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Mable committed adultery three years ago and eventually left her marriage. Biff is choosing to remember Mable for how she was early in the marriage while not indexing forward to how Mable is today. He still remembers her as the woman he fell in love with and the woman who fell in love with him.
Biff is hanging on to how things used to be while living in denial regarding how things are. He does this for several reasons. One is that he’s naive when it comes to thinking about the human condition. Biff has never given much thought to why people do what they do. He’s not wired that way. He’s a “live and let live” kind of guy. But today, he’s in a situation where his ex-wife has ulterior motives to do him harm.
Biff is three years behind in his thinking. When he found out about the adultery, he buried his head in the sand, hoping his problems would go away. They have not gone away, but only exacerbated as Mable took him to the cleaners. She is dancing with the devil while refusing to repent. He is clinging to a sentimental past.
Biffina wants a relationship with her dad. She has always wanted a relationship with him. She just turned 30-years old. She hopes to reclaim what she lost as a little girl. Her dad is a self-centered jerk, but Biffina refuses to acknowledge it. Rather than seeing him for who he is, she blames herself, thinking there is something wrong with her.
She always saw her daddy as mature, and she as the child. It has not clicked with her that she is now the “adult in the room” with more maturity than her dad. God saved her as a 17-year old, and she has made significant changes in her life. But she has fallen into the trap of thinking her daddy has been keeping up the pace by changing, too.
Biffina went to college, started attending another church, and God continues to do some amazing things. Her dad, sadly, continues to binge-watch TV, drink beer, surf the net, hang with the boys, and live like he always has. A child’s view of their parents must change to an adult one after the child leaves the home.
Bart’s best friend was his mentor for years. Bert was Bart’s go-to guy when it came to “all things about the Bible.” Bart was a rash, raw recruit in the Lord’s army, and Bert took him under his wing. First impressions are lasting, and when Bert’s marriage hits the rocks, Bart could not believe it. He held Bert in such high regard that he could not fathom how the mighty could fall so far.
His wrongheaded perspective was a case of not being able to see the trees for the forest. Bart was too naive when it came to the human condition. He uploaded spirituality from a single-faceted perspective that did not include a robust understanding and application of the doctrine of sin. Bert is not unlike Bart, and the rest of us, too.
Sometimes you hear of people’s surprise when a pastor falls into sin. Why is this a surprise? What makes your pastor different from you? Bart saw himself as the student and Bert as the teacher. At some point, Bart should have thought more clearly and proactively about his friend. Bert has never had it all together. None of us do. It’s a myth to believe there is an exceptional people group who have it all together (Job 12:2).
As you reflect on your friends, I want to give you six tips to think about so you can help them to keep on keeping on for Jesus. My advice is not a call to uncharitably judge them but to discern them. The difference between unhelpful judgments and humble assessments will be the motivation of your heart.
A self-righteous person will look down on someone and inappropriately judge them. A gospel-motivated person will want to assess their friends, but they will do it with a different attitude. Christians want to understand their friends correctly so they can help them practically.
Perhaps these six ideas would make for an excellent small group discussion. If you have a few friends interested in this type of conversation, please ask the Lord to move you all in that direction. The redemptive work of the Lord in your hearts could be life-changing for how you interact with each other.
Sin never takes a holiday for anyone. Each person is susceptible to sinfulness all the time, with no exceptions. Satan and his demons are alive and well on planet earth, and they are roaming about seeking whom they can devour (1 Peter 5:8). Your friends and family are some of the people that the devil and his minions would like to devour.
For example, you may call your pastor, “Pastor [Smith],” but don’t be naive, thinking his title insulates him from sin. His struggles are not unlike yours. He may even struggle more because of the weight of his office and the nature of what the job requires.
If the demons could take out a leader, the temptations of sheep could motivate them to scatter. What more significant coup could the evil ones accomplish? One of the worst things you could do is pull back from a Christian leader, assuming they are above the wiles of the evil ones. The doctrine of sin does not permit anyone to live insulated from its destructiveness.
Don’t assume your friend or family member is moving at your pace. They could be maturing faster than you, or progressing at a much slower rate. Maybe they became Christians later than you. Whatever their situation, they are not moving at your pace, which means they don’t think and respond the way that you do.
I regularly tell people in counseling that I “do not care where they are spiritually;” I just need to know where they are. It “matters not” to me at the moment if the person is saved or lost. (Of course, it does matter ultimately.) The main thing is to know exactly where they are, and I cannot assume where they are, and you shouldn’t either.
At the heart of the gospel is Jesus finding us where we were. He did not stand in heaven, beckoning us to come to Him. No. He took on flesh and came to where we were so He could take us to a better place (Philippians 2:5-11). Ask the Spirit to give you insight regarding how sin is affecting your friend or family member and where they are with their journey with God.
When you see your friend getting angry or using coarse language or not engaging their local church, it is a commentary on who they are at their heart level. If you discern a lack of spiritual disciplines or little affection for Christ, you are accurately understanding them. What you see is what you have.
It is easy to want to think the best and hope the best about your friends, when down deep in your gut you know that what you’re observing is only the tip of the iceberg. The behaviors in a person’s life reflect their heart (Luke 6:45). Slow down, show in-depth insight, and work the core problem.
Life can be so fast, and it preoccupies us so much that we don’t give deep, careful, and reflective time to think about our friends. I realize some believers want to live in a polite world where good Christian folks don’t talk about sin. If you choose not to speak into someone’s life because you’re too busy, too preoccupied, or too polite, you will be complicit in their sin.
As you pray for your friends, you will discern their weaknesses, which will enable you to develop a strategy to serve them with compassion. God knows our frame, and He pities us (Psalm 103:13-14). Though we’re not omniscient, we, too, can understand a “person’s frame.” It is one way we can imitate the Lord, albeit within our finite limitations and imperfect perspectives.
As you learn them, there will be things that come to light—stuff that you could not see before because you were not as intentional with them or you weren’t paying close enough attention. When you live in the light with your friends, the darkness will flee, and you will discern them like never before.
And then will come the self-righteous temptations. If this “greater than, better than” sin happens along with your increased awareness of your friends, you will want to imitate the Lord here, too. He is fully aware of who you were, are, and will be. And He does not react to you with a bad attitude. Let your awareness about how God thinks about you modulate how you think about others.
You understand sin, pace, reality, and frame. Now, you want to add one more excellent tip to the list, an attitude of forgiveness. Biff, Biffina, and Bart could quickly “cop an attitude” toward the disappointing people in their lives if they have not done the things I’ve suggested.
It’s easy to be disappointed by people. They let us down because they make mistakes. For the record, you and I are part of the “people” that I’m describing. We’ve done disappointing things to our friends and enemies. If you don’t adjust your attitude by making the playing field level for all, you could become angry, frustrated, bitter, disappointed, vengeful, or maybe some other unsavory response.
A clearer gospel perspective releases you from these kinds of traps. You do not have to let evil overcome you (Romans 12:14-21). There may be the need to ask the Lord to give you an “attitude of forgiveness” toward someone. You may not be able to forgive them transactionally because they are not asking, but you can “forgive them in your heart,” which is what an attitude of forgiveness means.
Though you hold your perspectives loosely because you’re not omniscient, you are now ready to pursue your friends redemptively. Having proper discernment while calibrating your heart will position you to act redemptively in their lives. Joseph is an excellent picture of what this looks like for us.
He was “for” (Romans 8:28) his brothers because God was “with” him (Genesis 39:2). He was motivated to view them through a redemptive lens rather than a self-serving one. Of course, Jesus is our ultimate example. As He hung on the cross, He could look upon those who were putting Him to death and extend an attitude of forgiveness (Luke 23:34) while becoming a redemptive rescuer in their lives (Luke 19:10).
Imagine if the gospel governed your perspective on your disappointing friends. There is no telling how you may be able to speak into their lives, to where they could see and experience God more powerfully. Perhaps as you ponder these things, the call to action will assist in that good work.