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« Topics at the Watercooler: Stories that Scarred Us for Life | Main | Daily roundup »

February 25, 2008

If You’ve Done It Unto the Least of These…

She was caught between two worlds: the realm of her loving mother, and that of her legalistic father and step-mom. One parent had turned her back on the Church, while the other spewed Scripture like a broken sewer pipe. The appealing worldview understood the meaning of forgiveness, while clearly ignoring the call to holiness and morality.

She came to me, her Resident Assistant, for counsel and advice. She was afraid of being shunned and judged by the overly legalistic in our circle. So what was I to tell her? That her mom was wrong? You can’t expect anyone to turn their back on seeming unconditional love; that’s oxygen to any soul. But what of the hypocrisy of those who claimed to know Christ in her life?

This has caused me to ask, what does a true follower of Christ look like? Is it simply walking a line of morality that sets us apart from the world? What is supposed to set us apart?

I believe the answer to that is as old as time itself -- love. The Church is the only place where people can and should be able to be truly and deeply unified. We must recognize that not one of us is holy (1 Samuel 2:2). We are all sinners in need of a righteous God. While we ought to pursue righteousness and morality, and abide by the standards of God, there is room for grace -- much grace. And when in doubt between judgment and grace, I believe grace wins out. For each man will stand before His master and give an account (Romans 14:4, 12), but love is something that we can share, and are called to share, with the world.

I think this is extremely critical for Christians to understand and practice. The one thing we have to offer different from the world is true, unconditional love, love that is not dependent on how one performs. Love that is aware of the holiness of God, and yet aware of how fallen we ourselves are And I'm not talking about religious "good deeds," but genuine care. Taking time out to serve those around us in need, giving our time and money. What else speaks more loudly of the Kingdom of God?

That’s what the young women coming into our local pregnancy center looking for an abortion are desperately in need of. That’s what my sarcastic professor needs, when he makes biting comments about a tragic death in his family. What I’m most aware of is a desperate need for love and a horrendous lack of experiencing the grace of Christ through Christians.

This is not to accuse or point fingers, but Christians have a tendency to push away those who most desperately need to hear about the grace of the cross. Let that not be the way we are marked. But let us be marked by our reflection of the Saviour, who chose to abide with the filthy and unrighteous tax collectors and prostitutes, because He came for the sick, not the well (Matthew 9:12). As my pastor reminded us on Sunday, the Church’s responsibility is to live in a way that exhibits to the world that God is real. Are we living like that?

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Comments

Rolley Haggard

“What does a true follower of Christ look like?”

Christ held up a “non-Christian” (the Good Samaritan) as an example of what a Christian is supposed to look like. Would that I, in my Christianity, looked like that Samaritan in his non-Christianity.

Christ also indicated that the thing that will separate sheep from goats is not what we believe but how we treat people. (Matthew 25:31ff)

So I would piggy-back on your question and add, “what does true Christianity look like?” James gave us an answer worth mulling: “Pure religion…is this: To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction.” (1:27)

But Angelise, I believe you (and the apostle Paul by the way) said it even better, in a single word: “love”. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Galatians 5:14)

Brian

I just read this post (not sure how I missed it before) and want to say: Thank you. It is both a beautiful reminder of what is best about our community and a gentle nudge to always keep our eyes on Christ in an effort to do better.

I'm surprised such a weighty post has only received one comment. In any case, I appreciate the thought that went in to it and will do my best to ask "Am I living like that?" each day.

LeeQuod

This weekend I heard a sermon that stressed that the Greek word "agape" refers to welcoming someone into your home and dining with them. (It's especially poignant if you've ever eaten in the intimate Middle Eastern way, where everybody had better have washed their hands and not be ill.) I thought about right-wing culture warriors having coffee with left-wing activists, and vice-versa. And I raked myself over the coals.

But at the risk of dragging poor dear Angelise into a typical Point set-to rather early in her blogging career, I'll ask both Rolley and Brian what I should do in love when I see someone injuring someone else. And I'll leave the term "injuring" deliberately vague.

Because I want to be like Jesus, I'm thinking of purchasing a cat-o-nine-tails to take with me on Sundays, just in case it would come in handy. (John 2:15-16) It'd be the loving thing to do, right?

My point is that we in the West get confused, thinking love is primarily an emotion - and an often treacly one at that. Instead, I'm beginning to think that love as Jesus practiced it and wants us to practice it is instead an action - sometimes bold and shocking, and possibly even harsh. I've been in situations where no one dared be honest because "it isn't loving to say things like that"; they're not "agape" situations by any means.

So I think we can live in a way that shows God is real (as Angelise quoted) without being maudlin or merely sentimental. Love puts Matthew the tax collector and Simon the Zealot on the same team, and expects them to "agape" each other with open arms in spite of their differences. I don't have to compromise my principles to "agape" someone. Man - if I could pull that off on a regular basis, even atheists would be stunned into saying "There is a God!"

Rolley Haggard

LeeQuod,

It always bothered me to hear colleagues speak of the “balance” between love and holiness. I know what they mean, but the longer I live the more it seems to me that a right understanding of love (“the sum of all virtues”) sees holiness – including holy wrath against those whose thoughts, words, and actions are injurious to others – not as a contrast to love, but as the fruit of love. Thus, if I see someone injuring someone else, I’m going to do every lawful thing I can to rescue the victim because “love does no wrong to a neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). My failure to come to the aid of the victim would be unloving because passivity is tacit approval. The fact that the perpetrator might get more than just his sensibilities hurt by me riding in on a white horse is not signification that I do not love (agape) even the perpetrator. It is rather proof that “love is as strong as death” (Song 8:6), and will do whatever it takes for the sake of those whose lives are in jeopardy. It is upon this principle – love – that the doctrine of “just war” is founded. You may recall the following excerpt from Chuck Colson’s 3/6/2002 BreakPoint titled, “Loving Your Neighbor”:

“A critical principle of just war is "rightintentions." Wars that are fought to take what doesn't belong to us or expand our borders or for revenge are unjust wars. But war can be fought with good intentions.

As Darrell Cole, a professor at William & Mary, argued in a recent issue of FIRST THINGS, the failure to fight a just war may be a failure to love. He wrote: "We . . . fight just wars because they're acts of charity. [Fighting just wars] . . . is something Christians ought to do out of love for God and neighbor . . .”

What makes a just war an act of love? It brings justice, restrains evildoers, and promotes the peace and well-being of the community. In the case of the War on Terrorism, our soldiers fight to promote the peace and well-being of the entire world. Ridding the world of terror -- by just means -- is a good and loving act.

This has always been the understanding behind Just War. Thomas Aquinas in the SUMMA THEOLOGICA puts his discussion of just war in his chapter on charity, the
love of God and neighbor. Aquinas applauded those who wielded the sword in protection of the community. And, regarding retaliation, Aquinas wrote that "retaliation should be sought out of the love of justice."

John Calvin agreed with Aquinas. He called the soldier an "agent of God's love," and he called soldiering justly a "God-like act." Why? Because "restraining evil out of love for neighbor" is an imitation of God's restraining evil out of love for His creatures.

A world where Christians refused to fight just wars wouldn't be peaceful, and it certainly wouldn't be a more just world. It would be a world where evil would be unchecked by justice and where the strong would be free to prey on the weak.

Fighting just wars when necessary, like the present war on terrorism, takes sin seriously and provides -- strange as it may sound -- a loving response.”

*

I’m extravagantly committed to the preeminence of love. But, if I were a bumper sticker kind of guy, I could also put this on my car and feel no contradiction: “Capital punishment should be banned – just as soon as capital crimes cease.”

I'd like to think that I love all people, whether it’s a mugger or a sick and reprehensible cold-blooded murderer on death row. But I do neither any favors by minimizing the enormity of their crimes. They need to come to terms with their sin before it is too late and they face the Judge. It is part of the perversity of life in this fallen world that there is a time (and occasion) for everything under heaven: a time to kill (as well as) a time to heal (Eccl 3:3).

Brian

I hate to nitpick but Scripture does not depict Jesus's actions in John 2:15-16 but rather as "zealous" and never does he advocate that we take such actions. I've asked here before other instances of "violent responses" in the Gospels and if I remember correctly, there were none.

With that out of the way:

I believe God would want Christians to intervene when other's are injured. 1 John 3:18 advises us to "not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth." We are told that "they will know you by your love for me."

I imagine, then, that we have an obligation to step up for others much as Christ routinely stood up for others and continues to be our advocate today.

What does that injunction look like? I'm not positive. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. He could have overturned the guards or even destroyed sinners, but rather he boar the brunt of the attack. He was crucified that we might be spared. One of the (Presbyterian) pastors at my (RCA) church recently said that "we are called to stand in the way of the crucifying forces of the world."

Does that mean helping a community member get out of an abusive relationship and setup by himself/herself? Does it mean standing up for the gay kid who is being bullied in school? Or the Christian being harassed by a science teacher? Does it mean it mean taking away your friend's keys if he or she is intoxicated, but also going out to lunch with him or her the next day to talk about it? Does it mean wrestling a gunman to the ground, even that means getting fatally injured? I imagine it means some of those things.

I think you're absolutely right, Lee: Christian love is a love of action. Too often we settle for "I'm going to do this, BUT 'I love you.'"

1 John 3:18 tells us, if I may paraphrase, that words are empty expressions of love... only in action can we truly love one another. What do you think?

Angelise Anderson

I appreciate all the comments. Just a quick clarification. I wrote this post because I have had the tendancy in the past of being overly zealous, in the line with the Pharisees in understanding the ins and outs of the law, while failing to live out the faith, and loving those that need care. Too often I have judged those who come into the church, not looking like "church" people without first taking the time to find out what was going on and why they appeared as they did. I find that we, as a church, push too many people away from the faith, by failing to love them. I have talked to too many struggling teenagers, professors, and friends, who want to turn their back on Christ, because they have not experienced his grace through the church. Not grace for them to continue in sin, but grace in walking humbly beside them. They have felt judged and rejected.

I did not wish to speak of emotional feely love. In fact, I had to edit some clarification out of my post, because it was too long. Instead, the active ability to love, serve in prisons, minister at pregnancy centers, love people who need to recognize that people in the Body of Christ serve without expecting anything in return. This is what the world needs and the Church often lacks.

No we are not to serve the god of tolerance. And yet, we too often, use that as our excuse to not love. That is my concern, because I find myself in that position often. And talking with this young women in my post reminded me that learning about people's stories openes your eyes, reminds you of your own desperate need for a Savior, and stops me mid-tracks of my judgment to realize that I need to learn to see myself as a sinner, and this person desperately needs to be reminded of the care of the Body of Christ.

President Mark Early's personal testimony, which is coming out in printed form in March's BP worldview magazine, covers my concerns with wonderful examples, reminding us that God uses changes peoples lives like Paul and Rahab--and I wanted to highlight it ahead of time. I merely wanted to point out that as Christians, it's easier for us to be judgmental, and learning to serve, care, and remember the we ourselves were once sinners.

Thank you for all your helpful comments. And have a blessed weekend.

Brian

Yup! I agree with both your post and your follow-up wholeheartedly. I'm not really sure how I got sucked into explaining myself, but hopefully I was consistent with your intention.

CLH

Clarification on Angelise's note about the next magazine: The BP WorldView magazine is coming out in its somewhat new online form (7 editions now and counting--have you subscribed yet?), now available free by email. Be sure to sign up to get it (only 10 times a year, so we won't indundate you with emails).
http://www.breakpoint.org/contentindex.asp?ID=146

benjamin ady

Angelise

Loved your post and follow up. Thank you. If more Christians thought/wrote like you, maybe I'd still be a Christian. You rock.

Benjamin

Angelise Anderson

Benjamin,
Who Christ is, is not changed by Christians who fail to walk as He did and continues to. We, the church, are also growing and changing, But Christ is still the same yesterday, today, tomorrow, and forevermore. Who and how we act, does not define who He is. We can badly represent Him, but that does not mean that He himself fails to balance the beautiful symmetry between holiness, grace and mercy. The Church can grow, and yet there are beautiful examples of Christ all around the world.

Brian

I'd like to echo Angelise's comments. A friend of mine almost walked away from Christianity (or rather, almost believed that he had) for much the same reason before remembering that the failings (accidental or intentional) of other Christians do not diminish the awesome message and ministry of Jesus.

benjamin ady

Brian, Angelise,

I hear you. Thank you for engaging. Of course it's true that there are some absolutely beautiful amazing people who are Christians. I know a few. And there are some absolutely beautiful amazing people who are Muslims, and who are Buddhists (I know a couple of these), and who are Jews (I know a couple of these too), and who are atheists (ditto), and ... so forth. I find that since I'm not a Christian anymore, I'm in some ways more able to see and appreciate the beauty and the good in other religions, and in seculars, as well as the beauty and the good in Christianity =). I'm not saying that Christians can't, or don't, do this as well. I know some who do. I'm just saying for me that's how it worked.

Angelise Anderson

Benjamin, I hear you. There are some really nice people out there from all walks of life. My Aunt, who is a lesbian and outspoken Liberal, is one of those. However, that does not in any way explain or deny Christianity. Christ says He's the only way, the truth, and life (John 14:6). And I would urge you to not deny that precious gift. For while many religions offer insightful proverbs and gods, Christ alone offers salvation and eternal life. You've probably heard this all before, but I can't help but wish you to hear it again, because for me it rings true every time. I don't think, in fact, I know that you can find a comprable example of love than that of Jesus Christ on the cross. God himself giving himself for humanity. It blows my mind. If you get a chance, read Philippians 2. It is that example of love I aspire to and no other religion offers. I pray that you would once again reconsider who Christ is and what He's done for each of us. And thank you for this dialogue. It has been invigorating, Or as we say in Hawaii, Mahalo and Aloha Ahui Hou (Thank you and Aloha till we meet again).

Rolley Haggard

Angelise,

I went to Radford High and used to live in Kalihi Valley. My favorite drink is still Guava Nectar, to which I was introduced from vending machines in Honolulu.

I still impress (yeah right) my mainland friends from time to time by speaking Hawaiian words and phrases. The top three are:

"Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono" (For all you haolies, that's Hawaii's state motto, and translates, "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.")

"Humuhumunukunukuapua'a"... and...

No gimme da kine!

:)

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