I will preface this post with a simple statement: I make no apologies for honesty, yet I have no aim to offend. That being said let me just go ahead and lay out what is irking me today.
Love. Christians and their “love” particularly, because I believe we (Christians) have been doing dangerous things to both the word, the value, and the context of love. It’s time for change. Or, maybe, it’s time someone just show me the error of my thoughts about this. Either way: something needs to give.
I am 22 years old and have been a Christian half of my life (I accepted salvation at age 11). I know God loves me to an extent that even after over a decade I still cannot fully know the depths to. I know that for Jesus, blameless and holy, to die on a cross for all of us who through our sins deserve the punishment of death, He had to have loved us more than we can really comprehend. Jesus and God both tell us over and over in scripture that we, as sinful people, are loved. God loves us. Jesus loves us.
How can we be sure? Well, God loves us so much that He created us just so we can experience His goodness and live forever with Him in glory. He loves us so much that He sacrificed His blameless, holy, and only Son on a cross through a torturous death so that we can be forgiven of our sins – that we do not have to bear the punishment of death for the sins that we commit daily. And Jesus, oh sweet Jesus! He was perfect – fully man and fully God. He never sinned. His eternal home was all ready going to be Heaven. He didn’t need to die on that cross for His own benefit. He chose to go through an insane amount of torture, ridicule, and hurt to sacrifice Himself since we could never do that ourselves. Jesus loves each of us enough that He gave Himself to pay for the wrongs that we commit because He wants to know us, He wants us to know Him, and He wants us to spend forever in the love and glory of His Father with Him in Heaven. That’s a love of love for the pure sake of love.
Now, basically the lasting command that Jesus gave all of us before He went back to Heaven to chill with God was to love God and love one another. Okay, so He wants us to love one another? And He said that God is love so by Him we shall know what love is and how to love. Sounds simple enough, right? Apparently that just isn’t so.
We as humans complicate everything, I’ve found. You know, dogs have it figured out. They get excited when their human(s) comes home and they spend all day just trying to love those who they are around. Animals are smart — and simple. But humans, oh we are so complex. We complicate. We compare. We rationalize. We justify. We modify.
It’s come to my attention that there are two major different camps of Christians these days when it comes to “love” or “loving on people”: the Over-lookers and the Reprimanders. You may find yourself right now immediately pulling towards one and justifying yourself. Stop. Be simple. Admit, change, and find a balance. You may be sitting there and thinking “I’m more of a half-and-half kind of person.” Good! You should be. Balance is the simple essence of real love here.
First, let us take a gander at the Over-lookers. This camp of Christians is what many would consider the hippies, the hipsters, the overall “anything goes” kind-of people. They claim that to “love” others you have to overlook all the sin that bonds them, ignore it, and just accept them as is. These are the ones who are infamous about proclaiming the “judge not lest ye be judged” verse in any and all context. They also heavily rely on the “look at the speck in your own eye” scripture. You’ll know these people. The whole “oh, you abuse your children and you cheat on your spouse? That’s okay, we all sin. I love you!” bit is the same record over and over. That is, unless you disagree with them. If another Christian, perhaps, tries to talk to someone about the sin that person is struggling with, then the Over-lookers immediately deem said Christian as “judgmental” or “self-righteous.” The Over-lookers love everyone – unless you don’t agree with them. Then you’re bad and you need to change. If you aren’t like them or aren’t blindly accepting of their ways or words, you better be ready to be told that you are not a “real Christian” and you are bad for the Kingdom. Ahem. These are the same ones who will get angry at me (a Christian) for calling out something I see wrong with other Christians. Don’t get angry at me – I’m just calling it like I’ve seen it.
Let’s look at the other end of the spectrum now: the Reprimanders. This camp of Christians is often considered to be the older generations, but in fact, have many young people. These are often found hiding behind the justification of being a conservative. They claim that to “love” others you have to call them out on their sin and keep telling them what they are doing wrong so that they can repent and change. These are the ones who will be flaunting the “better an open reprimand than concealed love” verse as their lives’ mission statement. They will also claim that since they are only reprimanding out of love “and righteous judgment” then it is an act of Biblical love. The Reprimanders love to be “helpful” in showing others what needs improvement, yet often are upset if someone tries to do the same for them. Their “love” goes only as far as what they personally believe, and they will be the first ones to let you know – they always know everything about how a Christian should live. The Reprimanders are easily the ones to come off pushy. While the Over-lookers are more likely to lead Non-Believers to avoid repentance, the Reprimanders are more likely to offend Non-Believers to a point that they are off-put from Christianity as a whole. The Reprimanders will be the ones who argue that I must not know enough of the Bible to understand their ways, that I need to devote more time to studying the Bible. Oh, and I’m sure they would be telling me that I should be writing a lecture to those who are alcoholics, murderers, rapists, or those other “bad” people who need Jesus (more than they do, of course.
Maybe now you’re feeling a little convicted and instead of fuming in anger at me, you’ve decided to read on. Good for you! (Seriously, there is no sarcasm there.) If you can see how you are easily an Over-looker or without a doubt a Reprimander, don’t worry. I find myself in both camps in different situations, too. We’re imperfect people. We won’t ever be flawless at this whole love thing. But, and that is a turning point ‘but,’ we can try to be more balanced in order to have real love instead of synthetic version of Christianese love.
The best way I know how to put into words the balance between the anything-goes Overlookers and the everything is black and white Reprimanders is to take the words straight out of the Bible. Is that okay with you? Good, I hoped it would be. I had it feeling it might, but I thought I’d ask just in case. (Note: if you answered “no,” please stop reading in order to save your time.)
Okay, so we know that God is love. That’s a given. He is the source of love, the Creator, and the Teacher. That being said, let’s take a gander at:
Acts 17:30-31a (HCSB): “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent because He has set a day when He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed.”
Mark 12:30 (HCSB): “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
John 15:13 (HCSB): “No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (HCSB): “Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not conceited, does not act improperly, is not selfish, is not provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
The verse from Acts shows us something VERY important: the judge is God and no one else. In Mark we see that we are to love God first and foremost with all of our being and through that we can love others as much as ourselves. Would you sit and berate yourself for lying or would you repent to God and make every effort to not do so? Would you tell yourself that killing one person is okay because it was in the past? Would you convince yourself that despite no effort on your part to make amend or be sincerely repentant, your constant bitterness and jealousy towards so-and-so is okay? Treat your neighbor (who is everyone) like you would treat yourself. (Unless you treat yourself badly. If you treat yourself badly, we need to talk about something completely different.) In John Jesus not only calls us His friends (how cool!), but He tells us that sacrificing our lives for our friends is the greatest love. Chances are your sacrifice isn’t going to be death on a cross for your friends and neighbors. But if you are unwilling to sacrifice something as simple as your comfort zone for your friend, how can you say you love him/her? Finally in 1 Corinthians we see a full on description of how love is, what it does not do, and what it does. Replace “love” with your name. That should be your approach to each sinner, saved or not. You are to be patient. You are to be kind. You are not to be jealous, boastful, conceited, improper, or selfish. You are not to be provoked or to provoke. You are not to keep a list of wrong things that others do. You are to be joyful in the truth and not in unrighteousness. You are to bear all things. You are to believe all things. You are to hope all things. You are to endure all things.
So find that balance. Tell others the commands of Jesus, what God says the fruits of the Spirit should look like, and what the Bible says. Stating knowledge is not the same as trying to produce judgment based upon that knowledge. Make sure you know where the line should be drawn. You should always spread the knowledge of God and His commands, but you should never try to take His position as the Judge. Accept one each other as the sinners that we all are, knowing that we are each going to mess up, make mistakes, and ultimately disappoint at some point. At the same time, accept one another as the son or daughter that God made. Be patient with one another and gentle. Be careful to not fall into the snares of hypocrisy. It’s taken enough testimonies and degraded them – don’t be a victim (i.e. a hypocrite).
And finally, love. Just love. Seek God and ask Him to show you how to love His people. He will.
All of you – Over-lookers, Reprimanders, and everything in between – I love you, merely because Jesus loves you. And let me tell you, oh how Jesus loves YOU!