Developing a Winning Attitude
The more we study Jesus’ life, the more we marvel at His ability to accept and affirm people. Although He issued scathing rebukes to the religious leaders of His day, He gladly received those who were struggling with sin, plagued with guilt, and hopelessly condemned. His grace was for them. His mercy extended to even the vilest sinners. The depth of His forgiveness was infinitely deeper than the depths of their sin. His love knew no bounds.
Jesus never exhibited a tinge of pride or superiority. He saw in every human being one created in the image of God, yet fallen by sin, and one whom He came to save. No one was beyond His love. None had fallen so low that His grace could not reach them. He showed respect to all He came in contact with and treated them with the dignity they deserved. He influenced people for the kingdom because He believed in people. Their lives were changed in His presence because He cared for them so deeply. They rose to become what He believed they could be.
In this week’s lesson, we will explore more deeply Jesus’ attitude toward people and discover how to apply these principles in our own lives.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, August 29.
The last place the disciples expected to find hearts receptive to the gospel was in Samaria. The Samaritans were in constant conflict with the Jews over doctrine and worship. This animosity was decades old. The Samaritans had wanted to participate in building the temple in Jerusalem but were refused that opportunity because of their intermarriage with the heathen culture around them and their unorthodox views. As a result, the Samaritans built their own temple on Mount Gerizim. The disciples would readily skip by Samaria as an unfertile ground for the proclamation of the gospel.
Jesus saw what the disciples did not see: receptive hearts. John’s account of the story of the woman at the well begins with these words: “He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria” (John 4:3, 4, NKJV). Jesus “needed” to go through Samaria because the Holy Spirit convinced Him that there would be receptive hearts in this unlikely place. When our eyes are divinely anointed by the Holy Spirit, we see possibilities where others see only difficulties. We see a rich harvest of souls for the kingdom of God where others see only barren fields.
The disciples would have passed by Samaria without ever providing an opportunity for the Samaritans to hear the truth of the Word of God. Jesus saw what they did not see. He recognized that the Holy Spirit had created a receptivity in one woman’s heart. Her dramatic conversion impacted scores of people in that city. We will not always see immediate results from our witnessing activities, but as we sow seeds in receptive hearts, they will one day bring a harvest for the glory of God.
Our attitudes often determine our ability to influence others. A harsh, critical, and unfriendly attitude is going to drive people away from you. Even if you are able to witness, your words, no matter how truthful, are much less likely to be received.
In contrast, a positive attitude and a belief in others draws them to us. It creates a bond of friendship. Jesus stated this principle beautifully when He said, “ ‘No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you’ ” (John 15:15, NKJV). Friends accept one another in spite of their weaknesses and mistakes and freely share their joys and sorrows.
The woman in Matthew 15 is a Canaanite. Jesus intentionally refuses her request initially so that, as she persists, her faith will grow. He eventually grants her desire and then makes an amazing statement that no religious leader in Judea at that time would ever make to a poor Canaanite woman. He publicly says, “ ‘O woman, great is your faith!’ ” (Matt. 15:28, NKJV). He gives her one of the greatest compliments any religious teacher could ever give. Can you imagine how her heart rejoiced and her life was changed?
The woman who anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume is a Jew—a woman of ill repute, a woman who has failed badly and sinned often—but one who was forgiven, transformed, and made new again. When others criticize her, Jesus compliments her and approves of her actions. He declares, “ ‘Wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her’ ” (Mark 14:9, NKJV).
Friendship alone does not win people to Christ. We might have many friends, people we enjoy being with and who enjoy being with us, but if we never tell them what Jesus means to us and how He changed our lives, our friendship may make little eternal difference. Sure, we might be fun to be around, but God calls us to be more than just fun to be around. Friendship alone will not bring people to Christ, but unfriendly attitudes may drive people from Christ.
The apostle Paul reminds us to speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). The bonds of friendship are built when we agree with people as much as possible, demonstrate acceptance, and compliment them where it is appropriate. How important that we make a habit of looking for the good in people as opposed to the bad.
There are those who seem to delight in looking for things that are wrong with others if for no other reason than that it makes them feel better about themselves.
The apostle Paul was the opposite. He looked for the positive in the churches he ministered to. Certainly, he reproved error and did not condone sin, but his focus was to build up the churches that he established. One way he did this was by highlighting what they did right.
Ellen G. White’s statement on the importance of positive relationships is remarkable. “If we would humble ourselves before God, and be kind and courteous and tenderhearted and pitiful [full of pity], there would be one hundred conversions to the truth where now there is only one.”—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 189.
In these two passages, the apostle Paul presents the principles underlying our acceptance of one another. Because Christ has forgiven and accepted each one of us, how can we possibly refuse to forgive and accept one another? In fact, it is precisely because Jesus has received us that we can receive one another, even despite the other’s flaws.
Think hard about what this means. Think about yourself and about some of the things you have done and might still be struggling with— things that, perhaps, you alone know about, things that you’d be terrified if others knew about too.
And yet, what? By faith, you are accepted in Christ, who knows all about the things that others might not know anything about. Yes, He knows all of that, and, yet, He accepts you anyway, not because of your own goodness but because of His.
What, then, should be your attitude toward others?
Here is a difficult concept for some to understand. Genuine acceptance means that we accept people as they are, with all their sinful habits, because they are human beings created in the image of God. Because Christ died for us “while we were yet sinners” and “reconciled [us] to God” when we were His enemies, we can forgive and accept others. His love toward us becomes the very foundation of our acceptance and forgiveness toward others (Rom. 5:6–10).
But once an accepting, caring relationship has been established, it is often necessary to confront another individual lovingly with the truths of Scripture. To fail to do this is to neglect to love. We must care enough to share life-changing, eternal truths with our friends.
Jesus’ attitude was not, “Do whatever you please. It’s all right. I still accept you.” His attitude was, rather, “No matter what you have done, I am willing to forgive you and provide you with power to change.” Biblical truth presented humbly in Christ’s Spirit with a loving attitude wins hearts and changes lives.
Jesus did not neglect presenting truth for “love’s sake,” because that would not have been love. Love always seeks the best for another. There is no conflict between love and truth. Truth presented humbly and kindly is a statement of love. Jesus said, “ ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life’ ” (John 14:6). Jesus is the only way of salvation (Acts 4:12). His grace saves us so that we can know His truth and live His life. Truth without love leads to stifling legalism, which strangles spiritual life. So-called love without truth leads to tolerant sentimentalism with no substance, leaving an individual adrift on a sea of uncertainty. Truth presented in love leads to an authentic Christian experience that provides clear direction, purpose, and certainty.
The New Testament writers never emphasize love over truth. They beautifully blend love and truth, grace and law, compassion and honesty. Peter admonishes fellow believers to “give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Pet. 3:15, NKJV). In other words, you need to know what you believe, why you believe it, and be able to explain what you believe and why. This doesn’t mean you must have all the answers or be able to convince others of your beliefs. It means only that with “meekness and fear”—that is, with humility and a sense of the greatness of the issues at stake—you can explain and defend your faith.
Paul counsels his young protégé Timothy, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2, NKJV). He reminds Titus that it is the kindness and love of God that saved those who have been reborn in Him (Titus 3:5).
We, too, are called to present the truth in love with all meekness and humility. Our Lord invites us to join Him in lovingly sharing with accepting attitudes His last-day message for a world dying without Christ.
Further Thought: “In Christ is the tenderness of the shepherd, the affection of the parent, and the matchless grace of the compassionate Saviour. His blessings He presents in the most alluring terms. He is not content merely to announce these blessings; He presents them in the most attractive way, to excite a desire to possess them. So His servants are to present the riches of the glory of the unspeakable Gift. The wonderful love of Christ will melt and subdue hearts, when the mere reiteration of doctrines would accomplish nothing. ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God.’ ‘O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! . . . He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom.’ Isaiah 40:1, 9–11.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, pp. 826, 827.