There was a time when John 3:16 was (without question) the most well-known, quoted verse in scripture. It was so prevalent, it was almost cliché. We used to see it displayed on handmade signs at ballgames and scribbled on caps at graduation ceremonies. Signs outside of buildings displayed it proudly. Everyone had heard it; most had read it; lots could quote it.
Today, I doubt that verse still holds the crown, at least among non-Christians. I have no proof, but I expect the title for most-quoted verse belongs to Matthew 7:1 – “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
Though it is nearly always quoted out of context, and applied in way that puts it in conflict with other Scripture, that verse has become the signature verse, the spiritual mantra, of nearly every group that stands in opposition to the historic teachings of Christianity . It is sort of a battleground cry against the Church from groups that otherwise reject Scripture out of hand.
The worst part of this is that these groups don’t just try to justify themselves with Scripture – they also try to use Matthew 7:1 to paint the Church as Archie Bunker – a group of intolerant, angry, hard-headed, pompous, self-righteous hypocrites – and yes – sometimes we make it pretty easy. If that’s the picture they want to present, sometimes, we give them the paint.
But not always. Often, at least in this age, that image of the ultra-judgmental Christian is overblown. Sure, there are the exceptions, like these folks from Westboro Baptist Church. But have you ever wondered why we all know about them, and yet, few people in the world know about the Churches that are doing things the right way?
Westboro gets all the free publicity they want. Our Church has to fight to get people to pay attention. Why is that? It’s because this picture of the ultra-crazy-“I’m going to laugh as you go to Hell” kind of Christian is one that the world wants to see . . . so that they can feel good about rejecting it.
And because of that stereotype, the MAJORITY of Christians these days seem to take the other extreme – we just don’t say anything at all. Everything goes. We make sure to say, “Jesus loves you,” and we try to close our eyes to the other stuff. Apparently, love means never saying, “This is wrong.”
Now, think about that – is that what God wants? Does He define love as keeping quiet in the face of sin? If so, why does 1 Corinthians 13, which is known as “The Love Chapter” in Scripture, include this line in its definition of Agape love: Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
Notice, Paul says speaking the truth is a part of love – that love doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness; it rejoices in truth. So truth is part of love. Without truth, any expression of love is crippled. Love cannot rejoice in sin or unrighteousness. Love is all about what is right and true.
As Christians, part of loving our neighbors means being willing to speak tough truths. The trick is knowing when and how to do it.
After all, love DOES NOT mean using the Bible as an assault weapon, which is how some interpret this idea. But it does mean that as Christians, we must get over our fear of difficult truths. We must learn to speak the truth IN LOVE.
So how does this look? How can I speak truth without becoming a critical person? I’m glad you asked. The key is to learn when to speak and when to be silent.
At risk of oversimplifying things, I want to suggest that formula is found in a variation of one of the mantras of the Christian Church – On the majors, action; on the minors, acceptance; in all things, love.
Look for Part 2 of this blog in two days, where we will explore what that means.