no progress has ever been made? While reminding the Corinthians that they still had a ways to go in growth in holiness, the Apostle Paul, in listing various immoralities that will disqualify people from inheriting the kingdom of God, encouraged the church by reminding them “this is what some of you used to be” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; italics added). Some of them had grown spiritually. Their efforts in spiritual growth had borne fruit. They should be encouraged to continue.

So, before we move to address our weaknesses, let’s celebrate our strengths. Give God the glory, thank others for their help, and allow God to commend you for your efforts.

Second, work on your weak area(s). We might wonder to what degree our loving the Lord better in those areas in which we are weak will bless us but that’s not the chief reason we work on our weak areas. While there is no Scriptural commandment that we are to get better at youth work or preaching, there is that commandment to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. God wants this from us.

How do we do that? There are three ways and each is important.

The first way we grow into a fuller love of the Lord is through our own efforts. Read through the Scriptures and see how often we are told to do something. For example, positively, we are told to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). Negatively, we are told to “put away your former way of life” (Ephesians 4:22). Notice how frequently these “command words” occur in Scripture.

We are not to be lazy, thinking God will do it for us. Paul told the Corinthians to “flee from the worship of idols” (1 Corinthians 10:26). He was not suggesting the church members think, “Yes, idols are a bad thing. I just wish God would work in me so I wouldn’t find myself worshiping them.” He was telling them, “Do not go where idols are found even if it’s difficult emotionally for you to stay away. If you’re tempted, have a Christian stronger in the faith sit with you until the temptation is past. Work on whatever spiritual, emotional or psychological weakness you have which is making idolatry a temptation. Don’t put it all on God. You do your part!”

The second way we grow into a fuller love of the Lord is through the help of others.

Note how Priscilla and Aquila pulled aside the enthusiastic convert Apollos after he spoke in the synagogue in Ephesus “and explained [to him] the Way of God … more accurately” (Acts 18:26).

Using a gardening analogy Paul reminded the Corinthian Christians that they bore fruit because one person planted and another one watered (1 Corinthians 3:6). Other people help us by praying for us, by teaching us, by encouraging us and by holding us accountable. We need each of these ways of assistance from others. One thing is certain: we cannot grow spiritually by ourselves. If you are too proud to ask for or receive the help of others you need to repent of this attitude.

The third way we grow into a fuller love of the Lord is through the grace of God. Yes, we have our part to play, and, yes, others have helped us in our efforts to grow spiritually, “but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6).

As an avid vegetable gardener I like the gardening analogies in Scripture. Galatians 5:22-23 speak of the fruit of the Spirit, characteristics produced in people who have done their part and are now humbly asking God to do His.

Think of your garden. Left to its own, it usually produces weeds. We have to work hard at planting, fertilizing, watering, and weeding, but only God can take those efforts and make vegetables. We can take pleasure in our efforts but must be humble before what God does. “Only God can make a tree” (Joyce Kilmer).

The grace of God is available to us when we humbly make use of those God-appointed means of grace such as Holy Communion, worship, Bible reading, prayer, and the various “sacramentals.” Done with the right intention they are not magical things but divinely appointed places of meeting and of blessing.

The grace of God is available to us when we humbly ask for it. Notice the several times in Scripture when “important” people humbled themselves before Jesus [for example, the centurion in Matthew 8:5-13, and Jairus, the synagogue leader, in Luke 8:41]. But we must ask and ask in humility. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6, and see Psalm 138:6). Secular self-help and mutual-help programs will work but only to a point. Only God will give the increase we truly need.

We may never love God in equal measure with our heart, soul, mind and strength, but we, thankful for the areas of our strength, work to improve those areas where we are weak. We do it … again, note the both/and … to God’s glory, to our being used to help other individuals and society, and to our own blessing. +

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