How is a Christian to respond?
This week, videos surfaced of students from a University of Oklahoma fraternity singing sickening, racially-motivated lyrics. The racial slurs were painful to hear, and the video should offend everyone who sees it. Racial tensions in our country are at an all-time high, at least in my lifetime. To add fuel to the fire in such a manner only deepens the divide.
I recently learned that a friend of mine is a lesbian. She married her partner here in Oklahoma after the courts struck down the ban on same-sex marriages. I’ve known her for years, and I have often wondered if she was a lesbian. However, I never inquired and she never shared. Perhaps she didn’t share because she was afraid that I, as a Christian, might reject her.
Some time ago, yet another friend of mine got into some legal trouble. He was going through a very difficult period in his life, and he made some poor choices. Those choices are completely out of character for him, and yet he is still paying the consequences of his decision. He lives in fear of judgment and condemnation.
In some very, very small way, I can understand how it feels to be rejected for sin. Since I began openly sharing about my divorce, I receive some extremely hurtful and condemning comments and emails from Christians. I am reminded frequently that divorce is a sin, that God hates divorce. I am told that I need to seek reconciliation with my ex-husband regardless of the circumstances surrounding my divorce. I am told that if I remarry, I will be living in adultery and condemned to hell.
However, as I study scripture, I find myself asking how Christ would respond to these situations.
To the Samaritan woman at the well, he acknowledged her worth despite her race and gender (John 4). He offered her living water.
To the woman caught in adultery, Christ extended mercy and gave the exhortation, “Go and sin no more,” (John 8). He told her accusers to look at their own sin, first.
To Zacchaeus, the tax collector, Jesus went to his house for fellowship (Luke 19). His love brought about true change in the life of a sinner.
To the sinful woman who anointed his feet with expensive perfume and wiped them with her hair, he forgave her sins (Luke 7). Because her sins were many, she had a tremendous debt of gratitude for the forgiveness extended to her.
But to the hypocrites, those who pray publicly and loudly, making a show of their superior spirituality, Christ said they had received their reward in full (Matthew 6). He reserved his harshest words for those who felt compelled to point out the sins and shortcomings of others.
How often does God extend grace and mercy to me in the midst of my poor choices? How often do I fall at the feet of Jesus in gratitude for the debt of sin he has canceled for me? How often does he fellowship with me despite my status as a lowly sinner?
And yet, so often I let my pride get in the way of people. My first response to another’s sin is often one of self-righteousness indignation. How could that person do something so awful?
And then, if I choose to hear him, I hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit reminding me of my own sin. Perhaps it’s my own poor choices when my life fell apart. Perhaps it’s my own pride that blinds me to my sin while keeping me focused on the sins of others. Perhaps it’s my daily failures to walk in total and complete obedience to my Savior, to live completely abandoned to the one who died for me.
How, then, should we respond to sin? I would argue that we should respond with extravagant love! We should seek reconciliation with those who feel rejected and condemned. We should love unashamedly those walking counter to scripture. We should allow mercy and grace to pour through our lives to those dealing with the consequences of sin. We should remember that it is only by God’s grace that we are where we are today.
Throughout scripture, we find passages exhorting us to love:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
Did you catch that? It is our love that will show others we belong to Christ! It’s not how much scripture we know. It’s not how well we can exegete Greek. And it’s certainly not how well we can point out others’ sins. It is our love for others that will set us apart.
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:12-14
Above all else we must put on love. It’s not optional. It’s not just a suggestion. It’s not just a portion of our Christian wardrobe. It is the most essential part of our wardrobe. Love is the one thing we must never forget. It binds us in unity, showing a lost world that there is a better way.
What if we were all keenly aware of our own sins, of our own failures, of our own need for grace and forgiveness? Would it make us more compassionate with others? Would it remind us of how great the price paid for our own sins? Would it make us put down our stones of judgment and condemnation? Would we learn to make allowance for each other’s fault if we allowed ourselves to live in constant recognition of our own sins?
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3
Gifts and prophecies are great. The spiritual gifts are essential. Understanding great truths about God is a blessing. And yet, without love, all these things amount to nothing. They are rubbish in the sight of God if we choose not to love.
How, then, should a Christian respond to racism? To homosexuality? To poor choices? To divorce?
A Christian should respond with love. With extravagant love. With love that could only come from the one who is love himself.
I pray that I will have opportunity to show that the color of one’s skin is irrelevant to me. My care and concern for my friend who is a lesbian will not change. I will continue to love her with the love of God. My friend paying consequences for poor choices will know that I see the situation through the eyes of grace, as an opportunity to have a greater understanding of God’s love and forgiveness. I pray that others will look beyond the divorce attached to my name and see that the worst thing this world has given me has been the greatest motivator to draw closer to Christ. To God be the glory in all things!
I pray that we, as Christians, will be so busy examining our own hearts that we don’t have time to pick at the speck in others’ eyes. I pray that we, as Christians, will understand that the first and greatest commandment is to love God and the second is to love others. I pray that we, as Christians, will spend so much time looking for opportunities to shower others with extravagant love and grace that the world will step up and take notice.
I pray that we, as Christians, will become known for our love in all circumstances.