British author and thinker G.K. Chesterton was once invited by a London newspaper to offer his opinion on what was wrong with the world.
Legend has it that he sent a brief letter in reply that answered that question in a most shocking way.
It said, “ Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton.
As I read this story, I couldn’t help but think of another great author and thinker who echoed this sentiment in his final days as well.
The Apostle Paul.
In one of his final letters to his protegé, Timothy, Paul answered a hypothetical question: Who is the worlds worst sinner?
Which human being was the biggest problem, in Paul’s mind?
Was it Nero, the wicked despot who tortured and murdered the Christians?
Was it weak people of faith who had abandoned Paul in his darkest hour?
Was it the habitually dysfunctional church in Corinth?
The answer was…
NONE OF THE ABOVE.
So, who then did this great man finger as problem?
In (1 Timothy 1:15) we read that Paul pointed to himself.
Yes, In his mind, HE was the problem.
Lets allow this to digest in our minds for just a moment.
When we think about the Apostle paul, we are not thinking that he was a problem for the church, sure in the past, he had been a sinner of the greatest sort. Few men had offended the ways of the Lord as wonderfully as Paul had. But he had repented and turned away from that life. He had given his entire life to the Lord.
So why would this man who was responsible for planting churches throughout the known world, and penning much of the New Testament canon, and boldly declaring the Gospel before kings consider himself to be, “The worlds worst sinner?”
Today, we might be tempted to dismiss Chesterton and Paul as either falsely humble or lacking in self-esteem.
The problem with that logic is the fact that absolutely nothing from either of their lives supports that thinking. There is nothing in their lives that would suggest either a tendency toward narcissism, or self-pity.
Neither were deluded about the real presence of evil in the world.
They both apparently understood the problem of sin right down to its very core and readily recognized the hope that sets men free…
I am a great sinner, AND I have a great Savior.
Our default setting is to say that the other guy needs to change. It is very easy to see the faults of others, yet extremely difficult to admit our own.
We can recognize the need for others to repent, but never get down on our knees and pray for our own sins.
It is this double standard, I believe, that is the seed that plants grudges in our hearts.
It is the very thing that we use to build walls around our selves that encourage the suffocating attitude of self-justification.
The Gospel offers us something both shocking and hopeful. It contains the key to having successful relationships in our lives.
It teaches us the truths necessary to the development of the capacity to truly love others in an open and honest way.
It is what reminds me every day of the need in my own life for his Grace.
I live daily with a poverty that I share with each and every person who has unwittingly provoked me.
By learning to keep my eye on the Lord and his Grace, I am learning to see others in a new light.
When I am provoked by a co-worker, I am learning to stop using their action as leverage to foster a sense of self-pity. I am learning that if I offer forgiveness, knowing that my capacity for sin is no smaller than theirs, my anger and frustration melts away and I no longer feel the need to pity myself…or them!
When my children disobey, I’m not surprised- only eager to correct them in love.
When I read the stories in the news about a famous celebrity who can’t seem to make wise choices at all, I’m finding that I am less likely to join in the mocking chorus.
There is potential for this sanctifying process every day of our lives and in every relationship.
And yet, quite often, when I am presented with the opportunity for my personal growth, I resist.
We all tend to do this…What are we afraid of?
Do we secretly feel that if we let go of the grudge and admit that we are no better that the person might never receive the justice they deserve?
Since the fall of Adam, we like him, tend to blame others for our mistakes. He first blamed the woman, and then blamed God himself for providing the woman.
How often do you yourself try to find a scape goat?
Have we all bought into the lie that if everyone else would change, then we could find peace and joy?
This is the reason that we all need to make it a daily habit to focus our hearts on the Good News of the Gospel.
We are all held prisoner by our thoughts.
All of us!
The key to opening the doors to our prison are found only through discovering the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.
I think that so often in life we forget that the “MENTAL ATTITUDE” sins of gossip, judging, pride, envy, jealousy, etc are just as sinful in the eyes of the Lord and the big ones that are so easy to spot in others.
Sins like adultery, murder, stealing, for example are easy to see while the mental attitude sins are invisible.
But are they any less destructive in our lives?
Sin takes us out of fellowship with the Lord…ANY sin will do this.
So with that in mind…is losing the fellowship of the Lord worth you holding a grudge?
Paul tells us to be filled with the spirit.
To be bound by the spirit.
This is not possible when we are so full of ourselves that there is very little room left in our hearts for the spirit to dwell.
We need to form the daily habit of letting go of our grudges and asking the Lord to forgive us for the thoughts, the words, and the actions that we have engaged in that took our Hearts away from him.
In my life, as in yours, I have had millions of opportunities to be angry with someone or something because they offended or provoked me.
As problems have arisen in my life I have been quick to blame everyone around me.
My thinking would go something like this, ” If only he would do this….or If only they would stop that…”
This kind of reasoning always leads to conflict.
It wasn’t until I stopped to listen to the Holy Spirit and consider my own sin that I found the warm waters of Grace wash over my soul.
The Gospel when applied to our relationships, enables forgiveness and repentance to do its work.
Repentance points the finger inward, acknowledging our sin before God and others.
And forgiveness stands ready to let Jesus’ mercy flow through us toward those who have hurt us by their words and actions.
Relationships are difficult in the best of circumstances.
We are naturally prone toward selfishness.
There is no relationship in this world where two people just “magically” get along.
They get along because they have learned to regularly apply the principles of scripture to their hearts.
The have freed up the space within themselves to look up, with fresh eyes on the one they are called to love.
G.K. Chesterton and the apostle Paul were both on to something.
They understood that the real problem with the world- and relationships for that matter- doesn’t lie out there somewhere…
It lies inside me.