I suspect at one time or another we have all been tempted to think: “they do not deserve my time,” “she does not deserve my forgiveness,” “he does not deserve the effort,” or “they do not deserve another chance.” Perhaps some people are undeserving, if we judge their worthiness based upon how they treat us. If how we act toward others is determined by how we judge their worthiness, it can be hard to forgive or to love.
Such an approach to life contributes to a recipe for disaster, since a variety of studies reveal people tend to view themselves in a more positive light than others see them./1 What might we expect from this? It suggests that not only will people see themselves as performing more good than others will give them credit for doing, but there may be a tendency for people to view themselves as giving more toward a relationship or a group than what they understand they are receiving.
For someone to measure out how much forgiveness or love will be expressed toward others, based upon what that individual perceives himself or herself to be receiving, it can easily lead to an “it’s-all-about-me” approach of living, which tends to focus upon a circle of activities and friends that can often grow smaller. After all, from this perspective why do it if it is not paying off? Accordingly, one possible result can be a fundamental dissatisfaction and resentment with others, which can contribute toward one’s own bitterness and either an ever narrowing of service or an abandonment of the relationship.
When Jesus said, “even the pagans greet those who greet them,” he acknowledged just how common it is for people to gauge their response upon their perceptions of how others are treating them. Are we not extremely fortunate that God has not treated us in this way? While we were still reeking from the stench of truly being undeserving, God loved us by sending His Son to endure the nails pushing through his flesh, and to be lifted up on the cross in humiliation, and under a curse to become our guilt offering. As sinners, we did not deserve this much love … we did not deserve any of God’s love, but He loved us anyway.
To those who desire to follow Jesus, the Lord in essence taught, I want you to do something greater toward others than the common “if you will contribute your 50% (or 100%) toward this relationship, I’ll give my 50% (or 100%).” God calls His people to love others, not based upon how others treat them, but based upon His model of loving the undeserving. For those who become His, God forges a new identity and purpose which is to be shaped by this type of love./2 God’s people are not to limit their acts of loving service to those who deserve it.
Praise God that He responded to our needs based upon His love and mercy and not upon whether we deserved it! May we continue to learn to give, to sacrifice our time and resources, to forgive and to show love to others in the same manner as how He first loved us.
1 “The Enchanted Glass,” Scientific American May 2004
2 Matthew 5:43-48; 1 John 3:16; 4:8-12; Ephesians 2:10; Titus 3:8
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