“For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, watch out, or you will be consumed by one another.Galatians 5:14-15
I feel totally unqualified to be writing this, but it needs to be said, especially since we find ourselves in the middle of a very broken situation. It hurts too bad not to address this, because something needs to be done to try and stop the damage. If I offend anyone, you have my sincerest, heartfelt apologies, but then again it may be something that you need to hear.
I’m addressing myself primarily to the Church of Christ readers, although what I’m about to say could no doubt be applied to other groups as well. We have done an inadequate job of dealing with our broken members, and as a result many have left the church and turned their backs on God altogether. I would go so far as to say that we have driven more than a few away because of some of our attitudes and “beliefs”. It’s distressing, because we have failed to be the hospital for the spiritually ill we were meant to be. I frankly don’t have any good answers for stopping this hemorrhaging and reversing the trends. But fortunately, Scripture provides the remedy.
If I were pressed for a diagnosis of the problem, I would point to one thing. We have failed to be the body of Christ. Our own brokenness has left us in one of two conditions. We either set up a checklist of standards to be met in order to be “acceptable” (one which, by the way, none of us can attain), to which we hold others and condemn them for their failure to live up to them while we rationalize our own behavior. Or we conclude that God’s grace will cover everyone in the end, because we refuse to surrender our will to Christ, let go of our brokenness and allow the power of God to heal us and make us whole. We want to maintain one foot in the world and one in Heaven. We deceive ourselves into thinking we’re okay with God; it’s Satan’s own lie.
Perhaps we do strive to be Christlike but feel inadequate to provide the nurturing and answers to persuade struggling people not to walk away. We fail to rely on the power of the Spirit and are so trapped by our own brokenness we can’t give them what they need. I often struggle with ‘loving the sinner while hating the sin’ and suspect this is a pretty widespread problem. It’s difficult to find the balancing point. Unfortunately, I think we sometimes tend to swing a little too far to the legalistic, “checklist” side and fail to provide the love and compassion of Christ that’s needed. To a person who realizes they’re broken, the message received is, “you’ll never be good enough for God to accept you”, to which they reply, “then why should I even try?” So we throw up our hands and conclude they just don’t believe in God or the Bible. We may pray for them and hope for the best, but do we let them know how much we love them, miss them, and are brokenhearted they have walked away?
It is vitally important that we hold to the truth of the Scriptures and strive to walk according to that standard while encouraging one another with accountability. But we must never forget that one of the primary truths is that the defining characteristic of Jesus’ disciples is love. Along with, and part and parcel of, that love is humility. We must never approach a brother or sister who we think is in error with an “edict from on high”. We need to approach them in a loving, fearful way. Fearful because we feel the weight of God’s word and the terrible consequences of not obeying it. Fearful because we could easily be talking to, and about, ourselves. We should feel the pain of possibly losing someone who is dear to us for eternity. That should create in us a burning jealousy for the members of Christ’s church and an urgency to battle against Satan’s attempt to rip any of us away from that body.
Have we become so complacent about those who are lost that we are not driven to seek to bring them to Christ? Are we that timid, that fearful, that unconcerned? Have we forgotten we’ve been given the Good News in order to share it with the world, especially to those closest to us? Do we understand it’s not optional we do so? Luke 15 tells three parables of seeking that which was lost. I suspect we prefer the last, the Parable of the Lost Son, because the lost son is the one who decides to come back home; no one went looking for him. The problem with that reasoning is that it’s the Father (who represents God) who is waiting and watching. That’s not us. We’re in the first two parables. We’re supposed to be the shepherd who braves life and limb to find one lost lamb. We’re the woman who thoroughly sweeps the house and cleans like mad in order to find a lost coin. We don’t have the luxury of saying, “well, we’re here when they want to come back”. Such an attitude guarantees no one will be returning.
I want to re-emphasize these are my own thoughts, and they are not given as authoritative. They come from a broken heart and a feeling of inadequacy to the task, all the time realizing it’s God’ power, not mine, that changes hearts. But I don’t want to stand before God on Judgment Day and have Him ask me, ‘why didn’t you do what you could to bring them back to me?” I don’t want to be the man who buried his talent in the ground because of a fear of failure, only to be condemned for it. Church, there is no time for that kind of timidity. For my part, I’d rather risk anger and total rejection by the one whose spiritual welfare concerns me than fail to address their spiritual condition with them. But I want them to know I do it because I love them and want to spend eternity with them in the presence of God. May God give all of us that spirit of love and sense of urgency.