By Caleb Kaltenbach
Let’s be honest for a moment, Christians do not have the best track record in loving people. Especially, evangelical and conservative Christians don’t have the best track record in loving people who are different from us. We have issues with people who have different political ideologies, different theologies, or different preferences in sexuality than we do. Sometimes we do a better job of wounding others over our differences than we do in building them up.
Part of the problem is that we get trapped in the wrong thinking. We think that we are not supposed to love people who live in a way that is contrary to what God says. Atheists, abortion doctors, legalists, alcoholics, convicts, hypocrites, the sexually immoral, gossipers, and anyone who seems to be on the opposite end of any kind of spectrum from us – these are people we are fearful to get involved with because it seems so messy.
It’s a good thing Jesus didn’t decide that we were too messy to get involved with! The apostle Paul said, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). While we were still sinners…..
- Not when we had it all together
- Not when we were moral and clean-cut and smelled good
- Not when we started attending church
- Not when we started acting the way Christians act
- Not when we started wearing christian T-shirts, listening to Christian music, or otherwise participating in the Christian subculture.
- Not when we started believing.
Paul said that while we still sinners, God extended an offer of relationship toward us!
We need to express that same kind of love – a love that doesn’t wait for people to be perfect or get everything in order before beginning a friendship with us. It’s imperative that we have grace for people while they are still thinking, speaking, and acting in ways we might not agree with. And we need to overcome our own inner resistance to getting involved in a relationship with them. A real mark of spiritual maturity is how we treat someone who is different than us. People in the LGBT community aren’t a faceless enemy. They are real people who need to know that God loves them. Their lives are far from perfect. Sure. Just like ours. But unless we choose to get involved in their lives in a loving way, they may never know the Lord who loves them.
To see this connection, let’s turn our attention to 1 John 4:7-11:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
John gets harsh in this passage and says that if we don’t love other people, then we don’t really know who God is. It seems strange, but it’s true: a lot of people are sitting in church every single weekend thinking they are growing in their faith, yet they are weak because they are judging others and refusing to engage the people God wants them to.
Let me say this in another way: God paid a hefty price when he allowed his Son to be sent into the world to be tortured and killed. What does it say about our opinion of the cross, then, if we are not willing to go and tell people about the death Jesus dies for them – just because we don’t agree with them or they make us feel uncomfortable? What does it say about our opinion of the blood of Christ if we are willing to let it go to waste by not bragging on what God has done to save those who are lost?
The first recorded comment by Jesus about what he had in mind for his followers comes in Mark 1:17. The Lord said to the fishermen-brothers Simon and Andrew, “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.”
Fishing for people. Sounds rather charming, doesn’t it? Even relaxing. What could be so bad about netting souls for Jesus? Fishing is a neat, clean pastime, right?
Growing up in Missouri, I sometimes went fishing on a lake with some of my extended family and friends. I have always had a great time going fishing in the boat. It seemed to be all fun and no fuss – sit around with people I enjoyed, talk, bask in the weather, reel in a fish occasionally. What’s not to like?
Then one day I caught a fish and happened to mention somebody else cleaning it for me. I don’t remember how old I was, but apparently I was judged to be old enough to start taking responsibility as a fisherman. “You catch it, you clean it,” proclaimed a relative in the boat.
I had never cleaned a fish before, but I had seen it done and so I started to get cocky about it. I began to think cleaning my fish would be easy. It was not easy. Not easy at all.
I don’t know if the knife was dull or if I was just really unskillful at wielding it, but what ensued in our kitchen later that day was one ugly sight. It could have been staged for fir a B slasher film. By the end of the process, blood was all over the sink, blood was all over me, blood was on the floor. What was left of the carcass looked nothing like a fish. We cooked it and it was a great dinner, but boy, I got messy beforehand. There was no way around it.
You know where I’m going with this: if Jesus calls us to be fishers of people and to get involved in the lives of others, we’re going to get messy. Why? Because the grace of God is bigger than any of us is willing to admit.
People are messy.
Sacrifice is messy.
Talking about important issues is messy.
Helping others is messy.
Love is messy.
And that’s alright. We can pursue people for Christ anyway.
Can you think of a time when you were shown grace and love when you probably didn’t deserve it? What was that like? Was it overwhelming or difficult to embrace or were you relieved and gracious? Comment below and share with us how you remember feeling after receiving such a loving response.
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