It has come to my attention, and perhaps you have noticed this as well, that we, as Christians, have a reputation for being judgmental. We tend to place degrees on sins, as if we could rank them from most to least significant. We tend to add sins to the list of things God would not approve of, as if we know His thoughts and are able to determine His judgment. After all this, we then take our place as judges of all that is righteous and take it upon ourselves to determine who will and who will not be getting into heaven. That’s not quite enough for some of us, so we make certain that everyone knows what judgment we have passed and that God has so instructed us to spread the word. Now, I’m certain that none of you are like that, but perhaps you know some that are.
A lot of this judgment comes from the writings of Paul and so I want to share with you some things to think about as we read his letters. Paul’s letters can easily be divided into two categories, those written to groups and those written to individuals. Pick chapter 1 of any of Paul’s letters to the churches, from Romans through Thessalonians, before the end of the second verse, every single one of them is addressed to a church or group of churches. Each of them instructs the believers in that area to be forgiving, generous, and to follow Jesus. His letters to Timothy and Titus are about leadership and are addressed to specific leaders in specific situations. In his letter to Philemon he is specifically advocating to one person on behalf of another and we learn from this about grace and acceptance. Each letter has specific correction for issues among the believers in that time and place. Each of them has applications to us in our time. However, none of them gives instruction to use those teachings to judge non-believers, or even other believers. And yet, so often, that is exactly what we do.
So, as I consider how I relate to people around me, both Christians and not, I want to steer away from the teachings of Paul and lean more on the teachings of Jesus.
Jesus clearly taught that love was the most important thing we can give. He made clear that loving God is the most important commandment, but that loving others is a very close second. Jesus expects this of us, because He has already loved us:
John 3: 16-18 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
John 15: 12-14 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.
So, if Jesus did not come to condemn the world, why do we? If Jesus taught us to love, like He does, to the point of laying down our lives for others, why don’t we?
Jesus gave us a list of things we should do that go way beyond our behavior to our very thoughts and intentions. He was always focused on our hearts more than on our actions. Just to drive home the impossibility of the expectations, He commanded us to be perfect! Seriously? Perfect? Yes, just as “our Father in Heaven is perfect.” His point is that we can’t do it! We all fall short of God’s glory. Which is why Jesus taught that the only way to Heaven is through Him. We are not going to get there by our own behavior. Not one of us is good enough.
So here we are, not good enough! None of us! And we, way too often, have the attitude of, “I’m a sinner, but not as bad as that person, or that group.” Why do we insist on comparing ourselves to others, rather than comparing ourselves to Jesus?
Believers have always been persecuted to some degree for their beliefs, and it will always be so, but how much of the attitude others have towards us is our own responsibility? 70 some years ago Gandhi is attributed with saying something like: “I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I don’t know his exact words, but that certainly reflects that attitudes of many.
Don’t you think that, maybe, it’s time we did something about that? Don’t you think that, maybe, if we acted more like Jesus, and less judgmental, that we might repair some of the damage that has been done to the world in the name of Jesus?
What if, instead of listing off what sins would keep people out of Heaven, Phil Robertson, and a lot of the rest of us, answered more like this: “It’s not my place to judge what is or is not sin, I’ll leave that to God, but I know we have all sinned and we are all in need of a Savior. It is our sin that keeps us all out of Heaven and it is His grace alone that gets us in”?
For the past several years, I have been taking part in what is called “one word.” Rather than make a bunch of “resolutions” that I probably won’t keep, I choose one word to define my year. Last year my word was “kindness.” I’m not certain I am more kind than I was a year ago, but I think I may have had more kind moments.
I am hoping that I have been more effective in building relationships, at least more of the time. I hope that I can step it up a little more and improve more at building relationships this next year. I think that Jesus’ teachings are more about building relationships than about anything else.
What if our word this year, for all of us, was “love”? What if we love like Jesus did? Forget about changing the world! How would it change your community? How would it change your school or your work place? How would it change your family? How would it change you? How would we each change if we loved first, if our primary motivation was love… all the time?
I’ll leave you with another oft-misquoted Gandhi saying: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” What he really said, I think, is even better:
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”
Actually, Paul said the same thing when he said “if I have all this, but don’t have love, it profits me nothing.”
In fact, Jesus said it it too when He taught us to treat others the way we would like to be treated, and when He said, “love others the way I have loved you.”
Let’s all love others as Jesus loves us!
Truth be told, I want it said of me that I loved well.