Do you know anyone who loves to argue? How about someone who always has to be right? When you get two people together who love to argue and have to be right, things can get heated. I once saw a meme where a number was drawn on a paper between to people who were sitting across from each other. When one person looked at it, the number was a six. On the other side of the table, the number was a nine. Both sat there arguing over who was right. Neither was willing to get up from their seat to see the number from the other’s perspective because they were sure they were right. I think that’s the way a lot of arguments are. We’re so concerned about being right, that we fail to be concerned about the other person.
Each person who has accepted Jesus as their Lord, has begun a journey into spiritual maturity. Each one of us grow at different paces and are at different levels of maturity. From where we sit, and through the eyes of our past, we can interpret things differently. I used to get into arguments with people, trying to correct their misguided (in my opinion) ways. We would argue until we were blue in the face, but neither of us would give in. I’ve found that’s a way to lose friends and to stunt someone’s spiritual growth (including my own). Again, when I’m arguing and my focus is on being right, then it’s not on growth (mine or theirs). That’s a sign of spiritual immaturity and not what we’re called to do.
Romans 14:1-4 has a lot to say about this and how we’re to treat others. It says, “Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval” (NLT). Accepting others where they are, and understanding that we’re all at different levels of maturity, should help us to understand that our job is to promote growth in others instead of stunting it. How we treat other believers matters. When we are more concerned with growth and maturity instead of being right or trying to prove someone is wrong, we’re moving in the right direction. Quit trying to be right, and start trying to love instead.
One day, there was a religious leader who wanted to trap Jesus. He asked Him which of the commandments was the most important. Jesus knew what was in his heart and replied that we must love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. What the leader wasn’t prepared for was what Jesus said next. He said, “A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself” (NLT). He knew if we could do these two things, we could fulfill the law.
The first one seems easy enough. We are to love a perfect God with everything in us. The second one, that’s equally important, is the tough one because people are imperfect. People do things that make us mad, offend us, hurt us and drive us nuts. Yet Jesus is telling us to love them with everything in us as much as we love God. Why would He put that pressure on us? Why can’t we just love God and go to Heaven?
I believe God wanted us to learn to look past each other’s faults to see what He sees in them. Genesis 1:27 tells us what to look for. “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Each of us are made in God’s image, even the people you can’t stand. God put His likeness in each one of us and it’s up to us to learn to see it the way He does.
If you look for the best in others, they will look for the best in you. If you can see God’s image in them, you can learn to love them because we can easily love God. It’s tough sometimes to dig through their layers to find it deep inside them, but His image is in there. When we learn to see Him in others, and to help them see His image in themselves, we begin to see the world through different lenses. We begin to know as we are known and also to fulfill that second, but equally important commandment. Look deeper into to others today to find God’s image and fulfill the law of Christ.
One of the things that so many people struggle with early on and into marriage is to put their spouse’s needs above their own. From the time we’re born until we’re married, life is about us. We make our decisions based on our needs and wants. We become selfish unknowingly. Part of the process of learning to be married is learning to quit being selfish and to focus on the other person in the relationship as well as who you are as one. Many times it’s hard for people to learn, and instead of learning to put their spouse’s needs ahead of their own, their selfish nature learns how to manipulate their spouse into taking care of their needs. In that situation, it’s hard for love to bloom because only one person’s needs are met. Deep love is the process of putting others ahead of yourself.
Think of what Jesus did. John tells us that creation was made through Him. Philippians tells us that He was equal with God, yet in an act of love, He chose to humble Himself, and become human. While He was here, He didn’t claim the privileges of being the King of Kings. Instead, He didn’t even have a place to lay His head. When they crucified Him, He didn’t call on 10,000 angels to come rescue Him from the cross. Out of love for us, He put our need for salvation ahead of His own needs and endured a humiliating death. He gave us the example of what love is and what love does. Philippians 2:4 says, “Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand” (MSG).
The kind of love Jesus showed is the kind we are to show as His followers. We are to have His mindset. Just like marriage, there’s a process we must go through as believers where we put aside our needs and learn to look outward to the needs of others. Salvation isn’t just about the decision to make Jesus lord of your life. It’s learning to be like Him. It’s leaving your selfish, sinful nature and its thinking behind and adopting the mind and mentality of Christ. WWJD bracelets we’re supposed to help us to remember that, but instead they became a joke. If we truly ran everything we did through the filter of “What would Jesus do,” how would our lives change? Better yet, how would this world change? When Jesus said the world would know us by our love, He was talking about us showing love the way He did. When we learn to love like that, it’ll be revolutionary.
I grew up hearing my dad jokingly say, “Do as I say, not as I do!” I didn’t understand it as a kid, but as a parent now, I definitely do. It’s funny how the one thing you don’t want them to repeat or do is the one thing they seem to pick up on. The good news is that they pick up your good habits as well. They’re just not as noticeable sometimes because they’re not embarrassing. I love that every trash day my son offers to take our next door neighbor’s trash can to her house. At church, he wants to open the door as people exit. He watches our behaviors and then mimics them. It makes us proud as parents when our kids do the right thing, show kindness to others and make us look good as parents doesn’t it?
Sometimes we forget that you and I are children of God and our actions reflect on Him. Galatians 5 gives us the Fruit of the Spirit that we are to exhibit in our lives. When we spend time with God and learn from Him, our lives reflect the qualities He has. The great news for us is that it’s already in our DNA. Genesis tells us that we are made in His image. Just like a child naturally does things that their parents do, so too we do things naturally that God has put in us. There are times though that our sinful nature takes over and wants us to behave opposite of the way God wants us too. That’s why it’s important to choose ahead of time how we will react to things, know what we will say and choose our attitude daily to reflect the love of God.
Ephesians 5:1-2 says, “Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that” (MSG). One of the greatest ways we can reflect our Heavenly Father on this earth is to start loving others the way He does. The verse, “God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8 NASB),” comes to mind. We need to love others extravagantly whether or not we think they deserve it. The world will know us by our love in action. Don’t hold back. Give God’s love out like you’re made of it, because you are.
I remember doing a paper in college on the brokenness of the United States’ Social Security system. All the research I had done showed that the system was upside down and would not be able to sustain the retiring Boomers. It was recommended that Xers and younger should invest in their retirement through 401k’s and other means. Because of all that, we each have a mindset of doing what we can now to make sure we have enough in our former years. Even this week, I spent a few hours researching stocks, their performance, their diversification and ability to grow over time. I think it’s good to have a plan for the retirement years, but I’m left to wonder how much time, effort and energy do I spend planning for eternity.
When compared to eternity, a lifetime here is nothing more than a nanosecond. How much more should we be investing in the afterlife? In Matthew 6:20-21, Jesus said, “Instead, stockpile heavenly treasures for yourselves that cannot be stolen and will never rust, decay, or lose their value. For your heart will always pursue what you value as your treasure” (TPT). That last verse should have each of us looking at what we’re pursuing in this life. Where are your energies focused? Are they for things that matter now or for eternity? Again, I think it’s wise to plan for your financial future here, but it’s critical to plan for your eternity there. God’s economy is different than ours and how you invest in it is different too.
You and I must value the same things that God values if we’re going to store up treasures in Heaven. God has always valued and cared for people, especially the members of society we seem to ignore. He values giving justice to those who need it, but don’t have a voice to get it. He values mercy and grace, specifically to those who don’t deserve it. He also giving of our possessions more than hoarding them. Finally, later on in this chapter, Jesus reminds us that we must seek His Kingdom first before we seek our own. I believe when we put His priorities above our own, we store up treasures in Heaven. You can’t check your heavenly bank account through an app, but you can measure it through lives changed.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting a man named Peter Strople. He was at the Re:Write conference as a speaker. Honestly, I had never heard of him even though he was known as the most connected man in America. When he got up to speak, you could see and sense his humility. It wasn’t what I was expecting from “the most connected man in America”. I quickly understood his humility and his ability to connect when he said his personal motto is “When in doubt, love.”
In a room full of writers who wanted to bless God with our talents, there was one person in the room who didn’t appear to belong. He had jet black hair done up like an 80’s band member. I think he even wore a leather vest that showed how his arms were covered in tattoos. Peter called him up to the stage to demonstrate what he meant. As he asked questions, diving into this man’s story, it was like watching a flower bloom. The one who was different, and an outcast, became the most beautiful thing in the room and everyone wanted to get to know him more.
Peter demonstrated what it mean to show love to someone. He didn’t just talk about it, he showed us how to do it. My whole life, I’ve read that we are to love one another, and have been taught about it as well from the pulpit. This was the first time I remember watching it in action and saw the result. Peter showed this man love by genuinely getting to know him and listened intently. It wasn’t about making himself look good. It was about valuing this person and showing them that they mattered.
Romans 13:10 says, “Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love” (MSG). Wherever you are today, there are people around you who need value added to them. Make a choice now to look for them and to show them love. Let’s not just talk about loving them, let’s do it. Don’t ignore someone because they’re different from you. Get to know they’re story and show them that they matter.
“You scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back.” “You fly, I’ll buy.” “Quid pro quo.” “You buy this time, I’ll buy next time.” Ever used any of these expressions? Of course you have. We all do favors for favors. It’s an offer to help in exchange for help. You’ll give them what they want if they’ll give you what you want. Everybody wins. We all play the game, but what we forget is that Jesus changed the rules on it. He expects us to do for others who have no ability to pay us back.
You see, there’s no reward in doing something for others who can pay you back. It’s not really a favor if you get a return favor. Part of our Christian DNA should be to do for others who can’t pay us back. It should be a part of who we are and be a regular thing we do. When Jesus was describing who got into Heaven, this is what He said in Matthew 25-35-36, “For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you brought Me together with yourselves and welcomed and entertained and lodged Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me with help and ministering care, I was in prison and you came to see Me” (AMPC).
In all of these examples, it was about helping someone out who couldn’t return the favor. He went on to say that when you do something for the least among us, you’ve done it to Him. There’s no reward in helping those who can pay you back. Of course, you can still help your friends out in a quid pro quo fashion, but you can’t just do that and expect to be rewarded for doing good. You got your reward when they paid you back. The life Jesus is calling us to is doing things for those who can’t pay you back.
In Luke 14:13, Jesus said it another way. He said, “But when you give a banquet or a reception, invite the poor, the disabled, the lame, and the blind.” He mentioned several times in the Gospels that we were to give to those who couldn’t pay us back. When you think about it, Jesus did that for us. He set the example of giving at a high cost for those who couldn’t pay Him back. If you’ve accepted Him as your savior, then He paid your debt for sin in full. There’s no way to repay Him for that. The best thing we can do is to follow His example. Give to those who can’t repay you, and don’t hold it over their head.
In I Timothy 2:1, Paul says, “I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf and give thanks for them” (NLT).When I read those words, I wonder if they challenged Timothy as much as they do me. Paul didn’t tell him to just pray for people he liked. He didn’t tell him to just pray for Christians. He told him to pray for all people and to ask God to help them.
To me, that’s hard to do. Selfishly, there are people that I don’t want God to help. I’m like Jonah a lot of times. I know God’s desire is to bring others to repentance, but I don’t always act in accordance with that. When God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, he disobeyed because he didn’t like them. We know that because later, when God spared the city, Jonah threw a hissy fit. He said, “I knew you were a merciful God. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.”
I wonder if Timothy was beginning to show the same signs. I wonder if he was being selective in who he shared the Gospel with. It’s not up to us to be selective with it or with our prayers. God doesn’t want anyone to perish. When we truly get that, we will start praying for others. We will intercede on their behalf. We won’t hold back from sharing the Gospel because we know that’s what God’s heart is.
God knows we let our human emotions get in the way of His will at times. We let how we feel about someone override how He feels for them. Paul knew the remedy for the situation is to pray for them and to give thanks for them. When we begin to pray blessings on people we don’t like and thank God for them, our vision of them changes. We stop seeing them as humans and start seeing them as souls. We quit looking at their value to us, and see the value God places on them.
I’ve always heard that prayer changes things. One of the biggest things it changes is us. That’s why Paul urges Timothy to pray. He knew as a young minister, he could fall into the trap of being selective with the Gospel. He knew that Timothy needed a greater vision. One that included all men, not just a few. It’s a vision that you and I need today. The way we get it is to begin praying for all and asking God to help them. If we truly want to see the world changed, we have to get on our knees and spend some time interceding.
One of the questions I’m often asked is, “How can I love the sinner and hate the sin?” I’m not sure where this saying originated or how it became the theme among so many Christians. When sin is a part of how a person defines themselves, how can you separate the two? I don’t think you can. The easiest and best thing you can do is to drop the “hate the sin” part and focus on loving the sinner. Before you get all crazy, I didn’t say we don’t call sin “sin”. I said we need to quit focusing on the hate of it so much when it’s attached to a person’s identity.
We have examples of Jesus and Paul who spent their lives ministering to the people who were unworthy of God’s love in the eyes of the religious leaders. People said to Jesus, “If you knew what manner of person she was, you wouldn’t let her touch you.” They also said, “If you were really a prophet, you would know how bad of a sinner that is that you’re talking to.” Jesus didn’t spend nearly as much time hating the sin as He did on loving the sinner. He got up close and personal with those who needed Him most. His response was, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor. It’s the sick.” If the sick wouldn’t come to the hospital, He went to them.
In I Corinthians 9:19-22 Paul spoke of how he loved the sinner in order to bring them to salvation. He wrote, “Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. (MSG)” In his love for them, he entered their world. He didn’t force them to come to his. I think that’s key for us. Harvesters don’t sit in the farm house waiting for the harvest to bring itself to them. They have to go into the field if they want to reap.
The most important thing he said was, “I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings on Christ.” If we are going to go into their world, it’s not to camp out and stay. Jesus always went back to the disciples and also to the mountains to pray. When you give yourself away, as love requires, you’ll need to get refilled from other believers and the Father. You’ll need to keep your bearings on Christ so that He remains your moral compass instead of political correctness. If we lose our way, how will they ever find theirs? We must remain grounded in prayer and God’s Word while we serve those involved in sins that are attached to their identities.
In my conversations with people involved in sins like this, they’re turned off by the “Love the sinner, hate the sin” moniker. They just want to be loved and accepted as a person instead of labeled and separated. The only way you can love someone is to get to know them. You can’t know someone if you’re constantly put off by their sin. You can’t know someone if you don’t spend time getting to know them as a human or a person. If you’re going to truly love the sinner, go to them, befriend them, live like Christ in front of them and don’t compromise the truth of God’s Word. When we do that, our churches will start growing and will become the hospital for the spiritually wounded.