The number 1 rule of Christianity (part 2)
There will never be a shortage of evil people waving the banner of Christianity. History is full of examples.
We can only really control how the outside non-Christian world sees Christianity by showing them Jesus in ourselves. It is not our job to point to sin, but rather to show people Jesus in ourselves. So what are the Christian leaders of today doing?
This article is part 2 of a 2-part series. If you haven’t already, please be sure and read part 1 first.
The struggle within Christianity, as demonstrated by the Scriptures I mentioned last week regarding false prophets and false teachers, is to be able to recognize them ourselves. Jesus and His teachers warned of the wolves in sheep’s clothing and we must be careful not to accept just anyone as a person of God simply because they identify themselves as such.
If these wolves in sheep's clothing are challenging and dangerous to Christians, how much more so are they to the world outside? Is it any wonder people feel so justified in rejecting the church (with a little 'c')?
So many people within Christianity are convinced about what people should not do. They condemn Jews, homosexuals, Muslims, atheists, women who have sought abortions, and unwed mothers.
Ironically, if they themselves would practice what Jesus commanded and love their neighbors – including the aforementioned – then the world would see Christ in us (rather than the hate in us) and it is only He who can change hearts.
When we hear of Christians in the media who victimize or condemn members of their family, or people inside or outside of their church, we must ask ourselves what we must ask ourselves regarding everyone who claims to speak for God; “is this person saying what he is saying out of love for God, AND (as important as the first) love for his neighbor?”
Try this exercise at home:
“the sins of New Orleans caused Hurricane Katrina”
Love for God? – perhaps a misguided one
Love for neighbor? – hardly
“because the military allows homosexuals, our soldiers are coming home in body bags”
Love for God? – don’t see how
Love for neighbor? – forget about it
“if you are a homosexual (unwed, Jew, Muslim, had an abortion, haven’t been baptized, etc.) then you are going to hell”
Love for God? – not even close
Love for neighbor? – miss me with that!
Too often, the message I’d received from fellow church-goers and many religious teachers in my first weeks as a Christian was who was or wasn’t doing wrong, who was or wasn’t going to heaven, and who was or wasn’t going to hell.
Jesus did not instruct us to point out these people and condemn them… He instructed us to love these people instead.
I mean, can you imagine Jesus holding up a hate-filled picket sign condemning a woman on her way into an abortion clinic?
So when people see that being called Christianity, do you think they are seeing Jesus?
Do you think Paul would have ever blown up an abortion clinic? Can you see John picketing at the funeral of a fallen soldier saying it’s God’s way of punishing the military for allowing homosexuals? Would Jesus picket near a gay-pride parade?
None of those things adhere to His instructions. None of His examples to us give us any reason to think it is what we are to do in His name.
Sure, the Bible instructs us to have faith, seek knowledge, use the gifts that God gave us to further His kingdom, and be charitable. In and of themselves, however, without first having love, these things will not please God.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing…So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, 13)
And yes, God did lay down laws regarding sin in the early formation of the Jewish nation.
He did impose penalties of ex-communication or even death for spiritual and sexual impurity, and He did have the Jewish people impose God’s judgment on neighboring peoples through military actions sometimes bordering on (if not outright) genocidal. Lest we forget that this is the same God that had wiped out the entire human race with the flood (for the same reasons) and started over.
Bill Cosby used to have a famous line he would use on his children: “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.”
I do not presume to understand all of God’s motivations, but some of them can be gleaned through a thorough reading of the Bible.
When Jesus came along, He showed us what Christianity was supposed to look like. He reached out to, and communed with, ritually unclean lepers as well as the sinners of the time; followers of other religions, and – by implication – worshipers of other gods.
He spent His time with sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors (who were understood, culturally, to be on the take for themselves while they imposed Roman taxes on Jewish people).
He didn’t say, “off with all of their heads.”
Jesus did not say that who they had been and what they were doing were okay with Him either. He said that who they had been and what they were doing were not beyond His ability to forgive them.
He let them know that no matter the state they were in now, He could still love them. He could still redeem them. And with that love, He changed them.
He dined with them, He touched them, He healed them, He loved them. Then He turned to us and told us that if we love the least of these [people] then we are loving Him. This commandment is like the first.
“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:40)
He told us to forget the “eye for an eye” stuff and turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-39).
When the religious leaders brought Jesus a woman caught in adultery and asked Him how to “properly” deal with her, He didn’t quote the Book of Leviticus and tell them to stone her. He told them that anyone can stone her that is himself without sin. They all threw down their stones and left.
Jesus looked at the woman and said:
“Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” John 8:11
Jesus did not hold up a picket sign that said, you are going to hell for sleeping with that married man. He loved her. He forgave her. And… He changed her.
This is not a posture of let everyone do what they want. This is a posture of love everyone, no matter what they do because it is only the love of Jesus that can change a heart, not the hate of mankind.
This is the new commandment Jesus spoke of:
“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. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
So while we are at it, we should love and pray for the religious leaders of our time who condemn Jews, homosexuals, and fill-in-the-blank. Let’s not just add another picket sign.
This completes a cycle that is clearly consistent in the Bible. The Old Testament makes it clear that we cannot save ourselves and that God would send a Savior (Zechariah 9:9).
God loves us so much that He gave His Son to be that Savior (John 3:16).
Now we, being saved, are to love God back and love one another (Matthew 22:37-40), and show each other the love of Jesus, so that He can change us and those around us. That is Christianity.
Our hate never changed anybody.
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Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.