This morning I continued in my reading of Calvin’s Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life. I was struck by his insights on seeking the good of others. Calvin begins by speaking of how believers should seek the good of everyone, friend or foe:
The Lord commands us to do good unto all men without exception, tough the majority are very undeserving when judged according to their own merits. But Scripture here helps us out with an excellent argument when it teaches us that we must not think of man’s real value, but only of his creation in the image of god to which we woe all possible honor and love. The image of God, moreover, is most carefully to be regarded in those who are of the household of faith, because it has been renewed and restored in them by the Spirit of Christ. (p. 33)
I found this very helpful. We all are undeserving of mercy, grace, love, forgiveness, and good deeds done to us. Some more than others. But Calvin reminds us that is not the issue. We don’t look to the worthiness of an individual when administering help, forgiveness, love, etc., we look to the fact that they are image bearers of the One True God. If you can’t honor the person based on their own selves, you can honor the One whose image they bear. We are also commanded to especially help, serve, love, forgive, and seek the goodness of our brethren, fellow believers, as is noted in Galatians 6:10: So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.
Calvin takes this concept of seeking the good of all, regardless of worthiness, a step further:
If anyone, therefore, appears before you who is in need of your kind services, you have no reason to refuse him your help. Suppose he is a stranger; yet the Lord has pressed his own stamp on him and made him as one of your family, and he forbids you to despise your own flesh and blood. Suppose he is despicable and worthless: yet the Lord has deigned him worthy to be adorned with his own image. Suppose that you have no obligation towards him for services; yet the Lord has made him as it were his substitute, so that you have obligation for numerous and unforgettable benefits. (p. 33, 34)
So you don’t know the person who needs your help? Doesn’t matter. They too are image bearers of our Lord. Even the despicable adorn his image, Calvin reminds us. Pay special attention to the last part……”yet the Lord has made him as it were his substitute.” That is sobering. It brings to mind Matthew 25:40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ It is difficult, isn’t it, to re-frame your thinking about an individual, especially one who has hurt you, to view them as a stand in for Jesus? You must do for them as if you were doing for Jesus. I don’t know about you, but I have no issue doing something for Jesus. He deserves anything and everything. There is nothing He could ask that I could refuse; there is nothing He could require that I would not perform with joy! But to treat a foe that way? As if he were placeholder for the Lord? Friends, this is a hard truth, is it not?
Suppose that he is unworthy of your least exertion; but the image of God which recommends him to you deserves that you surrender yourself and all your possessions to him. If he has deserved no kindness, but just the opposite, cause he has maddened you with his injuries and insults, even this is no reason why you should not surround him with your affection, and show him all sorts of favors. You may say that he has deserved a very different treatment, but what does the Lord command but to forbid all men their offenses, and to charge them against himself? (p. 34, emphasis mine)
That is a very hard truth. If you want a litmus test for your sanctification, see how you feel when you have to attribute a wrong committed against you to the Lord’s account, instead of the offenders. That is so offensive; so hard to swallow. Nothing reminds me of the reality of my dual natures (the sin nature I was born with, and the new nature given at the moment of salvation) more clearly than when I am wronged, and I don’t want the Lord to pay for that sin, I want the sinner who committed it to pay. Ouch. Sometimes, that is the ugly truth in the heat of the moment. I rejoice in the knowledge that my sins were nailed to the cross and I bear them no more. I revel in the fact that Jesus paid my debt. But the sin nature in me often wants those who sin against me to have to pay for their wrongs, all while resting in the fact that my sins have been covered by His precious blood. Oh wretched woman that I am (Romans 7:24)! What a double standard! Like Paul, in Romans 7:19, I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. It is moments like these, when I see the depth of my sin, that I am thankful that God has promised to complete the work He began in me (Philippians 1:6).
Have the insights of Calvin I shared here brought as much conviction and challenge to you as they have to me? God calls us to do hard things. And He promises to help us obey.
Soli Deo Gloria!