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.