You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
(Matthew 5:13-16 ESV)
I was spending some time browsing through some blogs earlier and I came across one that grabbed my attention. The writer, a Lutheran pastor, stated that the quality or purity of the gospel that is preached, being Bible-centered, or even being Christ-centered are not the things that a church focused on growth should be concerned about. What should the church be focused on? According to this pastor, Starbucks has the answer. You see, the day before, they had mistakenly given him the wrong type of coffee. When he returned the following day, the Starbucks employee apologized and gave him a free coffee. He goes on to say that because of this kind act, he will be back there tomorrow; and he says that would be the case regardless of the quality, or lack there of, of the Starbucks product, In other words, it’s about how he was treated; all throughout his article making comparisons of the Starbucks product to the product of the church; it’s Bible-centeredness, Christ-centeredness, or purity in presenting the gospel. I don’t share his belief that these aspects of a church are unimportant. But when I read his next couple of sentences, I found myself becoming a little angry:
“We are called to notice each other, remember each other, respect each other, care for each other, and help each other. Jesus already said that the whole law, all of right and wrong, is wrapped up in this little idea. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It is that simple.”
Jesus did NOT say that!! What Jesus said was:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
(Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)
Why, when it clearly says that the law is wrapped up in these TWO, does this pastor throw out the first commandment and say that Jesus says the law is wrapped up in just that one? It seems to me that this pastor chose to twist Jesus’ words in order to advance his own agenda. An agenda that preaches that our faith is all about us; our happiness, our comfort, and our ego’s. It is concerned with the here and now, not with our eternal destination. After all, he has already made it rather clear in his comparison to Starbucks coffee, that the mission of the church is not to preach an accurate and pure gospel. In elevating the second commandment above the first, we are left with a man-centered religion. When we fail to place our love for God first; ahead of our love for our neighbor, are we able to truly love that neighbor in the way God calls us to? A man-centered religion reduces love to the warm feelings, emotions, or a desire that we experience when thinking about another person or thing. God cares little about that type of love. God’s love is a call to action on behalf of others (1 Cor 13:1-7). It is a love expressed through truth and mercy; law and grace. The concern of this love, true love, is not primarily our immediate happiness or raising our self-esteem (Matt 10:38-39, Phil 2:3-4). It is a love that is just, yet shows mercy (Hos 2:19-20), seeks repentance and forgives (Lk 24:47), yet never compromises on the truth (Jn 14:6, 1 Cor 13:6). It is a love that found us first that we may return it in faith (1 Jn 4:19, 1 Jn 5:3,4); because true love makes sacrifices for a relationship with us (Gal 2:20).
Shortly after reading this blog, my thoughts turned toward my experience in coming to know Christ. I started wondering what my life would look like right now if my friend Tim, who played a pivotal role in pointing me to Christ, had sacrificed the truth for his own gain or comfort. We weren’t yet friends when Tim and I started talking about Christianity. I met him after I decided I wanted to start working out regularly and thought it best if I started by hiring a personal trainer to get me started. So not more than a week or so into this he mentioned in conversation that his dad is a pastor. This gave me something to think about. Was he in the more liberal Christian camp, believing that homosexuality as it exists today was not called out as sin in the Bible? Or would he fall on the side of Christianity that I was more familiar with…the ones who consider homosexuality the unpardonable sin and spewed hate from their mouths and extended no measure of hope for the gay man? Thankfully, he was neither of those.
To be honest, I don’t remember his exact words when I told him that I was gay. I ended up taking the least confrontational route I could come up with and told him in a text or email, I forget which. There was nothing profound about his response and I don’t remember his exact words. I just remember getting a sense that he was concerned about responding in a responsible way. He didn’t feel the need to come out and say homosexuality is a sin, or tell me I needed to change or anything like that. But he also didn’t affirm me in my sexuality either. I just clearly remember coming to know that yes, he did believe homosexuality was sinful; but that there is more to the story. I sensed it wasn’t something he was totally comfortable with, but at the same time, it was not something that caused him to feel he needed to distance himself from me. It was just an area that neither he nor his church had come into contact with too much but it seemed important to him that he relate to me in the way God would want him to. In short, his concern for me caused me to reconsider my long-held beliefs of Christians as it relates to their handling of homosexuality…and a door was opened. I know my friend would agree with me when I say he wasn’t perfect in how he related to me in every aspect of this journey early on, and so what. What he did accomplish was totally unexpected. He didn’t agree with the life I was living, but he didn’t hate me for it either. In fact, he still wanted to be a part of my life; and he wanted me to come to his church. This provoked a strong curiosity in me to find out just what this type of Christianity was all about, and just how a person like me could fit into it.
So what would be different now if my friend Tim had not related to me with a love which encompassed both mercy and truth? What if he were the type of “Christian” who believed that God just wants us to be happy and we are all just on this planet to love each other, with no regard as to how God defines love? I would not be a Christian right now. I would remain an enemy of God. You might think that given this hypothetical situation my thought would have been that I would be a happy Christian now, affirmed that my homosexuality was okay in God’s eyes and set free by that thought, but no – I am confident that I would not be a Christian. I am also confident that he and I would likely have never developed any meaningful friendship, and I probably wouldn’t even have any or much contact with him anymore; not to mention his family who I have come to appreciate and care about; as well as the other relationships that have developed in the church.
Why am I convinced I would not be a Christian now? Because without my friend’s belief in God’s truths, including the sinfulness of homosexuality, nothing in Tim would have attracted me or drawn me to him, and later to the church. He would’ve had nothing to offer me (spiritually); he would’ve had no power in him to reveal Christ to me. In short, God could not have used my friend in convicting me of my sinfulness. And without that conviction and call to repentance, I would have no need of Christ in my life. I am not saying that homosexuality was my only sin, but as a non-believer at that time, it was my misguided understanding that if God found any fault with me, it was with this issue of homosexuality…Back then, I thought it was the only thing separating me from God, and that because of it, there was no hope for me; no way out.
The way everything came together seems to be totally reminiscent of the “salt and the light” spoken of in Matthew 5. My friend essentially was the light to me, he possessed the light, and he did not hide the Light that was in him from me, even after finding out about me being gay; and I’m sure he knew that letting the light of truth shine in him, especially with this issue, jeopardized keeping me as a client and thus income for him. And the final key in this? Part of being the light is extending the gospel. It is not solely the truth that brought me to Christ; it was the hope of new life in Christ. In effect, God planted the idea in me, largely through my friend, that the truth, or reality of things, is such that I was a sinner on my way to hell – BUT, He is merciful and He is offering me a way out; a way to have eternal life.
So thinking back on this, I realize that my friend Tim set a good example for me to follow. Not an example that we have to be perfect or anything to be used by God. But an example that when we shy away from being the light by hiding the truth, we are powerless to draw sinners to Christ. Sometimes I get tired of trying to be “set apart” from my non-believing friends. But reflecting on this in terms of my story helps reinforce to me that it isn’t through compromising the truth of God by conforming my words and actions to those of my non-believing friends that God will use me to bring them to faith. It is by maintaining love for God and for my friends that I have power to impact them for Him. And it is not a love that is afraid to offend or afraid to forgive or afraid to be different from them; but a love that encompasses truth, mercy, kindness and compassion.
So back to the pastor I spoke of earlier. Had my friend showed me the “love” that this pastor preaches…a love that is only concerned with making people feel good about themselves, he would in effect have been “loving” me straight to hell. And this is why simply just loving your neighbor does not sum up the whole law. But loving God first, and a love of our neighbor that flows from there most certainly does.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
(1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)
Related: God & Me: Our Testimony at Church