Lately, we’ve been revisiting the Old Testament in our Bible classes, and we understand that, while we are no longer bound to that law, studying the triumphs and failings of God’s people can benefit our own spiritual growth. As Paul writes in Romans 15:4:
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
I want to take some time in this lesson to look at a few individuals from the Old and New Testaments. What will we see in them? Will we see characters to judge and condemn, or will we see reflections of ourselves – the same faults, the same misplaced priorities, the same desires, the same misdirection, and the same stumbles we all share? If we can see ourselves in them, then we will be able to see our reflections in one another and handle the sins in our lives and others all the better.
Seeing Ourselves in Them
We know the figures of King Saul, King David, and the Apostle Peter pretty well. We’ve studied their lives time and again, and I don’t think this lesson is going to shed any new light on these individuals. I want us, however, to be self-reflective as we take a look at specific events from each of these lives.
- King Saul (I Samuel 13:5-12). Scared of the impending doom he perceives and anxiously impatient for Samuel’s arrival, Saul takes it upon himself to make an offering to the Lord. The problem is that it is not his place to do so, and he acts outside the authority of God’s word.
- King David (II Samuel 11:3-5). David sees a woman bathing and desires her. He goes to great lengths to have her and to greater lengths to cover his sin, resorting to lies and murder to prevent the knowledge of his indiscretion from spreading.
- Peter the Apostle (Matthew 14:22-33). Peter walks on water to reach Jesus, but his faith falters. He begins to sink, and Jesus must pull him up, chastising him for a lack of faith.
What do we see with these individuals? Do we only see the rebukes and the consequences their actions inspire? Do we only focus on their failings? Do we sit back and judge, patting ourselves on our back that we are not as bad as them? Do we just see Saul as an impatient egomaniac; David as a womanizer; Bathsheba as immodest; Peter as faithless? It’s very easy to look at these people as mere character whom we can academically dissect and discuss while failing to see our own reflection in them. Can we not see that you and I are no different today? Should we not be learning about ourselves as we are learning about them?
When we examine Saul’s action in I Samuel 13, we can see our own fears and insecurities in him. How often do we want God to work on our own timeline? How often do we feel when need to do His work for Him? After all, Christians are fond of quoting Benjamin Franklin: “God helps those who help themselves.” With David, it’s easy to throw blame all over the place in those events, but do we not see our own struggles with lust and desire in him? Are we not as guilty of increasing our own sins to cover our own faults? Finally, in the case Peter, we all have our moments when our faith meets its limits and falters. At least in Peter’s case, he turns to the right source for salvation. At times, I am Saul. I am David. I am Peter, and so are we all.
If we can empathize with these distant historical figures, it should be all the easier to be compassionate and forgiving toward our fellow man. Jesus’ ministry is filled with moments of kindness, compassion, and forgiveness – especially toward individuals with whom we might have a hard time relating – activists, tax collectors, prostitutes. The Hebrew writer gives us some insight into this empathy in Hebrews 4:15-16:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Jesus can empathize with our struggles and shortcomings, and we should be able to do the same with our fellow man. Just like we often say we should be quick to hear and slow to speak, we should be quick to care and slow to judge others’ sin. After all, if we look closely enough at their problems, we might just see a reflection of our own.
If we can forgive David, Peter, and Saul their failings, we should be able to more easily forgive our own. If we are quick to criticize and condemn those we see in the Bible, what will we do when we see our own reflection in them? If we are too harsh on them, will we be too harsh on ourselves? II Corinthians 7:10 warns of falling too deeply into regret over our sins.
If we want to beat down individuals like David, Peter, and Saul for their faults; if we want to beat down others around us for their faults, how will we handle it when we fall into the same traps? Will we be like David and try to conceal our sins, regardless of the cost? Will we beat ourselves down for these failings? Instead, we should be helping each other up, turning to each other for that help, and ultimately allowing our Lord to lift us up when we begin to sink into the despair of sin.
The Bible story is one of redemption and reconciliation, and time and again we see that anyone, regardless of their pasts and their faults, can take advantage of God’s grace. Saul could have turned back to the Lord instead of sinking deeper and deeper into bitterness. David and Peter do ultimately grow. My mind keeps coming back to the imagery of Peter sinking beneath the waves; he knows who to appeal for salvation. There are many lost and wandering in the world, sinking in sin, and we can be that rescuing hand if we can look upon them with the love and compassion demonstrated in our Lord. Conversely, we will need that mercy at times. We will need a brother or sister pull us up, and we have to be able to forgive ourselves when that happens.
It all starts with what we see when we look into God’s word. If we can see ourselves reflected in the people within, with all their faith and all their faults, then we can better forgive others and ourselves for their faults. We all have David moments. We all have Saul moments. We all have Peter moments. The measure of our spirituality comes when see those moments in ourselves and others. We can look into that flawed reflection and see a soul that Christ loves and for which He was willing to sacrifice Himself. We can see the value of our own souls and those of others, and, in so doing, we can see the need for our Savior in our own lives and theirs. What will you do with others when you see them sinking in sin? What will you do when you need rescuing? It depends on what you see when you look into the mirrors in God’s word and those all around us.