BY PASTOR GLENN PEASE
Dr. Richard Selzer, the famous surgeon and author, in his book, Taking The World In For Repairs, tells about Interplast, which stands for International Plastic Surgeon, Incorporated. Since its founding in 1969, this organization has performed over ten thousand free operations on poor people in undeveloped countries. Dr. Salzer was part of a team of 20 surgeons and nurses who went to Peru for 2 weeks to patch up people who could never dream of affording a plastic surgeon.
This is indeed, a loving organization that meets the need that no one else is meeting in our world. But as loving as it is, it does not yet reach the level of agape love, which is unconditional giving. These surgeons give plenty, but their motive is still to get plenty in return. Dr. Selzer writes very honestly about the motives.
"The surgical residents have come for the experience of operating on great numbers of these deformities. Within two weeks they will have performed more of these operations than most surgeons will do in a lifetime. For some, it is the opportunity for virtue that we are seeking. Such opportunities are not without the element of self-aggrandizement. For still others it is the exhilaration of the exotic that beckons, or the lovely sense of camaraderie that is to be found in working together for a purpose we think high. Last, there is a need for human beings to challenge themselves. In surgery it is best done by tackling the most difficult of clinical situations and prevailing."
I am sure the people who have their bodies restored do not care what the motive is. They consider it an act of love. The world can be grateful for love on any level, and Christians too should be grateful that even millions of non-Christians have an humanitarian heart that does loving things for others. Maybe their motives are mixed, and maybe they do good for selfish reasons, but it is still better than doing evil. Most all that any person does, is done with mixed motives.
Jesus alone illustrates pure agape love. He heals with nothing to gain for Himself. In fact, in the healing miracle of this man with the shriveled hand, Jesus really had to reverse the usual doctor-patient arrangement. He had to pay to heal the man. It cost Jesus His peace of mind, for He became very angry at the stubborn hearts of the Jews who resented His healing on the Sabbath. He had to argue for His right to do good, and the end result was the Pharisees and the Herodians went out of the synagogue that day plotting how to kill Jesus.
Jesus gave up His reputation, and laid His life on the line just to heal a man's hand on the Sabbath. This was not a life-threatening problem. The man was not having a heart attack or choking on a piece of steak. He could have waited until the Sabbath was over to be healed. But Jesus was as stubbornly insistent that he be healed on the spot as the Pharisees were as stubbornly insistent that he not be healed on the Sabbath. This healing incident reveals the moral issue in the world of healing, and it makes clear there is a right and wrong side. This miracle thrusts us into the morality of healing, and establishes two basic principles: It is wrong to resist healing, and it is right to restore to health.
The Jewish leaders said, it is right to resist this man's healing. They said it is right because it is wrong to work on the Sabbath. They said the law was more important then this mans health, and that it should be respected and held sacred even if it means the man has to wait to be healed. Jesus took the others side and said it is right to restore this man now, for love takes precedent over the law. The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath. The law is to prevent evil, not good. It is a perversion of the law to use it to prevent good from happening. It is always right to do good on the Sabbath, or any other time, and to resist the doing of good, such as healing, is wrong.
Thus, the lines are drawn, and all the world is separated into two categories on this issue: The legalists and the lovers. The man with the withered hand is not the issue. Jesus could have put a robe on a cold child, or given a cup of cold water to a thirsty stranger, or anyone of a hundred acts of love, and the result would have been the same, for the issue is, which is to be the supreme loyalty of our lives, the law or love? Which you chose determines if you are a winner or a loser in the eyes of Christ. The legalist is a loser, and the lover is a winner. The successful Christian life is achieved by avoiding one, and being the other. Let's look at these two choices so we can learn to clearly identify them, and chose to be a winner.
I. THE LOSERS.
The legalist is a loser because he rejects love as the supreme virtue, and puts law there instead. Paul says in I Cor. 13 that everything minus love equals nothing. It is zip, zero, absolutely nothing. The Pharisees would not buy this new math of grace. They said the law minus love is no loss. As long as the law is upheld, love is irrelevant. Love has its place, but it can never replace the law. Law is supreme.
The power of legalism to blind one to the light is nowhere more evident than with the Pharisees. They saw Jesus do miracle after miracle, and people rejoicing and praising God, but they were plotting to kill him as an enemy of God. How can this be? How can anyone be so blind to love? It is easy. All you have to do is put any value above love, and you are a prisoner of that value. They said it is evil to do good on the Sabbath. No matter how loving and compassionate it is, it is evil to do it on the Sabbath. So the love of Christ meant nothing, and neither did it mean anything that he could do miracles. All it matters to a legalist is that the rules be kept.
They had to see the joy on peoples faces, and they had to hear their voices lifted in praise to God, but all this was mere background static. All they could see and hear was a big no no. Their rules were being broken.
Amos Wells has described how this man with a withered hand may have responded to his healing.
"Praise God! Praise God! Give me my tools again!
Oh, let me grasp a hammer and a saw
Bring me a nail, and any piece of wood,
Come, see me shut my hand and open it.
And watch my nimble fingers twirl a ring,
How good are solids! Oak, and stone, and iron,
And rough and smooth and straight and curved and round!
Here, Rachel: For these long and weary years
My hand has ached to smooth your shining hair,
And to touch your dimpled cheek. Come wife and see
I am a man again, a man for work,
A man for earning bread and clothes and home,
A man, no more a bandaged cumberer.
And did you hear them muttering at him?
And did you see them looking sour at me?
They'll cast me from the synagogue, perchance:
But let them: I've a hand, a hand, a hand!
And, ah, dear wife, to think he goes about
So quietly, and does such things as this,
Making poor half men whole.
The Legalist is not moved by this emotion of joy, for any joy gained at the expense of the law is illegitimate and not acceptable. Thus, the legalist is a loser in the judgment of Christ. All of us have some of the loser in us. All the record of the Pharisees and their blindness is not recorded for all time so posterity can look back and laugh at these ecclesiastical dinosaurs. This is recorded so men of all ages can see and identify the Pharisee in themselves. To the degree that any of us care more about anything rather than people, is the degree to which we are losers. The only way to stop being a loser is to become a lover.
Leighton Ford in the magazine, World Vision, gives a very contemporary illustration of the conflict between the legalism and love that can be in all of us. Life is full of civil wars because of this conflict. He writes, "A 16 year old girl once told me, 'my father is a leader in the anti-abortion forces back home in our state.' Then,
her voice trembling, she said, 'what he doesn't know is that I had an abortion. And I can't tell him because when my brother made a serious mistake, my father threw him out of the house. If I tell him I've had an abortion, I'm afraid he'll do the same to me.' Yes, as Christians we must struggle with the issues facing the market place, the laboratory and the public square. But we must win more than arguments and political stands, we must also win people. We cannot change society without changing people's hearts." Many Christians have lost their own children because they chose legalism over love. Any of us can make this bad choice if the issue is one we have strong feelings about. Any of us can be the Pharisee on some issues. Now let's look at-
II. THE LOVERS.
The lovers of the world are synonymous with the healers of the world. To love is to heal, for to love is to care, and to act in such a way that healing is the result. Lovers are people people. They put people before power, possessions, or position. This makes the losers of the world mad, for they are often, as they were in the day of Jesus, the people with the power, possessions, and positions. Lovers and losers are usually in conflict. The people who made Jesus most angry in life were the legalistic losers who resisted loving and healing people, because it did not fit into their legalistic agenda.
In deliberately provoking these people by not waiting until the Sabbath was over, Jesus was making a strong statement. He was saying, "Lovers are to act and express their love, and not be restrained by the legalists who would try to limit their love, so as to force it to be submissive to legalism." The essence of idolatry is making the infinite subordinate to the finite. This is what the Pharisees were up to, and Jesus was angry. He refused to let His love be bound by their legalism. Anger is a virtue when it makes you a winner, and it does that when it motivates you to acts of love that overcome attitudes of resistance to love.
Abraham Lincoln was one of the great lovers of American history. He loved people intensely, and though he, like Jesus, was hated and attacked by those whose legalism resisted giving all people equality, he in anger went right ahead and did it anyway. He said, "I know there is a God, and that He hates the injustice of slavery. I see a storm coming, and I know that His hand is in it....I know I am right, because I know that liberty is right, for Christ teaches it, and Christ is God." A detailed study of Lincoln reveals he had mixed motives in all he did to liberate the slaves, and in all he did to end the Civil War. But the fact remains, he was a lover. There has never been a President in our history who so fought to show mercy when the legalists were ever on his back to judge and condemn.
Lincoln spent a great deal of his time as President finding ways to pardon soldiers who would have been shot had he not spared them. He said one day to a visitor, "Tomorrow is butchering day, and I will not be interrupted until I have found excuses for saving the lives of these poor fellows." One young soldier who had deserted was to be shot, but Lincoln found in his record that he had been wounded. He said, "Scripture says that in the shedding of blood there is remission of sins. I guess we will have to let him off this time." Lincoln took a lot of flack for being a lover. It is one of the paradoxes of life that lovers have to suffer and endure conflict in order to be lovers.
Jesus created a civil war by His love for the sick. He refused to wait to do good. He healed people on the Sabbath because that is when He saw them in the synagogue. This led to the legalists plotting His death. But Jesus refused to halt His healing on the Sabbath. It was right and good, and His love went marching on.
Julian Ward Howe wrote her famous Battle Hymn Of The Republic for the Union Army, as they marched forward fighting for truth and love in the Civil War. They were marching to the rough popular song, John Brown's Body when she visited their camp in 1861. That night she slept soundly, but woke before dawn with this song in her mind. She wrote down the stanzas in the dark, and then went back to sleep. She wrote 5 stanzas, but most hymn books have only 4. The one left out is this:
I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel;
As ye deal with my contemness, so with you my grace shall deal.
Let the hero, born of woman, crush the serpent
With His heal, since God is marching on.
The point is, the legalists and losers can make life miserable for the lovers, and even kill them, but the lovers will eventually win and crush the foe, for they are fighting for that which is ultimate, and God's will, and that for which He will keep the troops marching on to victory. America is a great nation because all of its major wars were fought as lovers against losers. We fought for liberty and equality, and for the freedom of people to determine their own destiny. We have fought against oppression, repression, and depression. I know enough to know our nation has not always been pure or perfect, but the reason we have been blessed of God is because we have always chosen to march against the legalists, and carry the banner of the lover.
Charles Colson was a legalist who became a lover. He never felt any of the things that he did in Watergate were wrong. They were all done according to the rules of the game of politics. He was playing according to the rules, and even if the rules were unloving, and hurt others, that was tough. When Chuck came to Christ, he ceased to be a legalist and a loser, and became a winner, because he learned to care more about people than the rules of politics. In love, he now reaches out to thousands of people in bondage, who are in prisons all over the world. He brings healing and love, and is now a winner because he is a lover.
The fascinating part about being a lover is that, not only does it make you a healer of others, it makes you the healer of yourself. Jesus had an enormous amount of stress, and yet we have no record of His being ill. He was exhausted and hungry, and He went through all the stress that anyone else would under His pressure, but He never became ill. Modern medicine has learned that the more loving we are, the less likely we are to become ill. Jesus was the greatest lover who ever walked the earth, and thus, the healthiest person as well.
Dr. Mack, a fifty year old surgeon at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle said, "It has been said that love cures people, both those who give it and those who receive it." Dr. Bernie Siegal, surgeon and professor of surgery at Yale Medical School writes, "If I told patients to raise their blood level of immune globulious or killer T-cells, no one would know how. But if I can teach them to love themselves and others fully, the same changes happen automatically. The truth is: Love Heals."
If you are into love, you are into healing. You can't escape it. God so made us that love has healing power in our bodies. Dr. David McClelland, of Harvard, has demonstrated this scientifically. He showed a film to a group of students that portrayed Mother Teresa caring for the poor in the streets of Calcutta. It was designed to inspire feelings of love and caring. He then checked their bodies and discovered an increase in the anti-body salivary IgA, which provides major protection against colds and upper respiratory infection. Then he showed a film on Attila The Hun, and their anti-body levels dropped. This study revealed that people who are friendly and interested in close loving relationships are healthier. Married men live longer than bachelors because they experience more love.
Dr. Blair Justice, professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, and author of over 50 professional journal articles, goes so far as to say in his book, Who Gets Sick, that love may be more important to health than healthy living. He gives an enormous amount of evidence to support this. Hans Selye, the most quoted researcher on stress in the world, also concluded that the healthiest people in the world are people who love others. The voices of authority in medicine and psychology are telling us, lovers live longer and healthier lives.
Lucy scorned Linus who just announced that he planned to be a doctor. "You can't be a doctor," she laughed, "because you don't love mankind." "I do so love mankind," said Linus, "its people I can't stand." The Pharisees loved mankind too, but they did not love this particular man, or other individuals that Jesus healed on the Sabbath. Their love was flawed. Jesus not only died for all mankind, He came to minister to obscure people even though it cost dearly. If we are not involved in loving specific people, we are playing the role of the loser.
When Jesus said love your neighbor as yourself, we had no idea it was the Great Physician giving a prescription for health, but that is exactly what it is. A loving life style is the healthiest life style. The doctors of the world are coming to the conclusion that the Great Physician had the best medicine of all. "He who loses his life saves it." The legalist clings to his life and refuses to share it. He will not break his rules for the sake of meeting another's need, and by so doing becomes a loser, for he loses his own life, and loses the chance to be a channel of life to others. The lover not only gives life to others, but by so doing, gets life for the self. The message of this miracle of Jesus is very simple: No matter what the cost, be a lover.
If Jesus was willing to pay any price, even the cost of His life, to heal, how much more should we be willing to be lovers at any cost. The legalist in us will find a thousand excuses to resist and hold back, and not try to win the lost. But our prayer should be that the lover in us will find just one reason to do it, and the one reason that can motivate us is this truth: Lovers are winners.