As the dust of the election starts to settle, we are left with a divided sense of who we are. Even those of us who are happy with the outcome look around and see brothers and sisters who are struggling to make sense of everything. We see a country devastated by division, racism, sexism, and a lost sense of who God is.
I will readily admit this is the post I have dreaded writing. This is the one I could lecture and get on my little ol’ soapbox about. But that is not love. As we learned before, love seeks to honor others. To honor is to try and understand. It is not to boast in my position but to listen and be curious.
This is, however, an issue the white American church needs to address head-on because it is killing the Church and our witness and has completely pulled our focus from loving God and loving others.
William Barclay says it best. “There are in this world only two kinds of people — those who always insist upon their privileges and those who always remember their responsibilities; those who are always thinking of what life owes them and those who never forget what they owe to life. It would be the key to almost all the problems which surround us today if men would think less of their rights and more of their duties. Whenever we start thinking about “our place”, we are drifting away from Christian love” (emphasis added).
This entire year has been a blaring example of people looking at what life owes them. We have an entire church/political movement based on raising our way of life above all else. It has its roots in the prosperity gospel, manifest destiny, and other BS doctrines we have allowed to run unchecked through the white church for far too long.
Love Is Not Me First.
“Love finds its joy in serving others,” Wiersbe says. “How often we seek our own advancement and interests, sometimes at the expense of other people, entirely unconcerned for their welfare, their blessing, and growth.”
The verse this week is: Love is not self-seeking. It does not insist upon its own rights. Or as The Message puts it, “isn’t always ‘me first.'”
It would be easy to take this post and go wide. But instead, I want to go individual. Faith is made or broken in our individual relationship with God. Someday we are going to be held accountable for what we did, what we did not do, and what kind of faith we professed with our lives (see 2 Cor. 5:10. Paul is talking to the church in Corinth, not about unbelievers).
I really believe it comes down to a simple concept:
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:35-40).
This comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus speaks about His ultimate return. Some have said that this refers to those who do and do not believe in God (sheep and goats). But that lets too many off the hook. If God was going to offer a free pass to anyone who ever cried out to Him, why would He include this provision of how we treated those without anything to give?
Now, hear me, our salvation is not determined by our works. Anyone who has ever repented and surrendered their lives to God by belief in His Son, Jesus Christ, will get to heaven. But faith is not a golden ticket. We do not say the magic words and get transported home like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.
Faith is not a liferaft. It is not a get out hell free card. It is not a promise of comfort, provision, safety, or that you will live an easy life. Those are sin-filled lies we must expunge from the Church!
True faith brings about a change in our hearts. As we surrender to God and allow Him to work out His character in our lives (a rarely used word today: sanctification) we are changed. The “fruit of our lives” changes. What we value and esteem shifts.
Ultimately, Jesus said, His believers are known by their love. He said the greatest thing we can do is love God and love our neighbor. To love is to lay down our preferences, what we think we are owed, our comfort, and yes, our “rights.”
Love Seeks Not its Own.
Love is not selfish, but self-forgetful. Love does not grasp for its own rights, but finds its joy in serving others.Alan Redpath
Love does not insist on its rights. Love does not legislate its morality on other people. Love does not care more about an issue than the person it affects. Love does not hoard what it has at the expense of those who need help.
Love does not seek its own. Love looks to esteem others. To further the point we can look at Romans 12:10: Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Or Philippians 2:4: Abandon every display of selfishness. Possess a greater concern for what matters to others instead of your own interests. Or Luke 6:27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…”
Or we can look at the life of Christ, who came down so we would have an example of how to live.
“This is being like Jesus in a most basic way, being an others-centered person instead of a self-centered person.” -Guzik
The Root of the Issue.
There is a lot of fear in the white evangelical community right now. A lot of it has to do with being asked to “forfeit” some of their power. They are being asked to adjust to a culture not based on the Bible — because America is not a Christian nation and we were never told to legislate our morality on others – where people can do things they do not agree with.
And that can be unsettling. I do not diminish or deny that. I would however point back to the Gospels and the life of Jesus and the incredibly honest words of Paul who essentially says, “this world is not our home.”
The first-century church lived under the real threat of death. God did not mean for His people to be the most powerful force in the room. Which means, our view of the world (and thereby our rights) are not what we are to pursue above all else.
God tells us to love. We are to remember our responsibilities and what was done for us (the Cross) and seek to become, by our surrender to God and letting go of our rights and comfort, image-bearers of Christ. Which means our lives should reflect His. Which means we have to value what he valued.
Some would ask if that means we have to live in a society we do not control and do things we are not comfortable with. Look to the Cross.
Jesus is the Example.
Jesus never insisted on His “rights.” He never denied people based on their race, status, circumstance, life choices. That does not mean he approved of everything! We are called to accountability within the Christian community, even Paul acknowledges we cannot force that standard on others. It is our outpouring of love to a broken and hurting world that will have the biggest impact.
God never said to regulate the rights of the unborn. He told us to love the woman carrying the unborn and seek to understand her situation.
God never said to regulate who can marry whom. He told us to see all people as image-bearers of God and to make the best damn cake we can for them (you get the idea).
God never said that Merry Christmas is the only acceptable term in December. He realized we would live in a multicultural world and asked us to love people towards coming to learn more about His Son.
Comfort as an Idol.
The reality is, demanding our rights is pure idol worship. It is placing our comfort and “safety” above the welfare of others – and that friends is never Biblical. I do not care how many verses you distort from Leviticus to justify it.
“Love is never satisfied but in the welfare, comfort, and salvation of all. That man is no Christian who is solicitous for his own happiness alone; and cares not how the world goes, so that himself be comfortable.” (Clarke)
Christians are called to love. We are not called to protect our way of life. We are not called to sell our souls to politicians who promise to give us a narrow list of things we want. We are not called to be the morality police. Don’t forget the only harsh words Jesus had was for those who tried to regulate the lives of other people, aka the Pharisees.
We are not called to build a country to God here. We are called to change this world through our love, our relationships, our humility, our day to day interactions with people so that God is made real in people’s lives and through our relationship with Him we are healed and transformed into kind, loving, gracious, hope-filled people.
You cannot seek your own rights and serve God at the same time. We cannot serve two masters. We cannot get into bed with the illusion of power and show up to church on Sunday thinking God is fooled. If you need a clearer picture of this go read Hosea.
Maybe it is scary to see the “bedrock” of this country shift. Until we remember we serve the God of the universe who has us in His hands. We have brothers and sisters around the world who live under far more oppressive situations. To many, the ability to worship freely and not live under the threat of imprisonment or death would be incredible. So, how about we acknowledge the litany of amazing “rights” we do have?
Being asked to let consenting adults get married is not really that big of a thing. Letting more people into the land we love because we have perpetuated this “dream” and told people we will take the tired and hungry does not mean you will have less.
Stop living in fear! We serve a God of abundance!
Give God Your Time.
If you need some reassurance of this in the midst of your fear, spend some time with God and His Word and ask Him to show you. You should be giving God as much time in your day as you do the news and social media. Seriously. What you input directly affects how you see the world.
Spend time in the Word, create space for God to speak to you, find a Church preaching the Word in purity without political or national agenda.
Love does not seek its own. Love, as God defines it, lays down its life for those around it. Jesus did. Jesus laid it all down so that we could live free and be His reflection. We best reflect Him as we are in relationships with people who do not think, worship, vote, or agree with us.
Friends, it cannot be about you and about others. We are told to love our neighbors, not seek our own comfort. We have it really good in this country. Even if we “lose” a few things along the way, we will gain so much more if we lay down our fear and start to engage with our hearts.
Jesus showed us the way. He is bigger than our fear and still in control even as our way of life shifts. Ultimately love trumps hate. That is where our hope, security, and identity have to rest, not in our comfort and the preservation of our way of life.
Let Him be bigger than what you’re holding onto today. Give Him space and time to show you how he wants you to love.
Until next time.
- Alan Redpath: The Royal Route to Heaven
- David Guzik’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13
- Warren Wiersbe New Testament Commentary (affiliate link)
- William Barclay’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13
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