What to Do With Our Shadows
“Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (John 2:7-11)
It is quite convicting to read these verses because I have so many examples coming to my mind of where I have failed to love people who disagreed with me, had a different skin color or ethnicity, annoying personality, or something else that made me standoffish. I have failed to love many times. Some of these are utterly embarrassing to me even years later.
Might you have a few things too? What are they? Do they mean that we are not genuinely saved? Let’s call them shadows.
The photo above is a picture of the world and it is a picture of my heart. I have spiritual light in my heart. That light is the glory of Jesus and the gospel which I have believed in and given myself to. I want to walk in the light. I want to obey God’s commands. Yet I also see in my heart failures to love and obey. There is darkness in there.
Like this photo, I have shadows. Shadows are places where darkness continues to reign and the light of truth and glory have not yet conquered. These are habits and blind spots and areas my flesh clings to. When it comes to love, I have shadows in my heart where I don’t self-give, I self-love. I don’t sacrifice, I hoard. I don’t seek others’ joy, I seek my own.
What to do? I do with them the same thing I do with all my sin. I confess it. I repent. I invite Jesus to change me. And I can take comfort that the presence of shadows means the presence of light. There are no shadows in a pitch black room. If there are shadows of non-love it means that the light of God’s love is there.
Who is it that John is describing in this passage? The person who claims to be a Christian where non-love isn’t the exception, it is the rule. They stumble around in the darkness of their own bitterness and hate. There is little if any remorse for the damage they do to the church and to God’s people. They will say or do whatever they want whenever they want. They do damage wherever they go. These people leave a swath of destruction behind them as they use and abuse people for their own purposes. Their words are divisive. Their actions are inflammatory. There is no gentleness about them. Wherever they go, there seems to be conflict and tension. They are like the notorious Diotrophes whose only concern was that he was number one. Their sourpuss attitude and curmudgeonly outlook and self-obsession never got beyond itself. That is hate. That is self-love.
How different is the person for whom love is the rule and hate is the exception! There is a gentleness and kindness about them. They are quick to help others in need. They pour water, not gas, on the flames of conflict. Their words are healing. Their actions are uplifting. They will be inconvenienced for the sake of others and the kingdom. There is a fragrance of selflessness about them. Haters are takers and breakers. Lovers are givers and healers.
Their whole world and perspective was transformed by the Spirit making them spiritually new which frees them from the bondage of hate and frees them to live for God and others. This love doesn’t come from them; it flows through them from God to others. Imperfectly, yes. There are shadows, but darkness does not dominate. The presence of self-giving love assures us of the presence of redeeming light.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
©2012 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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