Stephen King stirred me with his tweet about the odd behavior of some evangelical Christians — an almost schizophrenic behavior. Supposedly evangelicals believe God is love and know Jesus warned not to prevent children from coming to Him. Jesus said something akin to “better to put a giant grinding stone around your neck and fling yourself into the sea than to keep one of these kids from getting close to Me.” Yet, some evangelical ( or fundamentalist or conservative Christians ) are up in arms to keep destitute, desperate South American children from crossing our borders.
Well, you might argue, that doesn’t keep these kids from coming to Christ. Really? Are you sure about that?
So, let’s look at another story Jesus told.
Remember the poor man who was fell upon by robbers along a road and left for dead? Remember the supposedly decent human beings who walked right by him, not offering to help him in the least? Sounds a bit like these schizophrenic evangelical Christians who — as Paul laments — see themselves in the mirror, turn away and forget what they are supposed to look like.
Now I include myself among evangelical Christians though I am not willing to align myself with those who call themselves “conservative.” Conservative is almost a dirty word. Conservative can sometimes mean — in my mind and in the minds of many many liberal thinking persons — “narrow-minded”, “hateful”, “violent”, “racist”, “wicked” — well I could go on but then I’d be too “conservative” for my taste.
GOD is LOVE.
He doesn’t ask us to judge. He doesn’t ask us to enforce His Laws — oops. Actually the one Law God asks us to enforce is the one that says “Love others as yourself.”
If we love others, then how can we turn our backs on these children? We can’t, not if we are truly Christian.
36 For of him, and by him, and in him be all things. To him be glory into worlds [of worlds]. Amen.
12 Therefore, brethren, I beseech you by the mercy of God, that ye give your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God, and your service reasonable.
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul highlights that everything is summed up in the head, which is Jesus Christ. Here in his letter to the church at Rome, he also emphasizes the glorious truth that all things are for, by and in Him, who is the Son of God.
If this is true ( and of course, it is ) then we ought first to recognize that Jesus deserves glory. Second, we ought to realize that it is only God’s mercy that allows us to be “living sacrifices, holy, pleasing to God.”
You hear it often in congregations of Christians: “To God be all the glory.” Yet, in the next moment, these same Christians are proclaiming how they did this or that for the Lord as if He needs anything at all from us.
Our service to God ought to be “reasonable.” Our service ought to emerge from our understanding of our complete dependence upon His Holy Spirit who dwells within us. Without His indwelling, there is nothing – in our lowly bodies – we can do for God; nothing at all. Therefore, the statement “To God be the glory” should be matter-of-fact, part of our very nature.
“For of Him, and by Him, and in Him be all things,” writes Paul.
And do ye all things without grumblings and doubtings; [Forsooth do ye all things without grutchings and doubtings;] that ye be without plaint, and simple as the sons of God, without reproof, in the middle of a depraved nation [in the middle of a shrewd nation] and a wayward; among which ye shine as givers of light in the world [among whom ye shine as givers of light in the world;]. And hold ye together the word of life to my glory in the day of Christ; for I have not run in vain, neither I have travailed in vain. [holding together the word of life to my glory in the day of Christ; for I have not run in vain, neither in vain travailed.]Philippians 2:14-16WYC
What are the enemies of a simple, reproof-free Christian life? Grumblings (or grutchings) and doubtings, if you read Paul. I imagine Paul bemoans the critical soul who wrings his hands and shakes his head at the world as it rushes by in its waywardness and depravity. I see Paul weeping over the Ebenezer Scrooges of the Christian world who bah-humbug their way through the Christian life. Paul does not wish to run his own race in vain. He desires the Christians he leads to “shine as givers of light in the world.” He wishes Christians to “hold…together the Word of Life” to his “glory in the day of Christ.”
Paul doesn’t say, “Do some things without grumblings and doubtings.” Rather he says to do all things with joy and faith which come of knowing the Lord. Then, and only then, will we shine as givers of light to the world.
Real love, genuine agape love is unconditional, period. If you doubt this truth, re-read Paul in his first letter to the church at Corinth. He boldly tells the church – a church battling crippling sins – that “love is kind” and “keeps no record of wrongs.”
And in his first letter, John writes:
And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.
John doesn’t write, “The one who remains in God remains in love.” Rather, he turns it on its heels and states emphatically that “the one who remains in love remains in God.” You cannot hate people who you are able to see and touch while you claim to love God. You can not refuse to forgive others while expecting God to forgive you. Frankly love and hate are like oil and water – incompatible in the mix.
You can not be a Christian and hate people.
Today, writing from prison, I think Paul might be emphatic. He might scribble ( ‘see, I write these words in my own hand’ ): “Stop fighting!” before he explains why Christians should not bicker. Paul does write gently here; and a bit later in his letter to the church at Ephesus, he begs his fellow believers to “speak the truth in love.” But, here he implores them (“I urge you”) to “accept one another in love.”
4 Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love,3 diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us.
Paul calls Christians to humility, gentleness, patience, acceptance ( tolerance! ) all of which lead to unity and “the peace that binds us.”
So how do Christians who disagree stop fighting? What is “speaking the truth in love?”
Examples (from a written social network debate) of “truth speaking”:
Person #1: “Heretic warning” then boldly typed N-A-M-E of heretic. Then, “BLAH, BLAH, BLAH.”
Person #2: “Beware that the good presentation you give is not clouded by pride.”
Which spoken truth do you think Paul prefers? And, more importantly, which statement sounds more like God, the Holy Spirit?
Exasperated, Paul wonders at the Galatians’ desire to place themselves back under the yoke of the Law. He worries over them as they fall victim to Judaizers who wish them circumcised, observant of certain days and specific customs. Paul says “it is always good to be enthusiastic about good;” but he also says he is “suffering labor pains for you until Christ is formed in you.” Paul strongly suggests to the church at Galatia that observing the Law does not and can not make them any more Christ-like!
15 What happened to this sense of being blessed you had? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. 16 Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They are enthusiastic about you, but not for any good. Instead, they want to isolate you so you will be enthusiastic about them. 18 Now it is always good to be enthusiastic about good—and not just when I am with you. 19 My children, I am again suffering labor pains for you until Christ is formed in you. 20 I would like to be with you right now and change my tone of voice, because I don’t know what to do about you. 21 Tell me, those of you who want to be under the law, don’t you hear the law?
Paul then tells them a story. He reminds the Galatians of the children of the free woman, Sarah and the slave woman, Hagar. Both children come from Abraham, but only one is the true heir.
Rid yourself of the yoke of slavery and take up the cloak of freedom in Christ.
The most straightforward and simple statement of Fanny J. Crosby’s “Blessed Assurance” is Paul’s statement to the church at Rome:
31 What (tis) then (oun) shall we say (legō) in response to (pros) these (houtos) things? If (ei ·ho) God (theos) is for (hyper) us (hēmeis,) who (tis) can be against (kata) us (hēmeis?) 32 He (pheidomai) who (hos) did (pheidomai) not (ou) spare (pheidomai·ho) his (idios) own Son (hyios,) but (alla) delivered (paradidōmi) him (autos) up (paradidōmi) for (hyper) us (hēmeis) all (pas,) how (pōs) will he (charizomai) not (ouchi) also (kai,) along with (syn) him (autos,) graciously give (charizomai) us (hēmeis ·ho) all (pas) things? 33 Who (tis) will bring a charge (enkaleō) against (kata) God’s (theos) elect (eklektos?) It is God (theos) who (ho) justifies (dikaioō).
And if there is any doubt, look at Paul’s delineation of “these things.” The things that he (and we) are responding to are:
1) The glorious freedom of the children of God
2) Our adoption into the family of God as His children
3) The Holy Spirit helping us in our weaknesses and interceding for us, knowing God’s will for us
4) God using all things together for our good, so that we are conformed to the image of our Creator
5) Finally our predestination, calling, justification and ultimate glorification
Therefore Paul says there is now no condemnation.
Paul writes to the church at Philippi, telling them in no uncertain terms, “I’ve got it rough!” Then he says his rough times benefit the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, Paul finds himself torn between two strong desires – the better desire is to depart this life and go to Christ; the lesser is to remain behind; “to stay on in the flesh.” Unfortunately for Paul, his remaining alive “is more necessary for” the sake of the church.
That Paul is more desirous of death is obvious. He writes to the Philippians:
For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if it is to live in the flesh, this is fruitful work for me, and which I will prefer I do not know. But I am hard pressed between the two options, having the desire to depart and to be with Christ, for this is very much better. But to stay on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. And because I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that what you can be proud of may increase in Christ Jesus because of me through my return again to you.
Yet, Paul is obviously not suicidal. Once again, he puts others above himself. He is convinced that it is more necessary for him to remain alive, so he knows he will “continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.” And so, Paul can readily say, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” without any hint of self-pity or drudgery. He does not threaten the church; he only reminds them that he remains alive for their sakes.