Ephesians 4: 1-3
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Matthew 19: 13-15
Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.
Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.
SUMMARY OF SUNDAY'S MESSAGE
In Matthew 19, parents are bringing their children to Jesus with a desire that the spiritual blessing and favour they have witnessed upon Him might be transferred onto their little ones. The disciples however object and attempt to block them coming too close to Jesus. They see themselves as gatekeepers, spiritual 'bouncers' who control access to their leader. They rebuke those coming forward, try to turn them away, giving the indication that they are representing Jesus in doing so. Surely He has more important things to be getting on with.
However, Jesus makes it clear the disciples have got it completely wrong on this occasion. He notices the people getting rejected, expresses that this isn't His heart and launches an anchor of hope into hearts filled with hurt and rejection. He welcomes, accepts and celebrates those who have been turned away, He opens his arms to the smallest, most insignificant members of the community. He places his hands on them, a sign and symbol of divine blessing.
The principle is this: Sometimes God's blessing is waiting on the other side of rejection.
Like these parents and children, we live our lives longing for favour but fearful of rejection.
Rejection can take place at every stage of our lives and will affect each person differently. It isn't something we are born with, it develops throughout our lives with time and experience. Young children trust others intuitively because they have never had to deal with betrayal or the wounds of rejection.
Children who do experience rejection at an early age grow up in an environment absent of affection and nurture. This may include those who are given up by their parents or those from families where there is abuse or addiction. In this climate of fear, insecurity, isolation and emotional detachment, the child, as they grow older, may unconsciously develop self-protective mechanisms and may start to engage in destructive behaviour.
As we enter our teenage years, perhaps we get bullied in school or our heart is broken by our first love, and so the walls start to go up. With each negative experience, we might become more fearful, rebellious, angry, isolated, insecure and self-rejecting.
As we get older, rejection may come from those people who have power and influence in our lives. People we look up to or respect don't give us the acceptance and approval we crave so desperately. We try harder, even developing perfectionist tendencies, but never receive the affirmation we need.
In our careers or vocations, perhaps we tried some things and didn't achieve what we hoped for. We were passed over for promotion, we failed at a business venture, we never saw our dreams become reality.
Rejection takes many forms and the ripple effect can spill into every part of our lives including our relationships. Some people feel deeply unworthy through rejection, and therefore, when good things happen to them, they push them away. They sabotage their own success. They have a self-destruct button which they press every time life seems to be going well for them.
In relationships, a person carrying the wounds of rejection will perhaps meet the type of person who they have been longing for, someone who treats them with love and respect. However rather than embracing this relationship, they respond negatively and behave in a way which pushes the other person away. They feel unworthy of this love and are so terrified of rejection that they will reject first, so not to have to face it themselves. It's simply self-protection and self-preservation. They can't risk their heart getting hurt again.
In Ephesians 4: 3, Paul says: "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."
He is saying that unity takes effort, healthy relationships require work. This may involve excavating some areas of our hearts to deal with the deep roots of rejection. Often the dysfunction we experience with other people isn't because of their issues, it's because of our own unresolved pain. We don't fall out with other people so much as we fall out with ourselves and they just happen to get in the way. Rejection isolates us and separates us. We build walls to protect ourselves which become prisons that constrict and limit us.
Saul in the Old Testament is a good example of someone who was never able to deal with his deep roots of self-rejection. Externally he seemed to have it all. He looked like a leader being a head taller than his peers, he was anointed and promoted to be Israel's first king, but never was able to fully step into his destiny or receive what God had placed into his hands. When other people came alongside him to encourage and edify, he became jealous and fearful, pushing them away. David killed the giant on behalf of Israel's army and soothed Saul's depression through his musical ability, yet Saul responded with suspicion and even tried to kill David on different occasions. His rejection manifested itself in deep insecurity and people pleasing which eventually became his downfall.
Like Saul, we won't fully experience our destiny until we deal with rejection in our past. Rejection makes it difficult to cultivate healthy relationships. Marriages, where one or both partners have experienced rejection, can become very difficult places to develop deep intimacy because we are so afraid that if the other sees us as we are, they will walk away.
Rejection is also at the root of much addiction. We self-medicate so as to numb the pain of the past or to avoid the reality of the present.
Rejection also leads to perfectionism and people pleasing as we seek to live up to some standard which is unrealistic and try to ensure that everyone likes us. The smallest mistake or tiniest criticism sends us spiraling into depression and self-loathing.
In Ephesians 4 when Paul talks about the 'bond of peace' he is referring to the expansive wholeness that is available in Christ. As we deal with our inner, unseen world, our relationships on the outside will become healthier. Jesus wants to set us free from the bondage of rejection, however and wherever we have experienced it, and lead us into wholeness, fullness of life and reformation of our culture.