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 church today than the love thing. Seriously, hardly a day goes by when I do not come across an article, blogpost, podcast or sermon encouraging and even shaming Christians into behaving in a more loving manner.
It could be argued the Church is failing at this basic and fundamental task (Matthew 22:36-40). The comments section of any article on any hot-button issue (abortion, homosexuality, the death penalty, immigration) reveal most non-Christians view Christians as angry, hardhearted, insensitive meanies.
Christians have a serious optics problem when it comes to the subject of love.
This is seriously not okay. It is unlikely those inside church will convince those outside the church God loves them if they do not believe that we love them. If people do not 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 came about as a result of some mistakes made inside the church. Most are 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). God intended churches to be safe spaces where baby Christians can mature 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 obvious 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 us how to love like God loves. It’s no accident Paul begins 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 Christians are good people and they faithfully 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 happen to 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).
There are two types of Christians. 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 tend to 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 where their behavior will lead is mean. Nevertheless, it’s 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 5:16-19).
Here’s the thing.
Christians are commanded to love. When we obey this command we reflect Jesus. Reflecting Jesus is the answer to the optics problem on love.
So choose to love well today.