REBUKED BY FRIENDS
When I express strong views on a sensitive topic, I’m not surprised when I get pushback from those who see matters differently. But, when I’m rebuffed by those who I think are friends, accepting me and my beliefs, it’s sort of shocking. I had that happen recently and it led me to do some introspection that I’d like to share.
The specifics of this recent occurrence involved a meeting I attended with a small group of people who I’ve worked very closely with for several years. Without inappropriately sharing intimate details of that meeting, let me just say that there was mention of another person who we’ve known through our work, who seemed to be going through a difficult time and that they were attending a Bible study being conducted by someone else we’ve known through our work. Hearing that was a pleasant surprise to me so I responded by saying something like, “I just hope (that person) is truly paying attention at the Bible study.” With that, I sensed a reaction that I later described as a unanimous rolling of the eyes by the other participants.
UNDERSTANDING THE REBUKE
Since my comment came just from my truly caring about the person we had been discussing, that added to my bewilderment over being chided as I was. So, the following day, I approached one of the other attendees to discuss this. In addition to getting affirmation of my sensing that unanimous rolling of the eyes, I was reminded that there are some settings where discussion of topics like religion and politics is just not welcome. And, beyond that, I was told that I was just more spiritual than the other attendees.
In reflecting on that one-on-one follow-up conversation, I came to the conclusion that there wasn’t really anything in it that I didn’t already know. And, in reflecting on my follow-up self-conversation, I remained sure of my caring intent with the comment that led to my rebuke. To me, though, the disapproval I had received from my friends clearly indicated the need for me to examine how I share my Christian faith in order that it’s received as intended. So, I determined to do just that.
FOCUS ON A SIN
In the course of making this examination, I thought of a point that I’d heard Pastor Brian Brodersen, of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, make in a teaching from 1 Corinthians. As a side note, I ended up going through 11 of Pastor Brian’s teachings to find what I was looking for. At first, that seemed like a nuisance but it turned out that I was richly blessed through a fresh look at much more of God’s Word than I’d had in mind. Anyway, I did find what I was looking for in Pastor Brian’s lesson, entitled “Tending to Our Own Issues”, based on the following Scripture:
I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.” – 1 Corinthians 5:9-13
The point that I had been thinking of was made by Pastor Brian in addressing the part of this Scripture that says, “I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.” Pastor Brian’s comments here were: “ … notice, first of all, that the issues of sin go beyond sexual immorality … notice the other sins included there … we have a tendency to isolate a specific sin and focus in on that sin to the exclusion of other sins … that’s part of the problem we have right now, in the current cultural situation, in regard to homosexuality. I think that we, the church in general, have over emphasized this one sin. If you think about it, as we share the gospel with people, generally, we don’t begin by talking about specific sins. But, with homosexuality it seems we focus in on that particular thing. That’s the wrong way to understand it. I was thinking the other day about the idea that so many gay people have in their mind … I’ve heard them say this, ’You think I’m going to Hell because I’m gay.’ The reality is, they’re not going to Hell because they’re gay. They’re going to Hell because they’re lost. They’re going to Hell because they’re a sinner. They’re going to Hell for the same reason an adulterer is and the same reason a swindler is and for the same reason a slanderer is … because they haven’t turned to Christ to have their sins forgiven.”
FOCUS ON A SINNER
Although the subject of homosexuality played no part in the discussion I mentioned when I was rebuffed by my friends, Pastor Brian’s comments about how many Christians treat that sin differently made me consider whether or not I’ve done that. My truthful answer is, that hasn’t been my intention but I believe I have. Recognizing this disparity between my intentions and my actions brought to mind something I’d written on that very subject, not long ago, in an article entitled Lookin’ For Hate In All the Wrong Places. In that piece, I said:
“I see intentionality as the key issue … I believe any hurt resulting from … comments(addressed in the article) was unintentional. However, that doesn’t make it right and as Christians, I believe we must stop accepting this in our conduct. ‘Hate the sin and love the sinner’ can be an appropriate attitude for a Christian to take. However, in practice, there is often an unspoken extension to that cliché that says something like ‘but, if it hurts the sinner’s feelings, that’s too bad.’ We might as well say, ‘Hate the sin and though it’s OK to rub his nose in it, love the sinner.’ The Lord’s commandment to us is, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ – Matthew 22:39. It seems obvious to me that letting the chips fall where they may (not being intentional) doesn’t fit in with this.
I believe the key to a better way for Christians to deal with sin they see in others is found in the following Scripture:
“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:3-5
Not long ago, I heard a Bible study focusing on this, taught by Pastor Dave Rolph, of Calvary Chapel Pacific Hills. Of course, the specks and planks mentioned by Jesus are metaphors for sin. Appropriately, the common teaching on this is for us to first recognize and deal with the sin in our own lives before we concern ourselves with the sin in the lives of others. However, Pastor Dave’s teaching added a significant dimension to that by pointing out the following:
“When we have a speck in our eye, as a result of its irritation, we’re aware of its presence. However, since the eye is so sensitive, we’re not likely to seek help in removing the speck from the first person who comes along who notices the speck. But, if someone comes along who loves us, it is likely that we will develop enough trust in them that, at some point, we may say, “You know, I think I have something in my eye. Would you help me to get it out?’”
Ironically, this reflection on my own writing helped to shed some light on the self-examination I had been conducting. I recognized that, just as I’ve missed my intended mark in sharing my Christian faith with homosexuals, it was likely that I could be missing my intended mark with sinners in general. With that recognition, it seemed to me that my self-examination should, specifically, be of how to assure that my intentions and my actions match. Based on what I got out of Pastor Brian’s teaching, it seems clear that needs to include not focusing on the practicing of a specific sin nor even focusing on practicing sin in general. And, based on what I’d reminded myself of about Pastor Dave’s teaching, it seems just as clear that what I do need to focus on is my love for the person and making sure they understand my loving intent. The remaining question from that was, what is the best way for me to clearly communicate all that? For me, the answer, when I share my Christian faith, is for it to be obvious that I’m doing so only because I care about the person I’m sharing with and that I love them too much to willingly go to Heaven without them.