Written by Doug Ponder on April 3, 2013
The Trouble with Lopsided Basketballs
My friends and I had no taste for the usual activities of high school gym, so we invented a couple of “sports” of our own. One involved hurling basketballs at distant objects—it was sort of like playing disc golf with a basketball, only the targets were everyday things you’d find in your neighborhood. Part of the sport included dropkicking the basketball for extra distance.
After weeks of kicking, head butting, and heaving basketballs across streets, fields, and lakes, a few of the balls began to change shape. They became lopsided. And as anyone who’s played basketball can tell you, a lopsided ball just won’t do. It doesn’t bounce correctly, so you can’t dribble or shoot with any degree of accuracy. Lopsided basketballs are basically useless.
Lopsided grace, on the other hand, is a wonderful thing.
The Blessing of Lopsided Grace
Grace means unmerited favor. So, lopsided grace is grace that is “bigger” in one place than in another. It’s grace that moves in one direction. It’s grace that isn’t evenly distributed. And all of this is very good indeed. Let me give you an example.
Suppose that some of your friends are coming over for dinner, and they’re bringing their two small children with them. As you are getting your home ready for visitors, you recall that when they last visited the children broke a few things and left stains in places that you didn’t discover until days after they had really set in. Although the thought of having the same thing happen again is slightly unnerving, you decide not to mention it because you love your friends more than you love your possessions. After all, what’s one more stain really going to hurt?
Now suppose that you and your family are going over to the same friends’ house for dinner (instead of them coming to your house). Before you go in, you let your spouse know that you are going to watch your own children with far more vigilance than usual. You explain that the reason is you don’t want your children messing up your friends’ possessions in any way. You also give your kids water instead of a deeply-staining juice, and you put their water in spill-proof sippy cups. On top of that, you follow you kids around the house everywhere they go, cleaning up after them and making sure that they don’t break anything.
There’s an obvious double standard here, but it’s one that benefits your friends. You hold yourself (and your children for whom you are responsible) to a higher standard of accountability than you do your friends (and their children for whom they are responsible). And that’s a good thing. That’s lopsided grace.
A Life of Lopsided Grace
Lopsided grace goes beyond simply “treating others as you’d want to be treated” (which is very noble), for it enables you to treat others even better than you expect to be treated because of your sincere love for the other person and your genuine desire to contribute to their well-being.
Lopsided grace moves you to give more than you receive (Acts 20:35), to forgive others for their sins against you while desiring not to sin against them (Matt. 6:12), to exceed the requests that are made of you (Matt. 5:41), to love your neighbors (Mark 12:31), even the ones who don’t love you back (Matt. 5:46), to serve others and put yourself last (Mark 10:42-45), and to consider others as being more significant than yourself (Phil. 2:3).
Grace as the Power to Change
How is it possible to attain the kind of attitude and behavior we’ve been talking about? It’s possible when you understand the lopsided grace that you’ve been shown in Jesus.
Through his vicarious death and resurrection, Jesus has given us far more than we will ever give him (freedom from God’s righteous judgment of anything and anyone who has spoiled the goodness of his world). Likewise Jesus has forgiven us for all our many sins, faults, and failures, and he has done this knowing full well that we can’t “pay him back” for this act of grace. Jesus similarly exceeds the requests we make of him, for we foolishly ask him for short-sighted blessings and he graciously bestows upon us far more than we even know to think or ask for. Jesus has loved us enough to lay down his life for us, not because we were deserving in any way, but because of his great love for us. In truth, we were his enemies, but he loved us anyway. That’s as lopsided as it gets.
Martin Luther (the German-monk-turned-church-reformer) famously wrote the following words on his deathbed: “We are beggars all; this is true.” His final words were a fitting summary of the entirety of our lives before God. You and I are beggars, coming to God with nothing but empty hands hoping to receive his mercy and his grace, knowing that nothing we’ve ever done could earn God’s favor or make us more deserving. He loves us because of who he is, not because of who we are. God is the eternal Giver of all good without requiring payment, and that is the very heart of grace itself. In this way, perhaps true grace is always lopsided in nature. If true, this means we are the undeserving beneficiaries of lopsided grace in every way.
If you believe that you are on the receiving end of the most lopsided grace in history; if you believe that your whole life is the life of a beggar, then you will begin to change. You’ll come to see that you have no reason, no right, to withhold blessings from other people. “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matt. 10:8). You’ll no longer feel that you must satisfy the urge to ‘look out for number one’, and you’ll be set free to love others and consider their needs as being even more important than your own. All this because you’ll know that you are the recipient of love beyond degree, of grace without measure, and of a better possession, an abiding one, that far outweighs whatever else you might lose in this life (Heb. 10:34). People who truly understand the grace they’ve been shown in Jesus can’t help becoming more gracious themselves. That’s the real beauty of lopsided grace. (Or should we just say, “true grace” pure and simple?)
For Your Consideration
Do you really and truly see yourself as a beggar before God? Do you have a healthy knowledge of your many shortcomings and, therefore, of your immense need for God’s grace?
How does seeing yourself—and everyone else—as equally in need of the grace of God change your view of others? How does this belief change the habit of comparing yourself to others?
Do you find yourself often complaining that something in your life seems “unfair”? How does your sense of fairness measure up to God’s “gracious unfairness” (which gives us good things we don’t deserve)?
How might the grace of Jesus toward you change a thought, an action, an attitude in your life today? Take whatever it is to God in prayer. Ask him to forgive you for holding others to a standard that he does not hold you to, and ask him for a renewed appreciation of the grace you have in Jesus.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.