Love Accepts Weakness
Love Accepts Weakness
“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get.” Even if you are not a movie fan you probably recognize this quote from the famous 1994 movie Forrest Gump. The movie tells the story of a slow witted but kind hearted man named Forrest. Born in 1944 Forrest grew up in the small town of Greenbow, Alabama. Forrest is fitted with leg braces as a young child to deal with the curvature of his spine. Because of his low I.Q and physical disability kids made fun of Forrest as he grew up. One day as he was running from these bullies his friend Jenny encouraged Forest to, “run Forest run.” As Forrest pushes himself he finds that his braces fall off to reveal his natural running ability. Even though Forrest is not that smart by the world’s standards he is a pretty good runner by the world’s standards. The fact that Forrest is a good runner is a theme throughout the film and helps him gain acceptance from people who would otherwise focus on his mental disability.
We see this theme in a variety of sports and war movies as well. In sports movies one group may have a certain prejudice against another group. But they find themselves competing against or having to be on the same team as the group they are prejudice against. Through competition the group that is prejudice finds that the other group is as good if not better than them so they learn to accept the group they were once prejudice against. You can find a similar dynamic in war movies. There is prejudice between two groups. But it is the crucible of combat that breaks down these barriers. These stories sound inspiring on their face. But if you think about it they are not really stories about accepting people with differences. They are not about accepting people with actual or perceived weaknesses. They are stories about accepting people because of actual or perceived strengths which make up for perceived difference or weakness. What if Forrest Gump was not a good runner and his braces never fell off? What if he didn’t have a skill by which he could prove himself to all the people who doubted him because of his lower I.Q? Would people still have accepted him? And we all know what it is like to enter a place we are not used to being. A different culture, a different environment. And everyone around us says the bar is the same for us. But we have the distinct sense that the bar has been set a little higher for us. And we can’t show weakness. Because if we show weakness we won’t be accepted. Sometimes this is just how the world works.
The good news today is this. Love is not irritable. Nor is it resentful. Instead Love accepts weakness. And When love accepts weakness we are given endurance and encouragement that brings hope into our lives. How does love God’s love do this? First, God’s Love reorients our ideas about what is strong and what is weak
God says that the things that the world considers to be strong are actually weakness in God’s sight. This is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 27, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” In God’s sight none of us are born strong. We are all made weak by sin and death. We were not even aware of that we were weak but Christ still came to die for us. This is what Paul says, “ For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person- though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Once we realize we were all weak before Christ accepted us we can learn how we are to accept others.
In today’s passage Paul’s teaching on spiritual weakness and strength is in the context of a food fight. By this I mean in Chapter 14 we learn the church at Rome is having an intense argument over what foods can and cannot be eaten by followers of Christ. The text doesn’t actually say that people were throwing food at each other but perhaps things got that rough at some point. The church at Rome was divided between two factions. The Jewish Christians, who were the established group. They observed the Old Testament Dietary laws which included not eating shell fish and pork among other things. Apparently, some Jewish Christians were so intent on keeping kosher that they chose to eat only vegetables rather than risk eating tainted meat. These Jewish Christians also observed the traditional Jewish festivals such as Passover and Yum Kippur. The church at Rome had been founded as a religiously and ethnically Jewish church. But it had begun to attract a lot of non-Jewish converts who ate pork and didn’t observe the Jewish feast. The founders of the church were upset by this and argued to Paul that the new comers had to accept all of the Jewish dietary laws and feast days. Luckily Paul eventually won that debate as is evident but the abundant amount of sausage I ate at the Presbyterian Women’s Shrove Tuesday Pancake supper. I do have a weakness for pork as well as pancakes. Paul is basically trying to deal with different cultures, traditions, and expectations. He is trying to figure out a way for different people not just to get along but to love one another in a spirit of unity. To accept weakness Paul says we need to be spiritually strong people. I believe Paul would define a spiritually strong person as
- Someone who is considerate of others and considers the Truth.
In Romans 15 Paul says those who are spiritually strong have an obligation not to please themselves but to please his neighbor, for their good, to build them up. Thus, Paul says in Romans chapter 14 if eating pork around a Jewish Christian causes them to stumble then don’t eat pork. If one side wants to observe a holiday that you don’t care for don’t make a fuss about it. Yet, this isn’t simply people pleasing. It isn’t just going along with the flow. It is doing things this way because they have always been done this way. It is taking seriously what others care about because you love them. But in so doing being grounded in the truth, that while we may all have traditions that are important to us they will pass away. As Paul tells us in chapter 14, “ For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Paul tells us that there is one Spirit that expresses Himself differently in different cultures and different people. The question becomes how can we honor the Spirit of Christ in each other? Paul says we must first be concerned with not pleasing ourselves spiritually, but meeting the spiritual need of the person next to us.
The example that Paul gives us is the example of Jesus Christ. He quotes Psalm 69, our call to worship which says, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” This Psalm is interpreted several times in the New Testament about a prophecy of Christ’s suffering death. Christ did not consider his needs first. Instead, as he said in the Gospel of John says when Jesus cleanses the Temple of the Money Changers, “Zeal for your house consumes me.” (John 2:17). Turning over a bunch of tables in the Temple doesn’t necessarily seem like an encouraging thing to do. And it got Jesus crucified. But it was for the good of the Pharisees. They were harming themselves with their religious practices. Jesus was loving them when he turned over the tables and made a whip to drive out the money changers. Though it did not feel like love it was for their good.
How are we to live lives where we put others above ourselves? It seems we could get easily burned out. Paul tells us that we are to receive endurance and encouragement from the scriptures so that we might have hope. He tells us that we serve a God of endurance and encouragement. The Words here mean a God who helps bear our load and a God who comes alongside us to strengthen us. He gives us this endurance and encouragement primarily through His Word. But much of this endurance and encouragement is lost when we seek to apply it only to our individual lives. But when we seek to apply it to the life of our neighbor we find that scriptures like where Jesus says take up your cross and follow me, which do not necessarily feel encouraging, become encouraging as we live them out.
A good analogy about how spiritual endurance and encouragement work in our lives would be the work of a physical therapist. I was talking to a physical therapist friend of mine to get an idea of what it is like to be a physical therapist. A physical therapist literally comes alongside a person when they are weak. They give them certain exercises to help them regain their strength. Though they are gentle what they do necessarily causes some pain to their patient. But just because it doesn’t feel good to do an exercise doesn’t mean the exercise isn’t good for you as long as the therapist does it considering your physical limitations. A physical therapist causes you some pain for your good but they do so with a gentle touch. An
And yet a physical therapist can only give you the tools. You must do the exercises you learn. And you must use what you learn to create an environment of health where your body is no longer beat down. Most of all doing physical therapy necessarily means that you have to be vulnerable. You have to look weak in public before you become strong. The braces don’t magically fall off allowing you to become a track star. But if you stick with the program, if you endure the initial pain, you will find you are stronger at the end of the process. And central to physical therapy is the fact that you must be weak in public. To learn this exercises you must be weak and vulnerable before others. And this is the spiritual life trusting people and looking weak in front of people.
I was thinking of another way to apply this. And I was thinking about the idea of raising kids. I don’t have any kids myself. But I am amazed of the idea of it. Because a child starts out helpless. But they grow into adults. They become individuals and you can’t control them. The LORD gave me the image once of a refrigerator. And I think in a lot of our lives change is hard. And we want to keep what we love the way it is. We don’t want it to change. We put it in a refrigerator. But things are going to change whether we like it or not. The question is if the change is good or bad. Just because things are changing doesn’t mean the change is good. And the question is what is the Spirit? What is the Spirit of this person? And how do we direct this in a way that helps the person but also recognizes that we have been down the road a little further and we know what is better for the person but we don’t want to push them in a way that makes them run away. And I have to imagine that raising children in this way is really hard.
Take for the example tattoos. Tattoos are interpreted differently depending on your generation. And this comes in part from the Bible. The Bible says some things about tattoos. But these passages were mainly concerned with cultic practices of people tattooing images of false God’s on themselves. So as long as you are not getting a tattoo that says, “hail the evil one” I think you are okay. The question is how do we recognize the uniqueness of people and guide them along their spiritual journey as well as recognizing that there are some truths that are eternal. And that is really hard. It is really hard to be considerate while also considering the truth that while we value these things they will pass away. And what is important is on the inside, faith, hope, and love, these things abide.
When I think about a spiritual strong person I think about my friend Cami out in Indiana. Cami is confined to a wheel chair and probably will be so for the rest of her life. She has a host of physical problems and isn’t able to speak the way I am speaking now. And I came to Indiana and I thought I would minister to Cami. But whenever I was around Cami I was just overwhelmed by her joy and love that she strengthened me. And even though her body was broken I realized that I was the broken one, I was the weak one. So today I pray for us that God may turn our world upside down as to what is strong and what is weak. And that Spirit that I saw in my friend Cami that exudes joy and exudes love would come out of us. And that we would find encouragement and endurance in God and in each other for the good news is this. God is Love. And Love Accepts Weakness.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.