Don't Hate. Participate!

by Jonathan Whitaker
in Blog

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3

I have been cooped up in the house like the rest of you for the last two weeks.  I know it has been two weeks because of the itchy beard I started growing on Friday April 3rd, the last day I was at work.  Over the course of the last two weeks, like your family, the five of us have enjoyed concentrated togetherness.  Unlike the two weeks we get off at Christmastime, the quarantine togetherness is government-enforced by our local police squad! Which makes this time both special and weird.

Much like my beard, our uninterrupted family huddle is starting to get itchy.  I’m sure you can relate.  We all hate to admit it, but the old adage rings true that “absence makes the heart grow fond, while familiarity breeds contempt.”  Needless to say, we are starting to annoy one another.  Worse yet, each day makes it more and more difficult to hide our annoyance. 

In a moment of clarity, I’ll accept the blame: it’s not my fellow prisoners’ fault that their loud breathing has begun to shred my nerves like a cheese grater.  I choose how I react to people.  So how can I “count others as more significant than myself” during the quarantine -- or any other day for that matter?  Philippians 2:2 gives the answer.  The Apostle Paul calls this “participation in the Spirit.”

The Spirit mentioned here is God the Holy Spirit.  Without going down a lengthy hermeneutic rabbit trail, the Holy Spirit is the person of the triune God Who indwells a believer at the moment of salvation.  Not only that, but the Holy Spirit is the agent of renewal and regeneration Who accomplished the resurrection of Christ and will someday resurrect you.  Paul tells us in Philippians 2:2 that we are not simply God’s puppets, but we can participate with the Holy Spirit.

In Mark 12, Jesus taught us that loving God with your whole being and loving your neighbor are the greatest commandments.  God is great and worthy of love, but my neighbor lets his dog pee on my yard every single day.  How do you love people who are so unlovable?  Have you looked in a mirror lately?  We are all unlovable at times.  Let’s be honest, this quarantine hasn’t raised our stock very much either. 

Paul tells us that loving people as our Messiah commanded is a choice.  He says we need to look at ourselves and then choose to consider others more important than us.  This is a high standard, because Ephesians 5:29 makes it very clear that there is no one we esteem more highly than ourselves.  In fact, Jesus uses our self-love as the standard by which we are to love others. 

Each day is like an individual Mad-Lib, in which we alone fill in the blanks.  What verb will you choose when faced with a person who annoys you?  Will you “yell” or will you “forgive”?  I am glad that God is not keeping a tally of how many times I have yelled when I find my kids’ dishes and laundry occupying the floors and furniture of my house.  Just like you, when met with the conditions I have set for myself to be annoyed, I have a choice in how I react to others. 

I am not suggesting as parents that we should not correct or discipline our children, but Christ’s command is not limited to those whom we deem our equals or superiors.  Christ says that we are to consider the least in God’s Kingdom as more important than us.  Dads and Moms, that means your kids, and even your neighbor’s annoying kids.  From personal experience, the times I choose gentleness and affirmation over annoyance feel like such a victory that I almost feel pride for making the more noble choice.  It is ok to feel good about obeying God!

When we make the choice to treat others better than we would even treat ourselves (or at least as good), we get to enjoy the blessing of participation with God’s plan of redemption.  Not only that, but Christ teaches us, “as you do for the least of His brothers and sisters, you have done to Me.” (Matthew 25:40)

Tomorrow is going to be a new slate of choices.  Take each one as they come at you and chose to participate with the Holy Spirit.  You’ll be really glad that you did.