When the COVID-19 pandemic hit our area, my 90-year-old neighbors needed me to do their grocery shopping to protect them from the virus. I walked to their house, grabbed their list, credit card, and the keys to their car, and drove the two miles to our neighborhood grocery store. It felt like such a small task to me, but to them, it felt like I was saving their lives.
Instead of a grocery store, though, I felt like I had entered enemy territory during a war. Everyone at the store looked like potential virus-spreaders. I eyed everyone suspiciously and moved away from them as quickly as possible. I scrutinized how the cashier handled the groceries and inwardly grumbled when she touched more surfaces of the packaging than necessary.
Being wary of everyone was exhausting, and I was a grump by the time I got to the car. I drove home, rehashing how close people were to me and how many items I saw different people handle before putting them back on the shelf. Didn't they realize how dangerous it was to touch items they weren’t going to buy?
By the time I got home, though, I was sad. I was scared. I ran inside and scrubbed my hands vigorously. I felt a knot in my stomach as I took the groceries to my neighbors. I tried to keep my distance from them as I brought their bags onto their patio to be wiped down. I handed them their receipt and credit card, doing everything I could to avoid touching them. They moved closer to me as we spoke, straining to hear me, and I stepped back and spoke louder. As I walked back across the street to my home, I wondered how I could cope with the knowledge that I passed the virus on to them if they were to get sick. I was the dangerous one.
Too often, I approach relationships as if everyone else is the problem. I believe that their sin is worse than my own (or I forget my sin altogether). I want them to conform to my behaviors, my opinions, and my preferences. I am fine; everyone else is the threat.
In truth, though, I am infected. I am infected through and through with sin.
If I walked through life with an honest view of my sin, I’d approach relationships with much greater humility. I’d love better and consider everyone more significant than myself (Philippians 2:3). I’d forgive more often and ask for forgiveness even more. I would never see the speck in others’ eyes because I would be too busy begging the Lord to remove the log from my own (Luke 6:41). I would live in light of the knowledge that I am the foremost of sinners who Jesus Christ came to save (1 Timothy 1:16).
As I interact with people in the community, what if I remembered that I taint everything with my sin? What if I walked into my church knowing that my sin affects all of my church’s members? What if I related to my children with the reality that my sin hurts all of our relationships? What if I considered my sin in every interaction with my husband?
With Paul, I would acknowledge, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Romans 7:18). My motivation, my desires, my habits are all corrupt. Indeed, I am infected, and I bring my disease to every relationship I have. In Ephesians 2:1-3, Paul describes the state of man without Christ:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
This flesh still rages war within me.
When G.K. Chesterton was asked the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” he legendarily quipped, “I am.” Who’s to blame for my conflicts? I am. What’s wrong with my relationships? I am.
The name for my judgment of other people is self-righteousness, and the antidote is to gaze upon the cross and remember the death Jesus died for my sin. He suffered for my sin. And His grace is great enough for my sin. He is forgiving and faithful. He is rich in mercy, and even when I was his enemy, when I was dead in my sins, He made me alive together with Christ—by grace, I have been saved (Ephesians 2:4-5). I must put to death the idolatry of my flesh (Colossians 3:5), and in doing so, I will live (Romans 8:13).
Oh, my sin does affect every relationship I have, but God’s grace has the power to as well. The new nature that we receive when we come to Christ changes how we relate to others. Jesus says to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:29). Treat one another as you want to be treated (Matthew 7:12). Forgive seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22). Love your enemies (Matthew 5:44). Serve and give generously. And He makes it possible for us to do so.
The love the Father has shown us through the Son not only makes it possible to love like this, but it compels us to. When Christ reconciled us, He also gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). Our call to love others is not dependent upon who they are, how they’re acting, or the circumstances we’re in. Our call is dependent upon Christ and how He loves us.
We’re slowly emerging from our homes for more and more purposes. We’re going back to work, church, our activities, and eventually school. We’re seeing friends and family face-to-face again. And we’re going to have conflicts. We’ll sin and be sinned against. We’ll be tempted to throw the first stone at the sight of our neighbors’ sin, but may we exchange the stone for grace, remembering that we too are infected with sin.