Self-improvement and family relationships

Sometimes a resolve to break out of old patterns of thought and behavior—to be different, to be new—can well up in us through a glimpse of our inherent purity and goodness as God's spiritual offspring. When we take this resolve into our daily lives, however, we may have to confront the fact that sheer human determination is not sufficient to accomplish the task. For one thing, we may find it challenging to be different from what we've been before when we're around people who "know" us well. This can at times be especially challenging within families.

I wonder how it was for the Bible character Zacchaeus, for example. His name means "the righteous or pure one" (see The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, p. 927), but Zacchaeus had made a reputation for himself as a tax collector who may have enriched himself by taking unjust advantage of others (see Luke 19:1–10). When a crowd of citizens who knew Zacchaeus heard Christ Jesus invite himself to Zacchaeus's home, "they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner." It's doubtful that these same people would have thought any differently of Zacchaeus directly after Jesus' visit, even though, while Jesus was in his home, Zacchaeus experienced a spiritual transformation of character. He had vowed to be charitable toward the poor and to make fourfold restitution to all whom he might have cheated. It's not hard to imagine that the next time the people saw Zacchaeus coming they might have snickered and whispered among themselves: "Here comes Zack. Watch out for your money." His own family may very likely have found the change difficult to believe at first. That kind of response would surely have put Zacchaeus's resolve to the test.

The Bible account doesn't tell us how Zacchaeus measured up to the challenges that he must have faced to his transformation. But we do know, from what the Bible teaches, that the law of divine Love forever holds us to be the man made in God's own image, pure and righteous. This law was present to strengthen Zacchaeus. It's present to strengthen you and me through our obedience to God.

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May 29, 1995

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