By Steve DuPlessie (borrowing heavily from Mark Driscoll)
Ok, so how do you love your neighbor, even when you disagree.Here’s seven ways to do that…
First, come to terms with disagreement. That principle is clear in Romans 8:7: “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” For the follower of Jesus, changing God’s laws in Scripture, by popular opinion, makes as much sense as changing God’s laws in nature – including the God-ordained law of gravity or the temperature at which substances freeze and boil. Non-Christians don’t need to accept these laws but tolerate them, if indeed they believe in tolerence, diversity, and inclusion, as they boast.
Christians and non-Christians disagree on a lot of things, including what to do with our money, priorities, and apparently especially our genitals. We won’t agree because … we don’t agree. Because we start with very different pre-suppositions. Like believing that God exists. Or believing that God really has the right to establish a measuring stick for what is right and what is wrong. Or believing that we don’t all get to make it up as we go along – whatever…
We begin with very different pre-suppositions from many of our neighbors, especially in militantly secular New England. So instead of trying to pretend that we do agree, we need to accept the fact that we agree to disagree and get on with evangelizing lost people, defending our religious freedoms, and loving our critics while leaning over the plate to take one for Team Jesus. So first, come to terms with disagreement.
Second, turn the other cheek. For example, both homosexuals and Christians are, curiously enough, well-organized minority groups. At least here in coastal New England. If Christians focus in on the culture war and the moral war with homosexuals, we’re ignoring the majority – all the people somewhere on the continuum between the two groups.
And those people in the middle are the very people we’ve been called to evangelize. Your family members. Your co-workers. The students with you at school. Your neighbors. If they see us as being mean spirited, they will be less likely to want to hear about the love of Jesus from such obviously unloving people.
So, counter intuitively, Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. That’s Matthew 5:39: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” That’s humble discipleship. Follow the example of Jesus and turn the other cheek, not because he likes it when we lose a fight, but because he likes it when we win people who are watching the fight. Turn the other cheek.
The third way to love your neighbor, even when you disagree, is to invite and welcome everyone to your church… The same Bible that talks frequently and powerfully about sin is equally pointed and quite clear about love. I suspect a group this size includes people who are practicing homosexuals, as well as others who are struggling with same sex attraction to varying degrees.
And they are sitting here in services … sitting next to single people who are sleeping with their girlfriend or boyfriend, people who watch porn, adulterers – and … the proud and self-righteous religious people who look down on all of them. To be honest, we all start in a bad place.
When the Bible says that Jesus died for sinners (Romans 5:8), he’s talking about evil people, people like me. I struggled as a believer in Jesus for years, many times unsuccessfully, with the power and shame of pornography before I was finally granted the grace of liberation and victory. We are all works in progress. We do not expect people to get their sin in order before attending church any more than a hospital expects people to get healed before they show up. So we need to invite and welcome everyone to our church.
Ok, and fourth, don’t allow everyone to lead your church. Christians who practice the humility of repentance should be the only ones allowed into leadership. 1 Timothy 3:1–12 gives us the standard, the expectations for leaders. Listen to this…
“Here is a trustworthy saying: ‘Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.’ Now the overseer (the King James translates that “bishop,” while the NLT translates it “church leader”) the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” Notice how these are all character qualities.
Verse 4: “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
Verse 8: “In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well.”
Those are pretty high expectations for those who lead ministries since 1st Timothy 4:12, Titus 2:7, and 1 Peter 5:3 all tell us that the primary way that leaders lead is not by their teaching or the directions they give but … by their own example. It’s the example of your life, the example of your attitudes, the example of your own humble submission to obeying Jesus, that’s the actual powerful influence of your leadership—whether you’re a Sunday school teaching or a youth ministry volunteer, a praise team worshipper or deacon or elder. In the church, leaders lead primarily by … their example.
Ok, so this doesn’t mean in any way that they’re perfect, but it does mean that they agree with the Bible, and that they need to avoid even the appearance of evil And when they confronted with sin, they are willing to humbly admit it instead of blaming the messenger, and then fight to overcome that sin by God’s grace. We’re not asking for or expecting perfection, but rather a humble desire for progress in victory over sin.
The secular, non-believing world is watching the church and is pretty quick to point out the inconsistencies and hypocrisies of its leaders, and they’ve had more than enough ammunition to load and shoot in recent years. But then they also can use those inconsistencies and hypocrisies as an excuse to ignore or mock the message of the gospel. So genuinely loving your neighbor means humbly removing any barriers, any impediments, to coming closer to believing in Jesus that might be caused by your example.
Ok, so fifth, that means we also have to learn to distinguish between temptation and sin. The Bible is clear that Jesus was tempted and did not sin. That’s Hebrews 4:15. Just because someone is tempted doesn’t mean that person is in sin. Temptation is an opportunity: an opportunity for sin … or for victory.
We must not shame or condemn people who struggle with various kinds of temptation – including sexual temptations such as same sex attraction or the temptation to heterosexual fornication or even pornography – if they desire to make a “life U-turn,” which is called, in Christian-talk, repentance and submitting to the commands of Jesus.
And at the same time, we can’t excuse or endorse or encourage caving in to sinful desires either. Instead, we need to walk lovingly with people, telling them that part of the Spirit’s work in their lives is learning the strength of Spirit-powered self-control, and that so long as they want to fight for holiness, fight for living in purity, then we want to fight not against them but for them and even beside them. That’s what Celebrate Recovery on Monday nights is all about: coming alongside people who know they’ve got stuff to deal with, and fighting that fight alongside them, And as they gain one small victory at a time, we ought to be there to celebrate and encourage them all the more. We can help do that by distinguishing between temptation and sin.
So that brings us to the sixth way to love your neighbor, even when we disagree. The best de-fense is a good of-fense. The best thing the church can do for marriage – in a culture where the definition of marriage and even the concept of marriage is increasingly under attack – the best thing the church can do for marriage is encourage and assist good marriages.
This includes lots of teaching on sex and marriage, great premarital counseling, a supportive community for married couples, and efforts to nurture marriages that are struggling to learn to grow in grace, and endure through trials, so that God’s people are getting divorced only on rare occasion because of extreme circumstances.
Listen, the strength of the marriages of Christians is the simplest and the best way to teach kids about God’s design for marriage, and the best way to show our culture that we think God’s idea for marriage is right and true and good. So the best defense is a good offense.
Finally, the seventh way that followers of Jesus and love their neighbors is to toughen up. We need to learn to evangelize through suffering. Bible-believing Christians will need to toughen up – rather than retreat and crumple in a heap – when slapped with words like hateful, bigoted, intolerant, shameful, cruel, unloving, homophobic, prejudiced, discriminatory, and more.
Jesus told us to love our enemies; his obvious assumption was that we would have enemies to love (Matt. 5:44). He never promised everyone will love you if you just do the right thing. In fact, Jesus pretty much guaranteed that just as he was hated and opposed by many, so would his followers (John 15:18).
If we say what Scripture says, we should expect to suffer as Scripture promises. If we act as Jesus acted, e should expect to suffer as Jesus suffered. In fact, Jesus promises that we’ll see trouble, experience hardship, and be hated. Rather than run away or fight back, however, he invites us to endure and persevere as an “opportunity to bear witness” (Luke 21:12–19).
We have been chosen by God to live at this time and in this culture with all its faults and flaws, as part of the church of Jesus Christ with all her faults and flaws, as people with our own faults and flaws. Because our society no longer values historically Christian beliefs, we have an unprecedented opportunity for a resurgence of biblically faithful, personally humble, evangelistically fruitful, missional Christianity.
The truth of God’s Word is hard, hard like an anvil, meant to pound on us and reshape us into something better. But we can deliver a hard word without having a hard heart toward the recipient.
An honest explanation of sin is essential for our message of ultimate help, healing, and hope. Jesus surely loves you just as you are. He died for you while you were still a sinner, not waiting for you to get your act all cleaned up. But – and here’s the thing – he didn’t intend to leave you that way. Jesus died to save you, and … to transform you. That’s the message of hope in the gospel that your neighbor needs to hear.
Jesus makes life, death, suffering, and persecution meaningful. And the inevitable backlash is actually a blessing. After all, you really don’t know how committed you are to Jesus until you have to start paying a price for that friendship.