A recent discussion online about evangelicalism made me think yet again on the question of whether there should be something more important for Christians than believing and doing the right things. Ben Tribbett, one of the leading Democrat bloggers in the state, shared an interesting story.
Willie Deutsch, I’ll share with you a story that is non-political on why evangelicals have trouble reaching people. My mom is Jewish- my dad is southern baptist, and whenever I went to Roanoke as a kid I attended a southern baptist church with my grandmother. One summer when I was about 5 and visiting for a month and my parents were gone the youth minister came over to the farm. I went outside with him and he proceeded to tell me that my mother was going to hell, and he wanted to save me from doing so. He demonstrated this by setting up some sticks on the ground to represent heaven and hell and stomped on the “jewish” sticks. My grandmother was PISSED when she heard what happened- because even though she was a devout baptist, she didn’t like people speaking “ugly” about other religions or people. I was perfectly happy attending church with her until that happened and never liked it afterwords.
This story brought to mind I Corinthians 13:1-3 and the need for Christians to show love. Here Paul rattles off a number of valuable actions. Things like speaking in tongues, prophesying, having great wisdom, great faith, charity, even martyrdom. All these are good. But Paul declares that possessing them without love is worthless.
One of the qualities Paul mentions is understanding “all mysteries and all knowledge.” Understanding right doctrine and right practice certainly fits within the description of “understanding all knowledge.” Imagine someone who perfectly understands all theology, and how people should live. Wouldn’t that be pretty impressive? Paul says if the person doesn’t have love, he is nothing. Paul believes that all of that knowledge doesn’t matter if the person does not possess love.
Think back to the story of the pastor I shared earlier. One can argue with whether the pastor was “right” in what he said, but what is undeniable is that he was unloving. This also answers the question of why love is most important. What the pastor did turned Ben away from Christianity, and who can blame him for having that reaction? If your presentation or discussion of truth is not couched in love, how can you expect the listener to be willing to listen? (As an aside, humility when talking about truth is also a good thing.) An unloving discussion of truth will burn the relational bridges necessary to be able to influence a person. How can you expect someone to seriously consider an idea presented in an unloving way? Even worse, what will they think of Christ, whom you claim to represent?
Before writing off what I am talking about, consider this: when you know someone thinks differently than you do, are you quicker to judge or to try to love and understand? What about homosexuals? Do we as Christians love them or judge them? Abortion doctors? Those who have had an affair? Those who have committed other grievous sin?
Thinking closer to home… What about the Christians who don’t act exactly as we do? The church with a different style of worship? Those who don’t have the same standards of modesty? Someone who is an Arminian or a Calvinist or Premill or Postmill, or you name it? Are you quick to judge and distance yourself, or do you love them as your brother or sister in Christ?
“But Willie,” you may say, “These things are important.” I know they are, but to Paul believing the right thing is worthless if you have not love.
You may also say, “Willie, I’m just showing ‘tough love.'” Really? Does the way you are showing love line up with the way Paul describes love in the rest of I Corinthians 13?
Another issue is that of intentions. You may feel love towards someone, and believe that your actions are motivated by love. But are the actions themselves loving? The description of love, describes actions. It is great to have the best of intentions, but are the actions themselves loving? Think back to the pastor. He was probably very well intentioned in wanting Ben to come to salvation, avoid hell, etc… The unloving way in which he displayed his presumably good intentions had the opposite affect.
Think about the “being right” v. “showing love” dichotomy another way. It is the difference between being more concerned with what someone does than in developing a relationship or understanding why they do certain actions when responding to them. When you are more concerned about outcomes than building a relationship, you lose the ability to influence. When someone thinks you are more concerned with making sure you act or think the way you do, then you have lost the ability to reach them at all. This is the dangers that Christians face when they value being right over showing love.
For a related sermon, I would strongly recommend this one by Colby Garman entitled Love the Mark of Christian Maturity.