Since my wife and I added children to our household 12 years ago, one of our biggest challenges has been trying to understand when to battle and when to back-off. Do you know what I mean by that statement? Every day, we literally face dozens of potential conflicts – moments when our “perfect children” are less than perfect. In those moments, our biggest challenge is deciding when and how to respond.
Some behaviors are irritating, but not dangerous. Others require immediate action. For instance, I can grit my teeth when my child gets in trouble in class for excessive talking, but if the note from the teacher uses the word “disrespect”, I must intervene. I can overlook a brother pestering his sister, but if one of my children mocks or bullies another child, I must correct them. A sullen teenager may try my patience, but if I ever suspect that drugs are involved, I take action.
I could continue the list, but you get the picture. We can let some behaviors slide, but some things carry such great importance and direction that we have no choice but to speak. Those moments of intervention may not be pleasant, or even appreciated by our children, but our love for them demands that we speak truth and correct their wayward direction, whether they like it or not.
Now, I said all of that to say this – in many ways, the Church faces a similar challenge as it chooses how to respond to the rapid changes in our culture. All around us, our neighbors wrestle with complex issues, ranging from devolving relationship “norms” (i.e. co-habitation; sexual boundaries; homosexual marriage) to health issues (abortion; stem cells; euthanasia), and including a broad spectrum of other topics, and the Church of Jesus Christ certainly has a voice in these debates. After all, these issues are wrapped up in questions of morality and values and ethics . . . and the lens of Scripture adds a dimension to those topics that most people instinctively ignore. But as the culture war rages, the Church finds itself frozen by indecision – emboldened, on one hand, by the TRUTH we have to offer, but hesitant, on the other, because of the response that Truth will arouse. We can’t seem to decide if the battles are worth fighting, and as a result, we have spent years standing silently on the sidelines, watching our neighbors sink deeper and deeper into the pit of immorality.
Over the past few weeks, with the so-called “Marriage Amendment” as the backdrop, I have been part of several conversations about the Church’s role in the culture war. At Pinedale, our Mission Statement declares that we exist, in part, “to impact the moral consciousness of society . . .” and we end that statement with this capper: “As Jesus Did”. In other words, our Church, like Churches all around us, want to shine a light into this dark culture; to illuminate both our Gracious, forgiving God, and the fallacy of life without Him. Nearly all Christians nod at that sentiment. The problem: we can’t seem to agree on how Jesus did it! We all agree that LOVE is the key, but confusion reigns on what that word even means.
Since so many of my Christians friends are engaged in this debate right now, I want to add to the discussion by pondering the word LOVE. How did Jesus model the concept of loving our neighbors? Is it really possible to love someone in the midst of “battle”?
Let’s start with the example of Christ. According to some of my Christian friends, Jesus demonstrated love by being completely non-confrontational and non-judgmental. He reserved his rebukes for the hypocritical among the Pharisees and Sadducees. With everyone else, my friends point to the meekness and mildness and universal acceptance that Jesus seemed to demonstrate. Upon meeting a promiscuous woman at the well, for example, He offered encouragement instead of correction. For the tax collector who regularly swindled those around him, He asked only for a dinner invitation. Nothing more. For the woman caught in adultery, He not only shrugged off the implications of her sin – He convinced her accusers to put down their rocks. In this view, following the example of Jesus means putting our arms around the guilty and loving them like crazy, and there is some merit to that argument . . .
The problem: that view of Jesus doesn’t paint the entire picture. Jesus certainly showed Grace to those whose sins separated them from society, (and Praise God for that!), but Jesus never IGNORED sin. Not once. His Love for people compelled Him to speak difficult truths. So, even as He showered attention and love on the woman at the well, He also exposed her sinful lifestyle. That couldn’t have been comfortable for her. He ate dinner with Zaccheaus, but somewhere in the conversation He called him to repentance. Remember, Zaccheaus responded to Jesus by giving back all of the money he had stolen, plus interest. He saved the life of the woman caught in adultery, and restored some of her dignity – but He sent her away with this command: “Go and sin no more.” He acknowledged the sin and pointed her in a different direction. Jesus’ love included Truth!
It occurs to me that, in our times, many people would have accused Jesus of being a “hater”. His reference to someone’s “sinful” lifestyle would be considered judgmental. His insistence on repentance would be labeled intolerant. His compassion would be applauded, as would His passion for social justice, but any teaching that went beyond Grace and comfort and the syrupy-sweet side of love would be condemned. That’s because our culture only embraces one part of God’s definition of love.
Go back and read 1 Corinthians 13, (also known as “The Love Chapter”), and you will find the forgotten component of love in verse 6. Right there, in the midst of his breathtaking description of Love as being patient and kind and meek and long-suffering, Paul offers this: Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Do you get that? Love is couched in Truth. It wants what is right and good, and insists that we turn from the evil that will harm us and follow God’s good way. That’s why Love sometimes means fighting difficult battles or taking unpopular stands. It’s why parents fight those important battles with their children. They love them and want the best for them. They have a long-term hope for health and future success, and through the lens of experience, they see things their kids can’t.
I argue that our role as Christians is no different. We are called to Love our neighbors, which means elevating them and honoring them and fighting for their best present and future. We want them to experience the Grace of a God who loves them so much, and to avoid those paths that lead to spiritual darkness. Here’s the kicker: through the lens of Scripture, we see things they don’t see, and we have the responsibility to share it!
That’s why the Church MUST find its voice in this culture. We must pray for discernment – that we will know which topics must be addressed, and which ones can be mostly ignored. For those important to the health and well-being of our neighbors, we must pray for the courage and boldness to stand up and speak . . . even when our words are unpopular.
Love rejoices in Truth. Jesus modeled both sides of that concept. It is time for us to follow His example.