Love is patient, love is kind, love is not a license to say anything you want

Yep, I’ve got another pet peeve. Last weekend I wrote about passing “Christian” judgment.

This week I’d like to talk about another favorite tool of the fundamentalist: so-called “Christian Love,” which, when it has the qualifier, often is anything but.Many fundamentalists belive that Christian love is a license to rip someone a new one any time they feel like it. They justify it to themselves by saying it’s their duty to point out their Christian brothers’ and sisters’ faults.

No one has ever shown me the verse that gives us that right. And that idea isn’t exactly compatible with Jesus’ command to get the log out of your own eye before worrying about the speck in someone else’s (Luke 6:41-42), or that he who is without sin should cast the first stone (John 8:7). (Note that in John 8, He Who Was Without Sin refrained from throwing any stones. He told her to cut it out and go home. He didn’t even tell her what to cut out. She knew full well.)

Let me tell you why I think “Christian love” is often anything but. Let’s refer to 1 Corinthians 13. I know you heard it at the last wedding you went to. But this chapter has a whole lot more to do with interpersonal relationships than it does with weddings.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

My pastor is fond of personalizing this. “Dave is patient, Dave is kind. Dave doesn’t boast and isn’t envious, and he isn’t proud or rude.” And he interjects “Tell me when to stop,” in there frequently, because he knows none of us can measure up to this chapter. The fact is, too often we aren’t patient, we aren’t kind, we boast like crazy, we burn with jealousy, we try to make ourselves look good… Need I go on?

So the next time you get the urge to chastise your Christian brother or sister, and you feel the need to sign, “In Christian love…” drop your pen, grab your Bible (don’t rely on your memory; it’s selective) and turn to 1 Corinthians 13. If what you’re writing isn’t patient or kind, then don’t sign it like that. If it’s a record of wrongs, you could be in for a world of hurt. See Matthew 18. The part of Matthew 18 that everyone likes to forget about, that is (verses 32-35):

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

“This is how [God] will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

Christianity isn’t a race. We don’t get extra floors on our mansions in Heaven for each sin we point out. We have nothing to prove. Max Lucado once pointed out the futility of this with an illustration: What if God changed the rules and said forget all that stuff in the Bible; all you have to do in order to be saved is jump to the moon on your own power. So get to it.

Well, it doesn’t matter if you’re Michael Jordan or if you’re Christopher Reeve. Michael Jordan might be able to jump 15 feet in the air if he tried. Christopher Reeve can’t jump at all. But when the goal is the moon, which is a quarter of a million miles away, Michael Jordan’s 15 feet is a rounding error. Who cares? Someone standing on the moon wouldn’t be able to see it!

I like the illustration in Matthew 25:34-40.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

There seem to be several points to this verse, but one of them is that we won’t know all of our good deeds. I wonder sometimes if the truly righteous don’t know any of them, and I wonder if, when God counts our good deeds–which don’t get you into heaven; remember, Isaiah 64:6 calls our good deeds “filthy rags” in the nice translation, and in the not-as-nice translations, it uses words closer to “soiled undergarments”–maybe when God counts up our good deeds, maybe only the ones we don’t know about are the only ones that count.

Because it sure seems to me those are the only ones we do without some ulterior motive.

So tear up that note. Skip that conversation. Read 1 Corinthians 13 out loud, substituting your name for “love,” and then read Romans 2 for good measure.

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

Kindness leads people to repentance. So what’s the best way to be kind? Start with love. How do you love? See 1 Corinthians 13.

It’s funny how the people who are best able to take those two passages to heart have the best, longest-lasting relationships. Non-Christians like those people too. It’s funny how non-Christians are impressed by kindness and forgiveness.

It must be because usually when they look for it in the places it’s supposed to be, they don’t find any.

6 thoughts on “Love is patient, love is kind, love is not a license to say anything you want

  • October 3, 2004 at 10:04 am
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    The following post is all about me. I apologize for that. Dave’s post above about Bible verses really hit me hard – the Bible has some truly beautiful language in it. The post caused some introspection on my part, and this is the result. You may not want to read any further than this.

    ====

    I’m not what I consider a Christian. I am not an atheist, nor am I agnostic. I want to believe in God but I find myself unable to — I’m still searching myself for what will turn that key for me. I will not attend a church if I do not fully believe what I practice — I feel it is a greater offense to commit lip service to God than it is to not attend at all.

    I’d rather be told the truth, no matter how hurtful, than to have someone lie to me to please me.

    Don Francisco has a lot of songs that I truly love. Primarily because I first heard them at a point in my life when everything was stable and normal. Things — my family, my life, my school, my health — all seemed to be normal. One of the songs — most of which I think are Christian hymns of one sort or another, to be honest — talks about "not being able to see beyond your mind." I imagine he means seeing with your heart — and that is the path to finding meaning in life. I live in a turtle shell. My life hasn’t been fantastic — it’s certainly turned out well, I believe — but during the process of my life I came to have a few select gifts:

    1) A great grasp of technology and its fundamentals and how they work. I retreated to technology often to hide from the warring figures in my life. Figures like Dave, Steve, Chuck, Charity, Stallion, Stormy, et al, from the local St. Louis BBS scene provided the stability I desperately needed while moving from home to home.

    2) The ability to self analyze and understand what I do to a great extent. This is not self deception — two psychiatrists and three psychologists have told me this. (I had one laughing so hard she was crying after talking about a particular day when I just decided to start making people do things themselves.) When I do something I do so with the full knowledge of why, who it hurts and helps, and what the ultimate price will be. This ability came from needing to survive. If you thrust a young person into a desperately different situation every day of his life he must come to understand his own abilities in order to maximize himself. New schools, new homes, new parents, new siblings.

    3) My wife and children. I don’t think I need to say anything more.

    4) The recognition that friendship is more than what most people think. I don’t believe most people have true friends — they have individuals they like to laugh with, sure, but friendship entails being there for someone. I acquaint friendship more with the idea of a "best friend." The one you run to when you need aid, who’ll stand by no matter how stupid you act, or whatever. I don’t know how to explain this one; I only know that when I call you a friend I will do anything I can to help you in any way, bar nothing.

    These things came with a price.

    1) I can no longer express myself in person. I can type this message here on a board and be perfectly fine with it, but face to face expression of feelings, emotions, and "deep thoughts" makes me red with embarassment, stutter, and all in all I come out looking like a jerk. This is a result of the immersion of my feelings into a computer screen early in life.

    2) The inability to realize and let loose feelings other than anger and laughter. I love my wife and children dearly, they are the best thing that ever happened to me — truly — but I can’t find a way to express that. I can scream at them in anger (don’t get me going on that) or I can laugh and play with them, but being affectionate.. seems impossible. My life has taught me that when you come to love someone and they know it, they leave you.

    Some examples: my Dad leaving me at age 9. My Mom leaving me and my sister alone at age 12. My parents dropping me off at the other’s doorstep because they didn’t pay child support and I was expensive (I’m diabetic). My girlfriend of two years in high school engaging in sexual relations with her "male friend" that she assured me was nothing more than that — my first "love", if you will.

    If they don’t leave you, ultimately, you leave them. I had moved over fifty times in the first 15 years of my life — before I was kicked out/moved out of my father’s house in a disagreement that left me homeless. A new school, new faces, new rules, new social etiquette, all of that… every day it seems.

    3) An inability to truly commit. I have so many dreams and desires, and I can do them, but I can’t find it in myself to commit to them. I want to believe in God but I won’t commit to a search for my own core of belief because I’m afraid there will not be anything there. I want to write a book – a method of escape for those who live lives like mine, a way out of the screaming and yelling that may be prevalent in their world – but I’m afraid that I will fail. I want to write a game, to show the world that games don’t have to be about blood and gore and violence to be fun – but I’m afraid I’m not smart enough.

    My father died four years ago. The falling out he and I had was over Christianity. He found and fell in love with a Christian woman, and became a practicing Christian once more. He came home one night and decreed that all of my abuses of privilege would end. See, when you live the life that I do there is ultimately only one person who ensures you go to school, you go to work, you do your homework, you stay out of jail, you do the right thing: me. From the time of my parents’ divorce at age 9 until I was 15 my life was plotted, determined, and driven by me and only me. That meant that a great deal of the things I did were not socially acceptable things for a child. I cursed (like a sailor, still do actually). I smoked. I stayed out till all hours of the night. I enjoyed the company of many women (yes, age 15, any participant in the BBS scenes back then would know what I mean I think). My father decreed that this would all stop, and laid down a set of rules that would be normal in any household in the United States, but not mine.

    I refused. A fight followed, and I left. This is a crucial point in my life because this is where my path diverges. What would have happened if I had stayed? What life would I be leading now? Would I have finished high school? Would I have gone to college and graduated? "Don’t look back in anger…"

    Instead I lived on the street for a few months until a friend of mine found me and offered me a place to stay. He gave me a place for several months, then my older sister – the one I’d been left alone with by my Mom when I was younger – said I could stay with her. Not only that, but she could get me a job. It was a fast food job, but a job nonetheless. I still carried my father’s work ethic within me — a job has always been important.

    Over a great deal of time the family healed and I even spoke to my Dad. The birth of my son marked that — it’s a healing moment for any relationship I think. But then it was too late — Dad had cancer.

    While I search for the ability to truly believe, I find myself looking back over my life and wondering. Every time I’ve come into contact with religion it’s ended in disaster; why is that? (I was a Mormon for five years when I was little – the running from the Mormon Church accounted for a great deal of the moves we did at the time.) Why is religion so full of complexity and politics?

    I don’t think it should be. ๐Ÿ™ Then again, I’m just being selfish. Maybe someday I’ll be able to make a determination and live my life to the fullest, without fear.

    ====

    Wow, that was long. Heh. >:)

  • October 3, 2004 at 12:09 pm
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    "If all Christians acted like Christ, the whole world would be Christian."
    Ghandi
    How about more Christ and less religion.

    • October 4, 2004 at 10:16 am
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      "more Christ and less religion" – I agree, strongly.

  • October 11, 2004 at 10:42 am
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    Great essay Dave, thanks. Reminds me of what I heard someone say about a similar bit of trite sounding nonsense that "fundamentalist" types haul out on a regular basis: "Love the sinner, but hate the sin"

    The response was that most of the folks who trot this out simply want to use the word "hate" and still feel clean afterwards…

    • October 11, 2004 at 1:05 pm
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      Thanks. I think you’re right.

      I have two questions for those who trot out that phrase. Do they put more effort into hating the sin or loving the sinner? And do they hate their own sin as much as they hate the sin they see in others?

      I remember about 20 years ago someone asked the pastor who baptized me what would have happened if Eve hadn’t sinned. Pastor Wegener said, "Well, if Eve hadn’t sinned, then someone else would have. And if no one else would have, then I would have." That’s something we all need to remember. If no one else would have committed the first sin, then we would have.

      • October 12, 2004 at 8:22 am
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        Dave, I hope you plan to continue posting Christian topics on a regular basis. While I may not always agree, I always enjoy your thought processes. You’ve also blown away my preconceived notions of what LCMS folks are like as well (just as “Real Live Preacher,” which I first read about here, has done for Baptists – well, at least some Baptists ๐Ÿ˜‰

        From a mainline Episcopalian, which in the Diocese of Dallas, makes me a flaming liberal…

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