The Greatest Witness for Christ
He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now.
1 John 2:9
Today we continue our study of Question 135 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the duties required in the Sixth Commandment?” The third part of the answer states, “The duties required in the Sixth Commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavours, to preserve the life of ourselves and others… by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behaviour; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil...” Last time we looked at specific things we must do in order to protect human life. Today we consider our own attitudes and thoughts as we do them.
Obedience to God must be sincere. Our God is Lord of the desires of the heart and of the disposition of the mind, not merely of the actions of the body. The sin of hypocrisy—to go through the motions of obedience while longing for disobedience—is a great evil. It mocks God, as if either He could not discover or would not mind the insincerity and therefore falsehood of our service. Thus, Jesus said He would rather have people be cold towards Him than to be lukewarm, (Rev. 3:15). Similarly, to feign love or concern for our fellow man is treating him with contempt. It is good that we study and endeavor to preserve the lives of ourselves and others, and yet to do so while harboring hatred or indifference in our hearts is wrong.
To, as a sinner, imperfectly love others while sorrowing for and striving against those imperfections is one thing. On this side of glory we will always have the remnants of sin staining our good works. Yet to secretly delight in or nurture those sins is something completely different. As Jesus taught, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” (Matt. 6:21). Accordingly, when we endeavor to do any good deed for our fellow man, let us examine our hearts that we would, as the Catechism enjoins, seek to put on “charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness” towards them, that our work would be sincere. As Christians, such genuine acts of love are possible for us, when we look to God’s Spirit to bear His fruit in our efforts. I can, as a believer, suppress my sinful and selfish attitudes, confess them to God, and by His grace stir up real (though not entirely perfect) compassion and kindness for others. I can put on meekness, gentleness and kindness. I can speak and act peaceably, mildly and courteously. I can do all these things through Christ, for He who is within me is greater than he who is in the world, (Phi. 4:13; 1 John 4:4). To be sure the old sinful nature does not go down without a fight, but do not believe the lie of the devil that you cannot win. You can win every battle for Christ has already won the war!
Because sinners doing good from the heart to those who have done evil to them is not possible in the natural, when we overcome our sinful natures and sincerely love our enemies, we give an undeniable witness to the sanctifying power of Christ in this world. To forbear returning evil for evil, to be ready to be reconciled to those who hate us, to bear with and forgive injuries done to us, and especially to actually do good to those who do evil to us, and to do all of these things sincerely and really meaning them in our hearts is impossible and unattainable for fallen man. Yet God requires these things from us, His adopted children, having given us a new nature and His Holy Spirit to do them, precisely because He would have us to be like Him.
Jesus taught that even tax collectors and sinners do good to those who do good to them. But only sons of the most High God bless those who curse them, and do good to those who spitefully use them, for this is what our heavenly Father does every day as He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust, (Matt. 5:45). Thus, when we sincerely obey God’s commandments from our hearts, we imitate God, for the commandments are simply the revelation of His character in imperative form. To be like Him should be the greatest motive for all who love God more than anything else, for this is the goal of our salvation: to be righteous as He is righteous and to be holy as He is holy.