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Be miserable for Jesus!

September 6, 2014

“Do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh” Romans 13.14 – In other words, “Be miserable for Jesus!”

But I like the desires of the flesh – I don’t want to be miserable! I like good food, nice wine or good beer. I like films and entertainment. I like being married to my wife and all that that means. I like so much about this life, and relish all the good things that come my way – I’ve always seen these as gifts from God.

Each time I read these sorts of passages I remember someone I used to know; someone who seemed to hate the good things of life – I’ll call him John (not his real name). John saw it as his Christian duty to be miserable and to hate everything physical, everything ‘of the flesh’. John was very much the puritan. John didn’t smile, or at least I can’t remember him doing so. He made a virtue out of being miserable, and encouraging others to be miserable too. I like being happy, not miserable so I tried to avoid him. I would see John preaching on the street corner and would make sure that he didn’t see me.

I tried to persuade him that life with Jesus could be good, but he wouldn’t have it. Each time he would turn to passages like the second half of Romans 13.14: “do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh”.

Each time I hear Bible passages like these I feel uncomfortable, and despite myself I feel a little guilty. I picture John with a miserable face, turning away from all the pleasures of this world, all because of passages like this. I don’t like that image, but I have to ask, ‘Am I wrong?’. I don’t want that sort of life, but is this what Jesus wants for me?

I question and pray, and I go back to the passage, and read the whole of verse 14 this time; it begins with “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ,” before going on to say, “and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.”

Clothing myself with Jesus does mean surrendering everything to him, allowing him to direct my life as he wills and to let him make me more and more like him. So perhaps, I am supposed to be miserable. But then I think of the Jesus shown in the Gospels. So clothing myself with Jesus must also mean enjoying meals and company, the good things of life, when given by God.

Looking again at Romans 13.14 I find far more balanced advice: “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh”. The meaning of this verse now changes. It no longer says, ‘avoid all the good things of this world and be miserable for Christ’. No, this passage now tells me to do all that I can to be like Jesus, even to the point of being utterly ‘clothed’ with him. This passage tells me that, when clothed with Christ, I should naturally shun all that would corrupt me, all that is not loving.

This interpretation fits with the context. Before this verse Paul has just reminded the Romans of Jesus’ one commandment – to LOVE; to love like Jesus. So, if I am ‘clothed with Christ’ I will not wish to harm my neighbour, those closest to me, or myself. I will not want to commit adultery or murder or covet, because these would not be loving to the people concerned. How can I love my wife and also betray her? Paul reminds me that all of these non-loving things are the things that my ‘flesh’ can lead me to. Paul is using ‘flesh’ to mean my fallen, imperfect human nature. This is what I shouldn’t give in to, I should turn away from hate and corruption, and turn to Christ and love and peace and contentment… and HAPPINESS.

It’s all there in the text, if only I’d bothered to read it properly: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.” Romans 13.8-10

“Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.” – Phew! I don’t have to be miserable for Christ – I have to be loving, and accept whatever living in love may bring.

I’m glad, after all I just can’t see “Be miserable for Jesus!” taking off as a bumper sticker!

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