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Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Yes, We Are All Messed Up

Jan 25, 2021

We are all struggling with various issues and burdens:

Getting the biblical balance right on so many issues is crucial if we want to be faithful followers of Christ. With the issue under consideration in this piece, there are two things we need to hold in tension. First, we are told constantly to become more and more Christlike.

And second, we are reminded constantly that we are all works in progress. None of us have arrived yet, and we all have a long way to go. But let me explain why I am now writing on this. As is so often the case, a few things tend to happen around the same time, and it seems to be more than mere coincidence. It seems to be a God moment.

Two things occurred within an hour or two of each other the other day. First, I was reading an expository commentary on the Pastoral Epistles by Hughes and Chapell. They were discussing Titus 1:7-8 which speaks of ‘blameless relationships’ and the need for leaders to be godly examples:

Until one assumes the responsibilities of church leadership, there may be no real awareness of how messy are the lives of so many people in our churches for whom God makes us responsible. Beneath their surface courtesies, many people are burdened by dissatisfying marriages, enslaved to lusts and addictions, entangled in patterns of thought and habit that they desperately hope – but can hardly imagine – they can escape. They are ensnared in dead-end pursuits of money and power that control their lives without satisfying their souls. Such persons are desperate for the incarnation of the gospel in the lives of church leaders.

Second, in my evening prayer time I was again holding up a number of people I know that are in need of salvation. Many of these folks I have been praying for for quite some time. I was thinking what it would take to get them to finally see their need of Christ.

I thought that on the one hand everything is going pretty smoothly for them and they seem to have no need of turning from sin and self and to the Lord. But then I thought that like most folks, they are likely struggling with various issues. They may keep these bottled up and to themselves, but they still have things they have to deal with.

I was the same. As a teen I saw no reason for Christianity, and I thought I had it all together. But I was struggling, and I had various crises and difficulties which did in fact make me receptive to a clear gospel presentation. With that in mind, I was encouraged to keep praying for them. They too may be in some tough times and will perhaps be more open to God.

Let me now tie in two rather famous remarks about such things. The first is a quote attributed to various people which says this: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be Kind. Always.” While this may be a bit humanistic, it also contains some real biblical truth.

We do not always know what others are going through and learning to be patient and open and accepting can be a real help. My second quote I have shared before. It is a moving and powerful story that Stephen Covey featured in his 1989 book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:

I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly — some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene. Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed.

The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.

It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”

The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”

Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. “Your wife just died? Oh, I’m so sorry. Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?” Everything changed in an instant.

Yes indeed. So many people are carrying secret burdens and pains that we may know nothing about. So this is where I will try to tie the loose ends together. As mentioned, we have hundreds of exhortations in the Bible to become all we are meant to be as God’s people. We are to strive after holiness, after righteousness, and after godliness. Indeed, as Jesus told us, we are to be perfect as our father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48).

That is one side of the biblical coin. The other side is the truth that we all have issues, we are all messed up in various ways, and we all have so much more growth that is needed in our lives. As Paul could say in Philippians 3:12 for example, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”

So the way forward is something like this: we should be hard on ourselves while being much more gracious on others. We should hold ourselves to the strictest of standards. And while we can do that for other believers as well, at the same time we need to be gracious with them. We need to be patient with them. We need to pray for them.

Everyone is struggling in various ways, and showing some mercy and grace to others as they travel along the Christian road is part of our calling. Yes, we want to encourage them as well to seek to become all they can be in Christ. Thus there is a place for rebuke and reproof and correction.

But knowing that we all struggle in so many areas should help us to be a bit less judgmental and harsh, and a bit more understanding and caring. As I say, getting the biblical balance right is always crucial. If we push for perfection in others with no grace and patience, we can cause much damage.

However, we can also cause much harm if we get soft and sentimental, never holding one another up to the high standards that the Bible has for us. Making excuses for sin and selfishness is not the way to proceed. But always condemning others in their failures and weaknesses can be unhelpful as well.

Let us all seek that much-needed biblical balance. And by that I do not mean compromise or watering things down. By that I mean affirming both truths simultaneously: that we are to aim for perfection (even though we will never fully attain perfection in this life), and we are to be patient and gracious to others in their Christian journeys.

Comprende? Who is with me on this?

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12 Responses to Yes, We Are All Messed Up

  • I am with you on this…

  • Thanks Anthony. That’s one!

  • Comprendo. I’m with you on this, too, Bill.

  • That’s two, John! We are getting there!

  • Was walking over rough boulder strewn mining surfaces in an open cut mine today striving to keep my balance. (It was a mineral society field trip). As a senior it was difficult keeping a balance and not falling. It hurt, but did not fall. First the physical, now Bill’s spiritual challenge of balance. Trying to get there mate!

  • Dear Bill, Me too – although I no longer like that phrase.
    Your message brought back the sad memory of the great apologist who died recently, thinking he was in the same position. The battles we must overcome in Jesus Christ’s strength alone.
    God Bless you Bill
    Mark Bryant

  • Hi Bill, from one very flawed individual with a load of baggage, you have my total support and prayers. Your articles help to keep me balanced, and assist with a never ending personal battle with pride. Bless you heaps Bill, and as always, KEEP DISHING IT OUT, Kel.

  • I remember reading Covey’s book and that story. I’ve always tried to see things from the other person’s side as well as mine – sometimes leading to allowances I never should have made. It’s a fine balance. In my case I often need to extend that grace to myself as well. Thanks Bill. Great article as usual.

  • Me three!! I certainly needed to read: “We should hold ourselves to the strictest of standards. And while we can do that for other believers as well, at the same time we need to be gracious with them. We need to be patient with them. We need to pray for them.”

  • I am with you!

  • I am also with you on this…everyone struggles..you scratch the surface..and out come their stories…as a nurse I have found this to be true…as a follower of Yeshua I pray every day to have his heart for the people he loves and listen more. Underneath every outward persona is a story…a trauma, a hurt…

  • Sad part is so many churches are a hot bed of gossip and judgmentalism that a lot of Christians feel they can’t even go there for help with their secret struggles. You want help but don’t want everyone in church to know your problem or to be judged as a terrible person because of a few issues you have. You forever become a less than in their eyes and full forgiveness is absent. How many people ache with pain from hidden things but aren’t able to trust those in the congregation or leadership with it???? How many people are kept in bondage by the gossiping spirit or hyper judgemental spirit in their church???? Or left a church because of gossip and now are too afraid to seek help in a new church??? Or they hear gossip about people and think I don’t want them talking about me????

    Holier than thou judgmentalism is a big problem not just for people in the church but for the image of the church but gossip is a far worse problem as it kill not with weapons but with words. Sharp tongues inflict far deeper wounds than the longest sharpest knives and the effects last far longer. If idle hands are the devil’s workshop the idle gossips his nuclear powered assembly plant on Lucy speed! (I love Lucy candy packing episode)

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