Saturday, June 27, 2009

Compelling Love

Whenever we visit Connecticut, my sister Margie and I always manage to squeeze in time for our favorite activity: shopping. One of our favorite haunts is a group of stores located on what was an old Connecticut farmstead. The buildings have each been converted into a variety of country shops, offering curtains, furniture, and a wide assortment of accessories for sale. They retain some of their original walls and are divided into rooms. It is a quaint and fun place to spend the afternoon browsing.

As Margie, my mom and I were shopping there one day, I noticed a little boy alone. He was looking at some figurines with great interest. His parents had moved on to another room without him being aware of their departure. Suddenly he looked up and realized he was alone. With panic in his eyes, and he began to whimper softly, "Mommy? Where are you?"

My heart went out to him. I stooped down and gently said, "Honey, did you lose your mom and dad?"

But before I could offer to help, he looked at me in horror and screamed at the top of his lungs: "NO! GET AWAY FROM ME! YOU... ARE... A... STRANGER!!"

Embarrassed, I backed away, trying to assure what seemed to be dozens of people staring me down with accusing looks that I was only trying to help. Of course, my sister and mom were of no assistance: they were hidden behind the candles bent over double laughing. Fortunately, the mother came quickly at the sound of her son's scream, and the little guy was rescued.

That little boy was convinced that all strangers were evil. He was so persuaded, when I approached him, what he believed took precedence over getting help to find his mother. His actions surely demonstrated how strong that conviction was!

What we know to be true compels our response. "For Christ's love compels us," Paul wrote the Corinthians, "Because we are convinced that one died for all...those who live should no longer live for themselves..."

The original word, translated here in the NIV as compels, is translated as controls in the NASB. The Greek lexicon defines this word in several ways: to urge on, impel, or provide impulse for some activity. Other uses of the word include being occupied or absorbed, or involved in intensive engagement. You get the picture. What we have experienced of the love of Christ is life-altering knowledge.

The book of Acts gives us a startling before and after picture of men who, upon understanding the truth, responded in life-altering fashion. The night Jesus was arrested and brought to trial, the disciples who had faithfully followed Him for three years vanished into the night. There were no testimonials on Jesus' behalf at His trial; His closest friends had gone into hiding, afraid for their lives. Yet forty days later, we see these same men on the streets of Jerusalem in Acts 2, boldly preaching a resurrected Christ. When brought before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4, Peter and John were commanded to refrain from preaching about Jesus any more. This was the same ruling counsel from which the disciples had hidden on the night of Jesus' arrest. But this time their response to this intimidating group was very different. They answered, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard."

What changed these men from frightened and cowering to bold and convicted preachers? They had witnessed the resurrected Christ. They now understood why He had come and what He had accomplished. There was no doubt in their minds as to what was true. And that truth compelled them to spread the word, even at the risk of losing their very lives.

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear," Ambrose Redmoon once observed. The disciples stood ready to risk everything because they knew something more important than their lives was at stake.

Our knowledge compels a response. Like that little boy at the country store whose conviction impelled him to reject the advances of a stranger, our conviction moves us to respond just as strongly to what we know to be true. We owe Him everything. The great love that He has lavished upon us demands a response. It only makes sense that we would choose to live for Him.

"For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore, all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf."
2 Corinthians 5:14-15

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