Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love- Ephesians 5:1 NIV
There is no subject more thoroughly discussed or hotly debated in the church today than the subject of love. Hardly a day goes by when I do not come across an article or blogpost encouraging and sometimes even shaming Christians into behaving in more loving ways.
Nonetheless, it could be argued that the Church is failing at this basic and fundamental task (Matthew 22:36-40). The comments section of articles pertaining to any hot-button issue (abortion, homosexuality, the death penalty, immigration) reveal most non-Christians view Christians as angry, hard-hearted, insensitive meanies.
Christins have a serious optics problem with this subject.
This should bother us. It is unlikely that those inside church will convince those outside the church that God loves them if they do not believe that we love them. Unless people believe God loves them it is likely they will reject God. Willfully rejecting God’s love does not end well for anyone (Matthew 25:46, Romans 2:5-11, Hebrews 2:1-3, Revelation 20:11-15).
This optics problem we have came about as a result of some mistakes we made. Most were not a result of evil; just a sad combination of obliviousness, biblical ignorance and misplaced zeal (Romans 10:2). There are five mistakes Christians make that the cause the world to see us as fundamentally unloving:
We do not love each other-
In Church world there is a huge emphasis placed on Christians loving non-Christians. This is good. However, Christians are commanded first and foremost to love each other. Church is supposed to be a place where believers treat each other with the utmost love, grace, respect and patience (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, Ephesians 4:2, 1st Peter 3:8). Churches were meant to be safe spaces where baby Christians can grow and unsaved people can see the love, respect and care Christians have for one another. When unbelievers see a spirit of love and grace in church communities they want what they see. Sadly, many Christians are not always loving, patient or even courteous towards their brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead, many Christians publicly criticize their churches and treat other Christians with open contempt. This breaks the heart of God. God will not bless the Western Church with revival until His people repent of this serious sin.
We lack patience-
1st Corinthians 13 was written to teach people how to love the way God loves. It is no accident Paul begins his discourse with the foundational truth that love is patient (1st Corinthians 13:4). Authentic Christian love gives people room to grow and develop and does not demand that people mature on a preset timetable. It is critical we gently correct Christians who sin (2nd Timothy 3:16, 2nd Timothy 4:2). However, it is equally critical we temper our corrections with the patience, kindness and grace of God (1stThessalonians 5:14).
Our corrections lack context-
In my experience Church people are good people who love God with all their heart, soul, and mind and strength (Matthew 22:37-28). However, some church people are a bit overeager when it comes to getting and keeping others on the straight and narrow. Sometimes Christians forget correction is best done in the context of relationship and should NEVER be attempted on church visitors, strangers or in front of a group of other people. Period. It does not matter what the person is wearing or how many piercings or tattoos they have. The only truly loving and wise thing to do when someone shows up at our church is to celebrate the fact they are attempting to connect with God. Their appearance, even if it’s weird and/or inappropriate is irrelevant (Luke 15:15-31).
We think tough love is always the right answer-
Sometimes tough love and tough words are the answer. There are situations in life where people need to be told the truth in a straight-forward no-nonsense manner and tone (Ephesians 4:15). However, most of the time a kinder, gentler method is far more effective and should always be attempted before tough love is applied (Proverbs 15:1 Titus 3:1-3, Galatians 5:22-24, Hebrews 5:1-2).
Generally speaking, there are two kinds of Christians in this world. The ones who say too much about the subject of sin and the ones who say nothing at all about the subject of sin. Sadly, the ones who say nothing often feel justified in doing so because of the damage done by the ones who have said too much. Further complicating the situation is the fact that we have been conditioned by our society to believe that telling people the truth about their behavior is mean. That said, it is time for Christians to return to an understanding that it is fundamentally unloving to lead people to believe that they can continue to sin without consequences (Galatians 5:16-21).
Love is key in leading people to God.
Therefore it is critical we get busy doing the work necessary to fix our optics problem where love is concerned. As individual Christians it is critical we pray daily for wisdom and not lean on our own understanding when it comes to the right and wrong way to love others.