Thursday, September 11, 2014

Growing in Grace by Loving the Least of These

The Apostle Peter drew his second letter to a close with these wise and pastoral words: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18). The word “grow” is an exhortation and a command, and it implies that if we’re to progress in Christ we must play an active role, by the grace of Christ, in building habits that nurture that progress. Therefore, I am offering a series of devotionals this summer and early fall on eight essential habits that help us to grow in grace. For today, let’s consider the place of mercy in the Christian life.

As I wrote last week, to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, we must flow with the grace and knowledge of Christ toward others. To be shaped into the image of him who saved us, we must join in his mission to seek and save the lost, part of which is to show grace and mercy to those who are weak or in need of some kind of help.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus spoke about the final day of judgment in which he will gather all the nations before them and separate them as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. He said that he will place the sheep in the place of favor, that is, at his right hand, and that he will place the goats in the place of disfavor, that is, at his left hand. He will then commend the sheep because they showed love to the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick, and the prisoners. And they demonstrated humility, for when Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it me one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40), they answered, “When did we do these things?

The goats were just the opposite. In actual fact, they did not care for “the least of these,” but when Jesus confronted them about this, they said, “What do you mean? When didn’t we do this?” The goats are self-centered and arrogant, and what they failed to do for “the least of these,” they failed to do for Jesus.

Jesus is not teaching here that people are saved through acts of mercy toward the weak or needy. He, and other biblical authors, are crystal clear in their teaching – we can only be saved by receiving Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, and then surrendering to him as the Lord of our lives.

However, Jesus is teaching that one of the fruits of the true knowledge of him is a heart of mercy and love toward those who are weak, vulnerable, and in need. One of the fruits of knowing Jesus is learning to see and feel and act like Jesus in protecting and advocating for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

Therefore, in order to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ we must share in the heart of Christ for “the least of these” and seek to show love and mercy to them in practical ways. May we learn to joyfully treat others with the same measure of kindness God in Christ has lavished upon us.

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