EDITORIAL: Sensitivity

We live in a world which is becoming desensitized and almost dehumanized. From the hard looks of chic women to the indifference of an old man dropping a candy wrapper on the street, this world is hard and getting harder. We who have the spirit of Jesus, the mind of Christ, are not to live as the world, who sin because they are “past feeling”, apathetic, without pathos, without sensitivity (Eph. 4:19), with a blind mind (another figure for insensitivity), with a vain heart, and who have therefore given themselves over to the life of selfish greediness and petty materialism. The lack of true emotion, pathos and passion in our postmodern world is all a reflection of this chronic insensitivity. Paul’s comment is that “you have not so learned Christ” (Eph. 4:20). To have His mind, His spirit, is to be sensitive both to God and man; and to thereby live with feeling and passion. Like Paul we will rejoice with those who rejoice, and feel so connected with our brethren that if one of them stumbles, we as it were ourselves feel the fire of their future condemnation spreading over us right now (2 Cor. 11:29).

Our inspiration to live soft in this hard world comes from the spirit, the way of being, the pattern, the essence, of the Father and His Son. The way the Lord healed people reflects His sensitivity- He commanded food to be brought for a girl who had been dead and was therefore hungry (Lk. 8:55). And on an even higher level, He is given the title “The Spirit” because His spirit / mind is at one with both God and us; hence, Romans 8 explains, He is such a matchless Mediator. He is simply so sensitive to our thinking as well as God’s.

The Sensitive Lord
The sensitivity of both God and the Bible writers is indicated by the way in which the inspired writers often sense the likely response to what they have just written, and engage with that response ahead of time. Thus after having written of the resurrection, Paul foresees the response, and goes on: “But someone will say, How are the dead raised up?” (1 Cor. 15:35). Your homework can be to look for other examples of this kind of thing, especially in Romans. What we are to learn in practice is that we should anticipate the likely response of others to our words, actions and positions- rather than bluntly present “truth” (as we perceive it) without any care for their response to it. For we aren’t simply ‘witnessing truth’ to people in an in-your-face manner; but seeking to win them for Christ, to walk at one with them in the same steps and same spirit.

The way the Lord speaks with Peter in Jn. 21:15-17 is an essay in His sensitivity and having thought about how Peter would be feeling, the assurances he would need, the questions he was likely asking himself, the challenge he would be facing, the encouragement he would need on the path to salvation. We need to engage with others in this same way. Jesus had already met Peter twice since His resurrection, but hadn’t raised the obvious issue of Peter’s denials. And now He does it only after He has first eaten with Peter. We must bear in mind that to eat together, especially to take bread and give it to others, implied acceptance and religious fellowship (Jn. 21:13 - reminiscent of the breaking of bread, the same words for ‘bread’, ‘take’ and ‘give’ are found in Mt. 26:26). The Lord firstly fellowshipped with Peter and only then moved on to probe the issue of his disloyalty, after having first affirmed His abiding love for Peter. He had tried to arrange circumstance to provoke Peter to himself engage with the issue- for the triple questioning, the triple invitation to work for Him, all took place by a fire of coals - just as Peter’s triple denials had. We see clearly portrayed here the gentle, seeking spirit of the Lord

“You know that I love you” was met by the Lord with the comment that Peter must feed His sheep. This wasn’t so much a commandment / commission, as the Lord explaining that Peter’s love for Him personally would be reflected in the degree to which Peter loved the Lord’s sheep. John grasped this clearly, when he underlines throughout his letters that we cannot have love for God without loving our brethren. The Father and Son are to be identified with their people. “Lovest thou me?” was a question for Peter’s benefit, not in order to give the Lord information which He didn’t then have. His great sensitivity to Peter led Him to foresee the obvious question in Peter’s mind: ‘Has He forgiven me?’. And the Lord is saying that Peter knows the answer insofar as Peter knows how much he loves Jesus, on the principle that whoever loves much has been forgiven much (Lk. 7:47).The allusion back to that incident in Luke 7 is confirmed by the way that the phrase ‘to love more’ occurs elsewhere only there, in Lk. 7:42: “Which of them will love him [Jesus] most [s.w. “more”]?”. Jesus had already forgiven Peter; the answer to Peter’s concern about whether he had been forgiven was really ‘Yes you have, if you believe it; and if you believe it, you will love me, and according to how much you love me, you will know how much forgiveness you have received’. In all this, we see the careful sensitivity of the Lord Jesus to His people, foreseeing and feeling our doubts and fears, our questions; and responding to them in a profound way.

The Lord Jesus is the same today as He was yesterday. The Gospel records are the history of only what He began to do and teach people (Acts 1:1). He didn’t interact with a few people for 33 years and then speed off to Heaven, to get on with other things until He returns to earth. No. He is as active in your life and mine as He was in that of Peter.

Our Sensitivity To God
I suspect we all tend to read the Bible subconsciously searching for more evidence for our own pre-conceived ideas, be they doctrinal issues or practical. Yet if this book and these words are truly God's words, and we feel this, then we can actually be nothing other than truly sensitive and open hearted to whatever He is going to teach us through them. We will not seek, therefore, to induce our own conclusions from Scripture, but will rather come seeking to simply be taught, whatever the cost, whatever the surprise. We need to clear our minds as far as we can before we begin our Bible reading, and pray earnestly that what we read there will be for us "the truth"; that we will not read those words to just find our own preconceived ideas there. We are up against this problem continually, when we ask, e.g., a Catholic to read the Biblical record about Mary with a clean, child-like mind, with no expectations as to what we expect to find there. And actually it's still just as hard for us to read Scripture with that same pure mind, as the years pass by after our baptism. Israel 'heard' the word, and yet they did not ''hearken" to it (Rom. 10:16,18)- we can hear but not hear. Yet if we really believed that Scripture is inspired, we wouldn't be like this. It is awesome to reflect how those Hebrew letters, those Greek ciphers written on parchment 1950 years ago, were actually the very words of God Almighty. But this is the real import of our understanding of inspiration. Israel literally 'heard' the words of Ezekiel, knowing that a prophet had been among them - but they wouldn’t engage with those words. We too can pay such lip service to the doctrine of inspiration - and yet not be truly sensitive to the word we know to be inspired.

In Practice
The command not to murder has its basis in the fact that human life is not for us to use as we will (Ex. 20:13; Lev. 17:11; Gen. 9:6). It is God's life within those other people around us. Others, therefore, are not for us to use as we will. Gentleness and sensitivity to the life of others, in family life, the workplace, on the road... is therefore an outcome of our belief that the 'other' person likewise has been created by God and has life from Him. To drive in an unkind way, to act in a thoughtless way to others’ detriment, is therefore the same basic error as taking human life in murder. When it comes to our brethren, we have in them a unique, God-arranged opportunity to express His sensitivity to us, and our love for Him, through our sensitivity to them. How will they feel if I write this, what are their needs, concerns, fears, questions, insecurities... how will my action, my words, help them towards God’s Kingdom? It all seems too great a challenge, for life passes too quickly for us to be able to work out a sensitive response to every situation we enter, every phone call we take. But this is where the concept of the spirit / mind / disposition of Jesus comes so powerfully into play. If we make Him our daily study and meditation, then we can have the mind / spirit of Christ, and somehow we will naturally respond as He would. For “the knowledge of Him” gives us the spirit of wisdom, that we may know how to respond to every man (Eph. 1:17; Col. 4:6).

Duncan Heaster

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