Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia

How Does Love “Keep No Record of Wrongs?”

January 13th, 2013

Recently a Christian friend shared with me about an effort to reconcile with another Christian, with whom he had some relational difficulties due to a series of disagreements and altercations. He shared with me that during the course of his attempt to reconcile and heal his relationship with the other party, he was told that if he was truly loving, he should follow Paul’s description of love and “keep no record of wrongs” (I Corinthians 13:5). My friend expressed his confusion over the fact that this line of reasoning was used to justify a seeming unwillingness in the other party to admit wrongs committed in the recent past.  When he tried to address the issues hindering his relationship with this other Christian, he was essentially told that he needed to just “forgive and forget.”

In light of this conversation, I’ve been pondering the idea of love, and wondering how love intersects with working through past wrongs. Is it true that when we forgive, we are required to just forget about the past? Was that what Paul meant when he said that love “keeps no record of wrongs”?

My initial reaction was to try to look up the meaning of the Greek words involved in Paul’s description of love. I discovered that the idea expressed in I Corinthians 13:5 can be translated variously as: “love is not resentful,” “love does not count up wrongdoing,” or “love does not entertain evil thoughts.” It appears that the phrase is not equated with the idea of “forgive and forget,” but rather with the idea of being resentful and bitter towards another person because of past wrongs, and harboring evil thoughts toward them or about them.

Thinking about what the phrase could mean, I found myself turning to 2 Samuel 12 and the story of the prophet Nathan’s confrontation of King David. This is the story of Nathan’s convicting parable, and the punishment pronounced for David’s murder of Uriah and sin with Bathsheba. After Nathan pronounces the penalty, and David confesses his sin, there is a fascinating verse in 2 Samuel 12:13-14.

And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.”

Here we see God forgiving David, yet clearly not forgetting what He did, nor sweeping away the consequences for David’s evil actions. I think this passage can be insightful in terms of how God deals with sin.

While it is also true that God blots out our sin (Isaiah 43:25 and Isaiah 44:22), and removes it from us as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12), He does not forget them so that He could not recount them. To believe this would be to deny the omniscience of God. It also denies the fact that everyone will give an account to God for the sins they commit.  (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 and 2 Corinthians 5:10)  Instead, God in His mercy no longer holds those sins to our account. In terms of our justification, or right standing before Him, He attributes Christ’s righteousness to our account, and wipes our record of the many sins we have committed.

If God’s blotting or forgetting is in terms of holding things to our record, this is the way the idea of “keeping no record of wrongs” should be viewed. Following His example, when we forgive someone, we must choose not to “hold their hurtful actions against them.” In other words, we must choose not to view them with resentment or vengeance in our hearts. Fostering bitterness is dangerous, and contrary to love. However, this does not eliminate the need to work through issues as a consequence of sin, or in order to bring about restoration.

If you are trying to resolve an issue with someone else in a loving way, but are being told to just move on and “forgive and forget,” this is something to consider. You may not be able to forget the actions of another person, and it may not even be wise to try. However, you also can’t force people to reconcile with you, or admit past wrongdoing. If you are in this situation, it may be helpful to remind yourself that it is not a sin to remember wrongs that someone else has committed against you.

Choosing to continue acting with love towards that person is what matters. Be open to reconciliation. Walk in forgiveness. Choose grace.

Showing God’s Love to Homosexuals

December 5th, 2012

This summer, a website popped up entitled Queer at Patrick Henry College which is purportedly by Patrick Henry College students and alumni who talk about their struggles as a homosexual in the christianhomeschooling, and PHC communities.  When I originally saw the website a month ago, I thought it was part of an SEO attack similar to the SEO attack on Rick Santorum because of the large number of posts celebrating LGBT history.  After the website created a facebook page the school administration responded by trying to force the website to shut down, and blocking the website on the school’s network.

My initial thought is that this is an ironic response from a school which prides itself in teaching a Classical Liberal Arts education, one where students read books by people with whom they disagree in order to better understand and engage them.  Responding to criticisms of being narrow-minded by censoring a website seems to contradict PHC’s typical approach to teaching students to think for themselves.

The administration’s response also raises an issue that my generation is going to have to figure out as a result of the increasing size of the homosexual community.  How do we as the church interact with the homosexual community?

One camp says homosexuality is a sin and must be condemned.  This approach can quickly condemn the sinner for their sin.  Supporters of this view point to verses like I Corinthians 6:9 and I Timothy 1:10 for support pointing out the seriousness with which God takes this sin.

We should not condone or excuse homosexuality.  However, as Christians we should show God’s love and grace to everyone, including homosexuals.  The idea of loving the sinner but not the sin should apply to everyone.  While Paul does say that homosexuals (along with people who commit a number of other sins) won’t inherit the kingdom of heaven, two verses later he goes on to show the beauty of the gospel.

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

This is the beauty of the gospel.  The gospel saves those of whom it could once be said “they will not inherit the kingdom.”  The cross is the great leveler, and all who have faith in Christ can come to faith.

Following the I Timothy 1 passage where Paul condemns homosexuality, comes one of the most beautiful descriptions of the power of the gospel to redeem the chief of sinners.

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful,appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (I Timothy 1:12-14)

If the gospel is powerful enough to save anyone, do our interactions with the homosexual community reflect that?  Wouldn’t that require us to show God’s love and grace to them as we interact with them?

Would a homosexual feel welcome in one of our churches? Probably not.  Can we blame them? Tragically not.  But how can we reach those who, as a result of our actions, expected to be condemned instead of loved when they came to our church?  I am not suggesting we should accept sin, but we should be willing to show God’s love to sinners.

Ironically, we understand the necessity of this much more readily when it comes to the other important social issue for evangelicals: abortion.  Murder is regularly condemned in the same breath as homosexuality, and sacrificing infants is vehemently condemned in the Bible.  Yet the pro-life movement has learned the importance of showing love to those who have abortions, and even those who perform abortions.  We understand that we must love those who have abortions, and seek to show them that God’s love can forgive them even for aborting their child.  We understand that we must love those who perform abortions, so they too will understand the love of God and be open to listening to us. We understand this…in the abortion context.  For some reason we don’t understand the importance of doing the same thing to those struggling with homosexuality.

Imagine if we believed in loving homosexuals like we do the mothers who have abortions.

In closing I would encourage you to read the stories of two prominent Christians who chose to love homosexuals without condoning their lifestyle.  The first tells how the head of the SBC in Oklahoma overwhelmed Soulforce with love when they decided to picket his church.  The second tells the story of a gay person giving Rich Mullins a lift.  I would encourage you to read these articles and ask yourself what would a gay person think if they interact with you?  Would they see God’s love through you, or would the be condemned by you?

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This article is not written as a condemnation of my Alma Mater, or those involved in the situation there.  I learned a lot through my time at Patrick Henry College, and I deeply appreciate Dr. Farris and the school leadership for the investment they continue to pour into students at the school, as well as their activism on many important issues.  The recent situation simply presented an opportunity to address an issue that Christian conservatives should continue thinking about.

 

Tough Love: Is it Loving or Just Tough?

November 28th, 2012

In my previous post on love, I took a jab at the idea of “tough love.”  The post does beg the question of whether there is a place for “tough love.”  To paraphrase a friend of mine, “Does showing love mean that the person will always ‘feel the love?'”

A very pertinent passage is Hebrews 12:5-11.  The writer cites Proverbs 3:11-12.

My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline
or be weary of his reproof,
for the Lord reproves him whom he loves,
as a father the son in whom he delights.

He then compares the Lord’s discipline to that of earthly fathers and finishes with a beautiful description of the purpose of discipline.

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

So is someone being unloving if a person doesn’t “feel the love?”  Of course not.  However, there is a version of “tough love” where a person sees someone doing something they believe is wrong and acts in a tough and firm way.  The idea of intentionally showing love does not come into the equation because the purpose is simply showing the person how they are wrong in order to get them to change or conform.  Love becomes boiled down to “showing someone the error of their way” instead of the depth of care and long suffering that is fleshed out in I Corinthians 13.  It is this version of “tough love” that I was pushing back against.

Is there a focus on showing love and restoration in your supposedly tough version of love?  Would someone observing be able to see that you are showing love as you work towards long term restoration?  Is their an end goal of training and bringing about righteousness, or just showing guilt?

I’d like to share a story in which someone was undeniably tough but still loving.  A good friend of mine was fired by his boss.  It was a hard day for him and he cried, but he was regularly late for work and underperforming.  While a boss would be fine leaving it there, he chose instead to invite my friend to meet regularly for coffee to talk about things.  Through that choice to proactively reach out, a deeper friendship was developed that became very important to my friend.  Through showing love and care while being tough, a relationship was built, and an individual was influenced.

For some the love in “tough love” seems to be just the love it took to point out where someone was wrong.  However, through showing love to an individual while being tough, more can be accomplished.  This was how my friend was blessed, and I would argue as well it is part of God’s loving discipline.  Is your “tough love” simply tough, or is it intentional to show love as you are working to help the individual grow through it?  If your just being tough and not intentionally showing love, that’s fine. Just be willing to admit that and just call it being tough.

Is Being Right What is Most Important?

November 21st, 2012

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.

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For a related sermon, I would strongly recommend this one by Colby Garman entitled Love the Mark of Christian Maturity.

Against Labelism: A Three Part Series on Labels, Love, and Legalism

October 26th, 2012

My good friend, Eric Lansing, wrote an excellent three part series on the current identity crisis, many Christian youth are facing.  With thought and care he addresses the reasons many young Christians are rethinking their faith, and advises them to stay focused on the core of Christianity.  These three brief articles are very worthwhile reads.  Be sure to read them in order.

1. “Conservatives,” “Liberals,” and Social Stigma

2. It’s All About Love

3. Against Legalism

If you enjoyed the series, you may also enjoy “Is Christianity all About Obeying Commands Part 1 and Part 2.”

Is Christianity All About Obeying Commands? Part I

September 7th, 2012

A couple years ago I was puzzled by how I could love God more.  I didn’t seem to have the deep vibrant love I heard others talk about.  I wanted it, so I set out to figure out how to achieve that.  Like I usually do when understanding what the Bible says about a topic, I did a word study and pulled together all the verses I could find on loving God.  In the course of that search I came upon John 14:15.  Nestled between a promise of great power, and the promise of the giving of the Holy Spirit is  captivating declaration from Jesus.  “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  In that moment, I found the answer to my search.  I will demonstrate my love for God by finding and cataloging all the commands I can find in the Bible, and do my best to obey them.  I was quickly overwhelmed.  Not only are there a lot of commands in the Bible, but trying to keep them all is… impossible.  Yet again another effort to have a vibrant loving relationship with Christ was proved futile.

Tragically this mindset is encouraged by many Christians.  Not only are we told we must obey all the commands in the Bible, but if you are a truly Biblical Christian you will analyze principles in the Bible and derive new rules which must be obeyed as well.  Because truth is absolute, then if a way of living derived from the Bible is right for one person, then it must be true for everyone.  The logic is simple and therefore believable.  As a result, many things have become taboo for various Christians including drinking, dancing, and eating meat.  Many other things have been required of Christians: strict and comprehensive dress codes, all kinds of rules for what constitutes a “Biblical Courtship,” and enough rules on interactions between the sexes that a person has to constantly think whether what he says or does might be perceived as “immoral.”  Organizations have even been created to make sure Christians know and follow the many Biblical principles.  One of the best known examples is Bill Gothard’s Institute in Biblical Life Principles which was begun when he “wrote his master’s thesis at Wheaton Graduate School on a youth program that eventually led to seven Biblical, non-optional principles of life.”  Whether intended or not, the focus on obeying commands as central to Christianity makes it hard for many to see God as their loving Heavenly Father, and instead leads them to view Him as someone who is standing there waiting to punish them when they disobey, and will only bless them when His commands are obeyed.

Interestingly Jesus reserved His most fiery language for people who approached religion this way.  While Jesus enjoyed exposing the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, He also blasted the way they would derive commands from Biblical principles and require people to obey their commands to be good Jews.  Does this sound eerily familiar?  Jesus said people who do this, “Tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”  (Matthew 23:4)  In Matthew 12 Jesus exposes the problems with Jewish laws concerning the Sabbath.  Among other things, the Pharisees had rules against healing and plucking grain to eat on the Sabbath.  (Anyone familiar with modern commands against cooking, or eating out on the Sabbath?)  In an effort insure the Jews obeyed the 4th commandment, all kinds of rules were added on top of this command.  Jesus went out of his way to expose the Pharisees wrong approach which created these burdensome rules.  He ridicules the “experts in the law” at one point asking them “Have you not read in the Law…” (Matthew 12:5)  Essentially He tells them that their priorities are not His.  “If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”  (Matthew 12:7)  In verse 12 he accuses them of valuing their own sheep over the health of a sick man.  Shockingly, “The Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.”  (Matthew 12:14)

Towards the end of Matthew, in Chapter 23 Jesus goes after even more of the Pharisees rules using very strong language in the process.  Verses 16-22 contain His condemnation of their ridiculous rules about what forms of swearing were binding.  A few verses later He condemns their requirement that people tithe a tenth of every individual herb they grow. (Again this was a derivation of the command to tithe, but once a burdensome and ridiculous rule.)  As a result he calls them “blind guides” who “have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.”  (Matthew 23:23)  Immediately afterwards Jesus compares them to whitewashed tombs and cups which are clean on the outside but filthy inside.  Concluding, He says the pharisees “Outwardly appear righteous to others, but within are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”  (Matthew 23:28)

There are undeniably commands in the Bible which a Christian pursuing Christ should strive to follow.  However, burdening a Christian with commands, and especially with rules derived from Biblical principles has no place in Scripture.  This is the type of legalism practiced by the Pharisees which Jesus vehemently condemned.  In Part II I will explore what the Bible says about obeying commands.

Willie Deutsch.com

Religion and Politics from a Young Christian in Northern Virginia