We live in a rapidly communicating world. Even in the last three decades we’ve gone from the wonder of cordless phones to having entire computer and communication systems that fit in the palm of our hands.
The information streaming into our minds every second is staggering.
Some of it is wonderful, a true gift, but in other ways, it’s not so good. Because of this, as a Christian today, I feel like I’m faced with harder questions than my grandmother faced fifty years ago. After all, she didn’t have her entire life, including her mistakes, chronicled for the world to see. Nor was she faced with so many moral dilemmas and the question of how to respond in a scrutinizing public arena.
The more I think about it, the more I realize the same basic questions have always been around. Questions like, “As a Christian, how am I supposed to act toward people who are different from me? What am I supposed to say and do when I come up against moral dilemmas?” We live in a global society filled with people of differing backgrounds, religions (or no religion), races, and orientations.
Invariably all of us get into challenging situations where we don’t know what to do.
We often wonder, “How am I supposed to feel and act? How am I supposed to respond?
History is filled with people who got the answers and responses wrong—way wrong. My own past is full of moments where I’ve gotten it wrong. Even those times where I think I finally have gotten it right, I am often confronted with another way in which I’ve gotten it all wrong. I hope with each passing year I continue to grow and learn, and I pray that someday I will get it right, but every day offers new challenges.
Our world today is full of people getting it wrong, too. Social media feeds are full of fighting and hating. Other feeds feature people postulating what Jesus would do in this or that situation.
I am pretty sure we’re all getting it wrong because we aren’t Jesus, who is one with God, sinless, and eternally perfect.
How can we, with our imperfect hearts, presume to know what the One who can see into our souls and knows our deepest, most profound needs would do?
[Tweet “Perhaps the better question would be, What would Jesus want us to do?”]
Good news on that front! He already told us. And it’s totally simple/not simple.
What’s the main thing?
What were the two most important commandments Jesus gave?
“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart … soul … mind and … strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Jesus said all the commandments in the Old Testament Law are summed up by these two commands.
But, we sometimes think. I love all my neighbors, except that one guy. He’s horrible. Definitely enemy territory. I don’t have to love him, right?
Jesus answered that one too:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”
Jesus goes further in John 15:12 by saying, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” And again in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
That’s no small order. In fact, it’s terrifying. Loving others as Jesus loved us? Jesus lived a sinless life and then willingly died in our place! That, my friends, is impossible love, outside of Jesus.
This kind of love feels too big, too open, and too scary, so sometimes we justify our feelings toward certain people. We think, surely God doesn’t mean them. They hate us, they want to kill us, they do exactly what the Bible says we shouldn’t do, so we have a right to avoid them and perhaps even look down on them. Sometimes we go further, stepping into holy outrage at the sinfulness of them. We justify this by pointing out that Jesus got righteously angry while on earth. He even threw people out of the temple. In light of that, we should be allowed righteous anger too. Right?
No, I don’t think so. Here’s why:
Jesus did get angry at the money lenders for using His Father’s house (the temple) as a way to make money off the poor. But he’s Jesus, the creator and judge of this earth, the one who lived a perfect, holy, sinless life and who gave up his life so that we could be counted as blameless before God. What makes us think we have the same right to be angry as Jesus does? Or to judge anyone else?
Jesus doesn’t need our help being God.
In fact, Jesus made it pretty clear it’s not our place to judge. He said in Matthew 7:1-6, “Judge not, that you be not be judged.” Then he went on to ask: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Maybe instead of expending energy telling other people how we think they should live and about all the ways they’re sinful, maybe we should focus on the shape of our own hearts.
The Apostle Paul took this a step even further:
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
Let me say that again: We are told to consider others better than ourselves.
Does this get you in the gut the way it does me? It takes my breath away like I’ve been punched. I’m so guilty. How many times do we focus on what others do and don’t do? On what we don’t like or accept? On actions rather than the heart? And how much do we lose sight of love? When I do this, am I not putting myself in the position of God, assuming I can judge another’s heart?
Seriously, ouch! My heart breaks at all the times I’ve failed to love.
In light of this call to love, what about the standards we’re given in Scripture? There are a lot of do’s and don’ts in the Bible. Does loving others mean we get to ignore the holiness of God and do whatever we want? No. We are given grace when we mess up, but in as much as God is love, he is also holy. Just because he has forgiven us doesn’t mean we get a free pass to sin. God’s word is our truth and our compass. We are told to write it on our hearts. It is our standard for action and righteousness. In light of God’s love for us, we should want to live holy lives.
We are to keep our own hearts right before God, but we are not called to judge what’s happening in our neighbor’s heart.
We’ve got enough to worry about right here in our own selves.
God is truth. His word is truth. His Holy Spirit is the one who changes hearts. And none of us are God, nor are we our neighbor’s Holy Spirit. We are called to keep our hearts right with God and to keep his commands, but that doesn’t mean we are called to police everyone else to the same end. We all have a personal relationship with Jesus, a one-on-one relationship.
There are times we are called to speak the truth to others, but lest we forget… We are to speak the truth in love.
So I leave you with this as we deal with the world around us:
We are called to love, not to judge.
We are called to love, not to hate.
We are called to love, not to fear.
We are called to follow Jesus and to let him do the leading.
So, if you truly want to make an impact on the world, leave the judgment to God. Instead, love like Jesus loved. Radical love brings about radical change.
*All scripture quoted is ESV unless otherwise specified.