When it comes to our relationships with a world that does not acknowledge Jesus as Lord, I fear that we do not always resemble our Savior.
Sometimes we, as a Christian body, are offended by the ways of the world around us.
Yet does it go deeper than that? Yes, we should be dismayed by the sin and its consequences ~ but should our eyes be more on the sin than the souls captured in it? Are our hearts truly grieving for our culture? Do we see the people instead of the problems?
We can be indignant and raise our voices and boycott and tweet in all caps ~ but what are our words really saying to the souls in this world who are still bound by sin? When we want to declare our rights to express our faith ~ shout from the rooftops what is wrong with this world and debate with anyone who disagrees ~ are we doing it to glorify God?
I fear that we sometimes justify anger, self-righteousness, and fear as ‘righteous indignation’. When we feel these things, it is probably the time to stop and pray ~ because our Father is the Holy One, the only Judge, who knows the intentions of our hearts. And He is the one who can help us to be angry without sin. He is the one who can transform our frustrations over injustice and our anger with the destruction of sin into words, actions, and prayers that bring light into the dark places.
I think that ~ sometimes ~ we forget that the very people we are condemning and pushing away with our ‘righteous’ indignation are the very people who need us… because they need Him. They need His light to shine through us!
If we are too busy being appalled by the sinful nature (that used to control us!) to love others in spite of the way they might behave or treat us… then we have forgotten that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Paul says this in Ephesians 2: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions ~ it is by grace you have been saved.
The words of Jesus remind me, too, that we cannot expect holiness from those not yet redeemed by the work of Jesus: It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. (Mark 2:17)
Why do we expect the world to approve of and change for our faith? Weren’t we, too, once far from Him? Simply ~ we cannot expect righteousness and an understanding from those who are still alienated from God.
We spend a lot of time defending our position and theology to a world that does not yet have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Is engaging in this kind of debate wise? Paul advises this to his friend, Titus ~ But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless! (Titus 3:9)
James gave us this wisdom: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires…Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless… With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.
Instead of trying to convince with facts and persuade with logic ~ shouldn’t we be imploring on God’s behalf ~ be reconciled to God? The Holy Spirit was sent into this world to convict of sin and the Father draws people to Jesus. We cannot convince anyone of their need of salvation in our own power ~ there is a supernatural beckoning… there is a Good Shepherd going out from His flock to find the lost sheep. What we can do, through His power, is this: live with hearts as letters from Christ, lives written on by the Holy Spirit. We can live holy lives that are different from the world around us ~ peaceful, generous, loving one another ~ and won’t our good works shine before men, so that our Father in heaven is glorified? (from Matthew 5)
Christ did not come into this world to condemn the lost (John 3:17) ~ and neither should we.
Yet the end of John 3:17 is this ~ He came so that the world might be saved through Him.
If we are to be like Him, we will not condemn sinners ~ but we will not condone sin.
Jesus offered Himself so the sin could be forgiven. He offered Himself so that a heart could be set free. He offered Himself so that the people He loved could be changed by the power of His blood and the Holy Spirit.
Following His example, I believe that peacemaking means offering ourselves in intercession. I believe it means understanding that the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers. (2 Corinthians 4:4) I believe it is living a life without grumbling so that ‘we will shine like stars in the sky as we hold firmly to the word of life’. I believe it is showing through our actions that we love ~ wholly, fully, giving all! ~ because He first loved us in exactly that way. (1 John 4:19) I believe it means understanding that God reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation… and we are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5:18~21)
Peter tells us that we should always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. When we speak out for what is right and true, our voices should sound like His. Our reactions and our words should sound like His. We should be the huios-kind-of-children so that eyes on us will mean seeing a representation, a reflection, of the Father.
I’ve said this before, but I think it’s a good time to remember it again ~ it is not love to ignore sin. It is not love to stay silent when we know that sin leads to destruction. If someone is captive and in darkness, we speak this truth in love ~ there is a Prince of Peace who is Hope, Freedom, and Salvation. We live as His ambassadors, His witnesses ~ and then we trust the Holy Spirit to draw that person to Christ. We trust Jesus to do the redemption work only He can accomplish.
Don’t you love the times in the Gospels when Jesus takes everyone by surprise? I love it when Jesus calls Zacchaeus down from that tree and invites Himself over to dinner. I love it when He re-directs the attention from the woman caught in adultery to those who did the ‘catching’. I love it when He tells the story of a father running toward his prodigal son, arms open to welcome him home.
Because that was me ~ I have been the one daring only a peek at Him through my shame, I have been the one caught in doing wrong, I have been the ungrateful, self-serving child.
And He took me by surprise with His love. His compassion changed me. His grace was the astounding, beautiful miracle that brought me into His presence. I was welcomed and redeemed.
Jesus told us this: Freely you have received; freely give. (Matthew 10:8)
We should be compelled to give because of Christ’s love… because He died for us… and because He died for all. (from 2 Corinthians 5)
What would happen if the Body of Christ, in the unity we’ve been talking about, began to pray on behalf of those in need of redemption? What if we began to freely give like we have been given? What if we began to respond to hatred with love, to insults with grace, and with mercy in the aftermath of mistakes? What if we began to be known as a people of generosity, a church of compassion, a Body who will comfort the hurting and provide for those in need?
What if, in a world full of rage ~ full of noise ~ full of voices demanding their own way ~ we could become a people of peacemakers, letting His still and small voice speak through us?
Maybe choosing to end hostilities, choosing meekness, choosing kindness ~ maybe it doesn’t seem like it would work. Maybe it seems illogical in the face of a loud, frustrated world.
But it’s what He’s called us to choose.
Can’t we trust Him to do His work in this world when we follow Him in obedience?
What if we humble ourselves and our ‘rights’ are brushed aside? What if we are taken advantage of and mistreated?
It is how we handle those wrongs that will speak volumes. If we are like Jesus, what is the response? He gives us clear direction in Matthew 5:
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.
I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
When it comes to matters of standing firm for the Gospel’s sake ~ then we must stand in His love, unafraid to bear His name ~ but remembering what His name means and everything He taught us. I believe we must prayerfully follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in these circumstances ~ we must be, as Jesus said, wise as serpents and harmless as doves. (Matthew 10:16) When it comes to sin and holiness, truth and lies, life and death ~ we are compelled to hold our ground and contend for the faith… because we love others and want them to see Christ in us! We must still be peacemakers ~ even while we cannot agree with the world… even when we are hated or persecuted for His name’s sake.
We must remember that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the spiritual realms… so For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (Ephesians 6:12, 2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
Paul talks about the armor we must wear to fight this battle ~ is it any surprise that our feet ~ feet that must go out into the world to make disciples ~ should go wearing the readiness that comes from this gospel of peace?
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving… peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. ~ James 3:17-18
He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2:17-18)
Jesus loved the tax collectors and the sinners. He loved the thieves and the liars, the prostitutes and the self-absorbed. He loved the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the prisoners and the slaves. He loved the Jews and the Gentiles, the Pharisees and the fishermen. He loved me. He loved you.
He invited us to His table, He healed our sicknesses, He touched our eyes and gave us sight. He fed the hungry.
He loved us and gave Himself for us, so that we could find ourselves forgiven children of the Father.
May we examine our lives and ask for His guidance, because we know the One who bore the punishment to bring the peace this world desperately needs.
May we be taught by His Spirit to become like Him, to become peacemakers in His name.