Perhaps one of the most difficult things for the Christian to do is to love, and to have mercy. While I think being righteous is extremely important in our lives, and deserves its own discussion, I wanted to examine the topic that seems to be on everyone's lips these days.
Christians are told that they aren't loving enough, that they're close-minded and that they don't follow Christ's teaching in accepting all people. Many times, one group or segment of Christians are told this by another group. The word love is thrown around in so many different contexts, that it gets confusing as to what it should mean to a Jesus following person, and what it means to the rest of the world.
When we generalize the word, we tend to think of acceptance, kindness, caring, support and loyalty. These items aren't wrong, nor are they necessarily deviations from love. When we look at a person who is considered a “sinner” (and since we all are, that isn't too hard to do), we tend to have a chasm of believes. One side says that loving the sinner is to wrap arms around them, support them in everything they do, and to accept that they are their own individual. The other side believes in love being an opportunity to tell a person the truth, the evil of their sin, and how they cannot be a part of such an action.
I've wavered from one side to the other, so please do not consider what I say to be doctrine of the highest order. I have my opinions, and please understand that that is all they are. I look to the Word, to the guidance God gives me, and the wisdom of spiritual elders to shape and hone how I look at God's creation, and how I'm expected to interact with it. With that, I want to express to you how important it is to understand the thought process of the other side in the debate. Seek diligently why they believe what they do. It may just help hone and shape what you hold dear. I believe there are semblances of truth to both, and it is in Christ's character that we find the narrow path.
The side of love being fully accepting, open arms and almost congratulatory gives way to encouragement of sin. We look to Christ, and He never encouraged a person to return to their sin. He never came along side a person and told them that their sin was just fine and that God loved them anyway. God does love them, but the sin is not fine. It is what separated them in the first place.
This approach is shown in a real-life scenario where Christians are blessing and praying for the protection of destructive, sinful places. Not just the people who are involved (who need and ought to receive an abundance of our prayers of protection and a blessing of the Kingdom of Heaven in their life), but these Christians tend to pray for the behaviors and actions themselves. I fear the line between loving the person and loving the sin their involved in gets crossed in these instances. Love also does not mean condoning actions that pull a person away from God. When Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman by the well, He did not tell her that it was quite alright that she was living with a 5th man, who was not her husband. He pointed out the sin. He named the behavior she was doing. But He did not remove the gift of the gospel from her. We need to realize that a content, full life is not found in gaining things of this world. It is found in giving up our life for Christ. (what does that mean to do? I've been working on that one too. We'll talk about it some time soon.)
Now, the group that sees Christ as love and open arms is exactly correct in not removing themselves from the world. We are surrounded by sin, but He who is in us is stronger than He who is in the world. We are covered in the blood of Christ. Satan is not stronger than Christ, so why would we fear evil? Do we fear being tempted? Then that's between you and Christ, but we never know where an opportunity may open up. Instead of picketing Pride parades and abortion clinics, we need to go and share the gospel. Not in a condemning way, but in a truthful and graceful way. We must give the word with salt, with humility and love. I've heard of some churches going to Pride parades and handing out water, telling people that Jesus loves them, and offering to pray for people. I truly believe that this approach bears witness to a much higher success rate of effect than a sign that reads “Gays will burn in Hell. Repent and believe.” Mind you, this example assumes that a Christian believes being gay is a sin.
This is another area that I think we need to refocus ourselves. We've allowed secular society to tell us what is right and what is wrong. When we allow compromise to enter into our hearts, we compromise the standing of the church. Notice that suddenly the line has been drawn against homosexual marriage, but why was marriage not more passionately defended when divorce rates climbed, when adultery climbed? Why do we not follow a process put forth by Paul in the letters to the Corinthians on how to handle believers who are wantonly sinning? We cannot diminish Christ's words because we feel that they are too harsh. Christ said himself that divorce and remarriage creates an adulterer out of the parties involved. But we didn't draw the line, and now suddenly we fear the complete dissipation of marriage. This is what sin does. It eats away, and decays that which is good and righteous.
I say all of this to point out where the brethren on the other side of things might have a point. If we decide to condone within the church the things of this world, and not to hold our own selves to a higher standard, then we give no light. We've become darker and darker until our light does not shine, and the world is cast once again into darkness. In the letters to the churches in Revelation, Christ repeatedly says, “To he who overcomes”. Overcomes what? Why would we need to overcome something if we already have salvation? Because we are called to become a higher character than we were. Some are becoming a better imitator of Christ just by not punching everyone in the room. Some are by recognizing their struggles with sexual sin, and praying for strength as they battle, yes BATTLE temptation.
If I may go on a small tangent, we must get it out of our head that temptation is never a battle. You have no clue what it means to battle temptation until you have done everything you can to not give into the pressure. That is why we're told to FLEE certain sins. Run from it, because the longer you sit staring at the internet browser, the more likely you are to use it.
This rounds itself all the way back to love. If you love your neighbor, your friend, your enemy: do you point them towards sin or away from it? Do you give the Word and prayer, or do you wag your finger? Do you come along beside them? Do you hold grace for them or judgment? Do you have the planked removed from your eye, SO THAT you can remove the speck from his?
We need to weigh these things out. So many remember the “judge not lest ye be judged” quote, but few can recite the lines that come after it. (hint, part of it is hidden in this post....)
That plank is important. It is our own sin, our own shortsightedness, our own failings that can really ruin our testimony and can separate us from what it's really like to be in that person's shoes. It is vastly valuable to have gone through the same scenario as your neighbor, and to have been brought out of it by the power of God. I however do not believe that it does not take effort. We are free willed individuals, and therefore our free obedience to following the Holy Spirit is necessary to the process. A person needs to see that it is possible, and the other needs to see that there must be mercy, grace and patience for what the downtrodden is experiencing.
So what good does your sign and your calling others a sinner do them? It rejects them. It casts them out. It treats them as unclean. Do not be like the Pharisees, but be like Christ. Walk along side sinners. Love the drunkards, the adulterers and the tax collectors (the IRS anybody?) You were one of them at one time. You were loved and brought out of it. And if you were raised in the church, then you need even more exposure to these people. The saddest group of people are those who are buried by their sin, and see no way out. Yet, these are the ones who tend to be most ready for a hand to reach out to them, to accept Christ and see a different path before them. Let us be uncomfortable! Let us reach out! Let us hand sandwiches and water to the homeless (even if they are able bodied and could get a job). Let us pray and embrace our friends who are sexually deviant (even if you believe that homosexuality is wrong.)
There is no law that limits love. Therefore, hand out compassion, kindness, grace, mercy, peace, patience, gentleness and the good news to everyone.
Love your enemy. Show them love. What does it mean to love them? You must ask yourself this question. Continuously. Always. Seek God on what love truly is. It is not a fuzzy feeling, but an action borne out of a dire respect for the one who gave the commandment. Love is selfless. Love is willing to sacrifice even for the enemy that is ready to inflict the punishment. Love will hang on a cross for all those who have already scorned it, who have placed it there. Love is the only stop to evil, for it ends the vicious cycle of evil begetting evil.
But love also will always uphold truth. Love does not compromise truth, and will not hide it. Love operates in truth, and truth validates love. We cannot have one without the other.
I often have to check my thoughts about other people. I'm fiercely political (which I'm trying to heal in myself) and I find myself turning them into a characterization of their political thoughts. They lose face value and become only a representation of their side. If you think hard enough, you'll realize you do this as well. I must catch myself, and many times I stop to pray for that person. I pray for their blessing, I pray they'd come to know Christ. I pray for their well-being, for their health. I seek healing and I seek to rise above the squabble. You can do this with anybody. Whether it's your neighbor who votes the opposite of you, or a terrorist cell in the middle east. There are stories of terrorists who are brought to Christ by being shown love from the people they execute. They're hugged, they're handed Bibles, they're told that Jesus loves them. This is real love. This is spreading the gospel to everyone. The gospel isn't meant for one group. It's meant to be heard by everyone. And what better way to enter the Kingdom than to know that you gave love to the one who murdered you!
With that, I leave you with this: no matter how you feel about this post: I want to love you. I want to make the choice to love you and to pray for you. Jesus loves you, and wants you to understand the gift of forgiveness He has readied for you. It is free for you to accept. Please, take it, and begin the journey of becoming what He has called you to be.