Last week I released an article in response to Jen Hatmaker’s claim that homosexuality can be “holy” and emphasized therein that we must, as Christians, remain faithful to God’s Word and God’s Word alone and that, in order to truly love someone, that requires sharing God’s unchanging truth and standard with them. After all, love “does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). I stand by everything I wrote in that article 100% and unwaveringly believe in the huge importance of adhering to and embracing sound doctrine, in allowing God’s Word to speak for itself, in embracing the Word exactly as it is written, in the importance of Bible study and sharing the truths discovered through said study with others, and in allowing nothing but the Bible to shape and form our opinions and beliefs.
Having said that, however, I believe we need to likewise be sure that, in the midst of all our doctrine-sharing and truth-embracing, we be oh-so-careful to show love, grace, mercy, humility, compassion, and kindness to those with whom we may disagree. As addressed in last week’s article, there is indeed a false dichotomy growing in the Church today which states that in order to “love” someone, we must be ok with and approving of their actions. We have bought into the ridiculous lie of our culture which claims that if we disagree with someone or disapprove of their actions, this means we hate them. This is, of course, preposterous. But just as dangerous is the second false dichotomy found all-too-often in the Church today and that is that dichotomy which tells the watching world that we believe that in order to adhere to sound doctrine and unwaveringly believe God’s truth, that we therefore must be judgmental, harsh, and prideful when dealing with those with whom we disagree. Whether we intend to come across this way or not, we Christians oftentimes do. This is precisely why you hear the world claim such things as, “Those Christians are better known for what they are against than what they are for”, or “Christians can be some of the most hateful people I know,” or “All Christians ever do is judge others.” This, my sisters, ought not be so! This ought not be our reputation as Christ-followers. As Sally Clarkson so often says, Christians ought to be the most loving, the most kind, the most humble people there are! The Scriptures uphold this statement: “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” (Luke 7:47). As Christians, we have been forgiven and justified by the blood of Christ and washed clean of a myriad of awful sins. This fact, in turn, should spur us on to deeply love our fellow man – whether saved or not! – for they, too, are made in the image of God, are no worse than we are (when viewing their sin, always humbly remember the saying- but for the grace of God go I!), are likewise in need of the grace of God just as we are, and are loved by God Himself. After all, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35).
In the light of so much apostasy going on in the Church today, our common response can be to so staunchly reject falsehood and proclaim truth (both of which we should do, certainly), that we make the mistake of doing so out of a less-than-loving heart. Unfortunately, I get it. I’ve been there. I’ve been the judgmental, legalistic Pharisee in how I viewed others and their areas of falsehood, deception, or sin. But, praise be to God, He has been (and still is) bringing me out of that dark and un-Christlike place. Is there unwavering truth and crucial doctrine to which we must hold fast? Absolutely! You will never find me debating that fact. Ephesians 5:6 admonishes us to, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” Colossians 2:8 likewise says that we must “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” Sound doctrine is important because God’s glory and human souls are what are at stake. But it is likewise deeply important that said doctrine and unwavering adherence to truth always, always, always be paired with love, humility, grace, and mercy.
How Should We Then Treat Others?
I touched on this a bit in my article, The Most Important Thing for Christians to Remember This Election Year, but I believe it bears repeating in an article dedicated solely to this particular topic: speaking truth is not enough. Christian dogmatism is not enough. Staunchly and unwaveringly spouting off doctrine is not enough. If we want to reach the lost world for Christ, we need to act as Christ Himself did and as He has called us to likewise act. We can shout from the rooftops all day long about the evils of lying, cheating, fornicating, aborting babies, practicing homosexuality, stealing, and the like. We can spout out until we are blue in the face that unless you repent, you will burn in hell. All of those concepts are, in fact, true. But we do the cross of Christ and the Kingdom of God a great disservice when we go around “evangelizing” in such a manner. In such cases, we are doing nothing to encourage folks to turn to Christ. We are not showing them the love of Christ, we are not a picture for them of His grace, His forgiveness, His mercy. Yes, the lost need to know they must turn from their sins and repent in order to be saved and spend eternity in Heaven. Yes, they need to know that “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) and that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [Him]” (John 14:6). Of course. But, again, just spouting off doctrine from a judgmental, holier-than-thou, self-righteous, prideful posture and in a Pharisaical spirit does not lead others to repentance, nor does it please God. When dealing with others – whether your neighbor next door, a member of the LGBT community, the democrat or republican down the street, a person in your church with whom you disagree on some point of doctrine, or the raging atheist, we need to remember and heed the words and warning of Romans 2:4, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” It is God’s kindness that leads to our repentance – not His beating us over the head with His rules and standards and condemning us for what sinful disgraces we are. No, He loves us! He is an amazingly long-suffering, patient, slow-to-wrath, slow-to-anger God (Exodus 34:6, Psalm 86:15, 2 Peter 3:9, Joel 2:13, Isaiah 30:18). How much more ought we mere mortals and sinners be kind and compassionate when dealing with fellow sinners if even the Holy, Perfect, Sinless God of the universe can put up with them and show them patience, forbearance, and kindness!
To further illustrate how important the concept of “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) is to our Lord, consider with me the following passage:
“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,
‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: 2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent. 6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” ~Revelation 2:1-6
Our pastor preached a most enlightening sermon on this passage just a couple months ago. In this passage we see that the Ephesian church (the very same church Paul had encouraged to speak the truth in love!) was excellent at holding to truth and sound doctrine, that they were most diligent in exposing and rejecting false teaching, that they hated sinful deeds just as the Lord did, and that they were faithful to labor for the sake of Christ. Sounds like a pretty awesome church, right? One that we would want to be members of, right? What could the Lord possibly have against them? Why would He threaten to do something as serious as to snuff out their church if they did not repent? The problem was plain and simple: they had lost their first love. They had lost their love for God and their love for people. Their dedication to truth and sound doctrine was admirable and applaudable, to be sure, but it was not enough to please God and bring His blessing upon their church. They had become as the Pharisees – lovers of self, know-it-alls, and self-righteous in their vast knowledge of truth and doctrine (remember how knowledge has a tendency to puff up, but love edifies? – 1 Corinthians 8:1). There was no longer any love in them. And that – even though they were great proclaimers and defenders of truth – was enough for the Lord to want to snuff out their church if they did not repent and return to their loving ways of old. Is that not amazing? We so often think that the best thing we could do is to proclaim truth. But if we are doing so out of a self-righteous, prideful, Pharisaical, judgmental, rigid heart, then we are doing the cross of Christ a great disservice and we are warping the picture the world will have of our Lord. This passage is quite the sobering one, especially considering that a church to which so many verses were written (see the book of Ephesians) pertaining to being loving, speaking truth in love, etc., and who were known for their love for others (Eph. 1:15), had so fallen from that first love. Unfortunately, that is precisely what I see going on all-too-often among many American Christians right now. And it is time we get on our knees and repent. To repent of misrepresenting Christ to the masses. To repent of thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought (Romans 12:3). To repent of thinking ourselves better than anyone else. To repent of our condemnation of others, for it is not our place to condemn, but to humbly, lovingly, graciously point others to Christ and His Word out of a sincere heart of concern and compassion for their eternal wellbeing. For,
“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing…..And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:2, 13
The gift of prophecy, the understanding of all mysteries, the possession of all Biblical knowledge and accurate doctrine, all faith, etc. Pretty important things, right? Yes, but if we have not love to go along with them, we are nothing! And more than nothing, I would say we are, in fact, a hindrance to the very Gospel itself. Sobering, isn’t it?
Briefly consider with me these passages, as well:
“Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” ~Philippians 4:5
“Thus says the Lord:
‘Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
Let not the mighty man glory in his might,
Nor let the rich man glory in his riches;
24 But let him who glories glory in this,
That he understands and knows Me,
That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.
For in these I delight,” says the Lord.'” ~Jeremiah 9:23-24
“But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” ~2 Peter 1:5-8
“And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.'” ~ 1 Peter 4:8
“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” ~Galatians 5:13-15
“9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. 10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; 13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.” ~Romans 12:9-13
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” 1 John 4:7-16
“19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” ~James 1:19-20
“But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.” ~James 3:8-10
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…..but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—……do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27 nor give place to the devil. ….Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted,forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. ~Ephesians 4:1, 15, 26-27, 29-32
So, how do we know if we are, in fact, speaking the truth in love? What does that look like exactly? I propose that it is all about our hearts and our motives. When sharing God’s truth on some topic with someone, is it all about you beating them over the head with said truth, making yourself out to appear to be the sage and wise all-knowing beholder of truth and virtue, and wanting to come across as the ultimate standard so that they will see the gross error of their ways and fall at your feet groveling in repentance? Or is your sharing of truth all about your compassion and pity for that person, your desire to see that person restored to fellowship with their Creator and Savior (2 Corinthians 5:18-19), to see that precious soul redeemed, rescued, forgiven, and sanctified, that life restored and made new, that slate wiped clean, that person to be made into a brother or sister with whom you will share eternity, that person to grow in the knowledge and wisdom of God and the furtherance of that person’s path of sanctification? The answer to that question, when in conversation with someone over some issue of truth and doctrine, will determine whether you are merely speaking truth or if you are actually speaking truth in love, as we are expressly called to do.
What We Can Learn from the Father of the Prodigal Son
We are all probably pretty familiar with the Parable of the Prodigal Son, as found in Luke 15:11-32. A certain man had two sons, the younger of whom demanded he receive inheritance now and then, when his father granted his demand, proceeded to run off with said inheritance, squandering it in a lifestyle of sin and debauchery. He finally comes to himself eventually, realizes the error of his ways and travels back home, desiring to repent to his father. In verse 20, we read:
“20 “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.”
It’s a beautiful ending to the story, but I want to primarily focus on verse 20 for the sake of our topic today. You know, so often I hear Christians say things like, “Well, when so-and-so asks for forgiveness, then I will forgive him.” or acting out of the attitude of, “I want nothing to do with s0-and-so – they are living this kind or kind of sinful lifestyle.” This grieves me so deeply, for this attitude is not at all the spirit of our Lord, who dined with tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners of all types, nor is the statement of waiting until someone asks for forgiveness to forgive them and show them compassion and kindness, the attitude of the father in this story. Interestingly, we see in verse 20 that while the son was still a great way off – and therefore the father still had no way of knowing why the son had shown up, had no way of knowing whether the son was repentant and changed or still stuck in his sinful ways, the father saw him, had compassion for him, and ran to him, falling on his neck and kissing him. Whether or not the son was yet repentant or still a lost vile sinner, the father nevertheless was simply so, so glad to see his wayward son. His father heart was filled to the brim with love and compassion, overjoyed at merely the sight of his long-lost prodigal whom he had not laid eyes on in so long and thought perhaps dead. This is so profound! It flies in the face of the Pharisaical, judgmental spirit found in the hearts of some Christians these days (including myself at times!), that spirit which demands repentance and a seeking of forgiveness before it is willing to extend love and kindness and compassion to someone. How very backwards that haughty spirit is, for again, it is God’s kindness which leads to repentance in the first place!
How often do we turn up our noses at prodigals? How often do we look even at a brother or sister in Christ in our own churches and think, “Good grief, I can’t believe they hold to this idea or that idea! What is wrong with them?? If only they knew what I know!” How often do we see someone who is clearly a member of the LGBT community walking down the street and, rather than mourn for their lost souls and feel our hearts filled with love and compassion and concern and mercy for them and seek to speak a kind word to them, instead think, “Oh, it’s one of those” and turn and walk on the opposite side of the street, as if somehow walking near them might contaminate us in some way? Oh, Lord, have mercy on our sinful, prideful, wayward hearts! May we remember how You treated the sinners with whom You came into contact. Yes, you told them to go and sin no more. Yes, you were unwavering in your standards. Of course. But you deeply, deeply loved them. You did not condemn them (John 3:17). You did not judge them (John 8:15). You saved them. You showed them mercy, grace, and forgiveness. You redeemed and sanctified their souls. You showed them compassion and kindness when everyone else wanted nothing to do with them and when the Pharisees were all saying, “Thank the Lord that I’m not like those sinners!” (Luke 18:11). May we remember that you were nothing but gentle, kind, and merciful with sinners and that you instead reserved your harsh words and your attacks for the self-righteous, prideful, judgey, condemning, holier-than-thou scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 12:34, 38-42, Matthew 5:20, Mark 8:14-21, Matthew 22:1-36, Mark 12:38-40, Luke 20:45-47, Luke 11:37-52, Luke 18:9-14, etc.) and may the implications of that fact seep down into our very souls until our entire outlook and treatment of others is forever changed more into the likeness of Yours. May we remember that we are not the standard; You are. We are not sinless and perfect; You are. We sin daily; You never do. And yet you readily show mercy, grace, love, forbearance, and kindness with sinners everywhere. May we walk in that same spirit! May we be humble in our thoughts towards fellow sinners, realizing that they are just that – fellow sinners. That we are no better than they are, that but for Your grace, we would be just like them, that even now in our saved state, we still daily struggle with sin in our hearts and lives, and that, they too, are fellow image bearers of You. Help us to go forth in love, kindness, and compassion and view everyone with whom we come into contact with love, concern, pity, and grace. And, all the while, in so doing, may we consistently be faithful ambassadors for You (2 Corinthians 5:20) and point others to Your saving grace. Amen.
May God bless you as you seek to live more and more like Him!
Until next week,
*For more on this important topic, please refer to the excellent article, “Now What??? A Christian Response to a Trump Presidency” Here is a small excerpt:
All eyes are on us, the Church. What will we do now?
I hope as followers of Jesus we show them that we are more than pro-Trump and anti-Trump.
How do we do that?
We look the transgender barista in the eyes and ask them about their day. They need to know they are seen and that they matter – regardless of how we feel about their sexual decisions.
We invite the neighborhood over for dinner – with all their colors, religions and sexual identities. Love is not conditional nor always comfortable.
We learn to hold on to what we believe in a way that opens doors and doesn’t shut them in others faces. I’m not ashamed about what I believe the Bible says. I think we can be clear and kind at the same time.
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