How Do You Eat an Elephant?

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Saturday, October 24, 2015 0 comments

by Nathan Buck

So the answer to the joke “How do you eat an elephant?” is “one bite at a time” – unless of course you actually eat elephant and want to take that opportunity to share your recipe. Being a follower of Jesus Christ can be a huge challenge, and it can seem a bit like trying to eat an elephant, especially when it is not popular or could even lead to your life being threatened for being a Christian.

History is full of moments when Christians were shut out of society, threatened, tortured, hunted, and dismembered. (If you ever want an alternative to Halloween stories, read the Book of Martyrs and then celebrate “All Saints Day” instead of a cultic religious practices dressed up in candy bags. Just saying.) In fairness, many groups of peoples have been killed for what they believe over the centuries, and I bring up Christian martyrs in honor of those who have been killed in recent months for their faith. None of us may know what we would actually do if we were faced with beheading from Islamic Fundamentalists or a shooter who came into our work place or school. I pray we would have the courage to finish the race, with the name of Jesus still on our lips as we fell. I also pray that we would be able to have Jesus on our lips and alive in our actions each day as we live – which in some respects may be just as hard, if not harder.

Read Romans 12:9-21. Paul starts this section with a summary of what we explored in the last two weeks, here and here. But he gets uncomfortably specific with us, doesn’t he? Love, detest evil, be devoted, be diligent (bring your best), rejoice in hope, persevere, devote yourself to prayer, give to others as they have need, practice hospitality, bless those who persecute and terrorize you, bless and do not curse, rejoice and weep with others as they do, be of the same mind toward one another, hang out with the downhearted and humbled, don’t trust your own wisdom alone, NEVER pay back evil for evil, respect what is right because others are watching (even if they don’t agree on what is right), as far as it depends on your actions, live at peace with all people, NEVER take revenge, make room for God’s perfect wrath, and if you have the opportunity, feed your enemy and give them drink, which will “heap burning coals on his head.”

There are many who have interpreted the expression “heap burning coals on his head” through certain practices of eastern cultures that pour ashes on their heads as a sign of repentance. If we interpret it that way, it would mean that by doing good, you will cause your enemies to feel shame and perhaps turn away from their evil ways. That interpretation may be true.

But what if another interpretation is true? What if it is about your enemy, who didn’t stoke his fire the night before and found his fire burned out and cold out in the morning? What if he is outside your tent begging for coals to start his fire for his family? Instead of just giving him a couple coals from your dwindling morning fire and sending him on his way saying, “Good luck buddy, hope you don’t freeze,” what if you choose to give him the majority of your coals? What if you trust God will provide what you need, and you fill the bowl he would put on his head to carry the coals back to his tent, and you gave him more than enough to ensure that he and his family would have a fire that morning? I think this expression by Paul is giving us this picture and example of how to handle our enemies when they are in need. Instead of taking the opportunity to kick them while they’re down, what if we choose to bless, even those who have harmed us - and in so doing point them to God’s love for them? Could that be the example that leads to them trusting God? Could it lead to them being changed from an enemy into a brother or sister in Jesus Christ?

Again, consider the actions/attitudes Paul encourages us to have. Are any of them disconnected from our daily moments with family, friends, co-workers, or enemies? NO – in fact we probably will face most of them several times a day. It seems that Paul is encouraging us to overcome evil with good, moment by moment by moment.

If you go back to our blog posts on Romans 1:17, Paul says there is a righteousness revealed in the gospel that is by faith “from first to last.” When he says that, the words he chose literally mean that our right living with God is from the first moment of faith to the last moment of faith, or more precisely moment of faith, to moment of faith, to moment of faith. So, God is not asking us to destroy all that is evil at one time, but rather to dismantle it in every moment that we face. Like eating the elephant, we overcome evil one bite (step) at a time.

So how are you doing, moment to moment, with your family? With your co-workers? With your enemies? When you face evil, do you know how to overcome the evil without running over the person it comes through? Are you able to lay your life down in service of those around you, in the same way you might for the enemy who may only meet Jesus through how you die?

If you are like me, you may need to write Romans 12:9-21 everywhere to remind yourself of how you should respond to each situation you face during the day. When you put them in context of the rest of Romans 11:36-12:8, it clearly challenges us to be a people who are secure in our relationship with God, trusting His plans, and willing to lay aside our self in order to do what is best in every situation, even in the small daily moments where we tend to be on auto-pilot. I honor the lives of those who have died for following Jesus. I also honor and seek to be someone who can be a living ‘martyr’ for Him just as passionately. What about you?

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