I’m a people person. I love being around people. I spend my working days surrounded by dozens and dozens of teenagers. I daily interact with colleagues, support staff, and administrators. At home, I am a husband and father in a family of six. I enjoy the hubbub of family dinners and the interactions between siblings. I also like to see the neighbourhood kids out and about, playing b-ball or badminton in the street. I cherish the times when I can walk and talk with dear friends or sit by a woodstove and chat. On Sunday, I spend my mornings worshipping God and fellowshipping with the body of Christ. I love people.
There are times, however, when even I am stretched thin. People (myself included) can sometimes be bitter, unhappy, impatient, treacherous, gossipy, dishonest, cantankerous, sullen, jealous, judgmental, ungrateful, bellicose, proud, argumentative, and discouraging. There are miscommunications, misunderstandings, broken trusts, and hurt feelings. People often scrutinize and criticize other people’s arguments and actions more harshly than their own… People let you down. Sigh.
Just before my Spring break, my week at school seemed to highlight some of these negative attributes. I was disheartened by some of my students and by some of my colleagues. This Spring break could not come fast enough. It is true that even the most people-friendly persons need to take breaks from their fellow-man. But withdrawing from others should only be a temporary measure, and it isn’t the complete picture or ultimate solution to griefs doled out by humanity. As a Christian, I am called to love my neighbours and show compassion to my enemies. Why? Because while I was an enemy to God, Christ died for me. Christ loved me. Christ “put up” with me, and he still has patience with me.
Christ’s example of loving the unlovable is powerful. I was recently reminded of this while reading a collection of daily excerpts from the Early Church Fathers. Cyprian of Carthage (AD 200-258) writes about the “longsuffering,” “great self-control,” and “patience” of Christ. Cyprian observes that Jesus’ earthly ministry provides countless examples of him “calming the ungrateful by meeting them halfway, answering contradictors gently, enduring the pompous with leniency, humbly submitting to His persecutors…” Jesus “patiently endured outrageous insults, and suffered scornful mockery. He submitted to being spat on by scoffers.” In return for all the grief that Christ endured from us, he gives us grace, mercy, love, kindness, blessings, and rewards of righteousness. I was humbled and encouraged by this divine perspective. In 2 Peter 3:9, the Apostle writes, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Amen! My priorities with others should align with Christ’s priorities. Interacting with people can be painful. But, I am not called to be pain-free but patient, and in so doing, help others see the glorious gospel more clearly.
Not only does Christ offer me an example, but he also provides the power to love others in a supernatural way. The Apostle Paul reminds us that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). As I “keep in step with the Spirit,” I will be able to show this supernatural kind of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” to others. Not perfectly, however, but in Christ, powerfully. And, though I will still let people down, and people will still let me down, Christ never will. The greatest people lover is our greatest consolation and comfort.
Cyprian quotations from "April 8" in Daily Readings from the Early Church Fathers, Edited by Nick Needham (Scotland: Christian Heritage, 2017).
Jeremy W. Johnston
Christian, husband, father, teacher, writer.
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