I started seminary shortly after I became a Christian. Like many young, hungry Christians, I got really into apologetics (the practice of defending the faith). Unfortunately, like many Christians, I was more interested in winning arguments – not people. I looked for ways to intellectually shut people down, rather than to show them who Jesus was and what he accomplished for lost sinners like me. Those of you who knew me during this season can remember I was quite the bulldozer – something I’m still working on to this day.
Imagine my initial excitement when in my first year at seminary I signed up for a class on the Christian response to Islam. I was fired up. I thought to myself, “Alright, this class is going to give me a powerful 3-point argument to tear down any Muslim who tries to debate me!” I never once considered how I could approach people with love like Jesus did. I just wanted to shut people down.
I’ll never forget what happened to me during this course. During the first hour on the first day of class, the professor gave a powerful sermon that completely cut me shreds. He was preaching on the importance of actually loving others like Christ. Then he landed the finishing blow which pierced me to the core: “If you don’t love people, then you have no business being here.”
It was like he was talking right to the heart of my own sin and pride. I was devastated by my blindness and hardheartedness for weeks. How could I be so blind? All this time spent learning how to “defend the faith,” and I failed to learn how to love people. The only thing I heard in my head for weeks was, “You just don’t love anyone.” What a fool I had been, but I’m grateful that God opened me to my sin, and began to teach me the importance of really seeking to love people when I share the gospel, not just win arguments.
“You just don’t love anyone.”
I’m not sure what it is, but Christians – especially those of the Reformed variety – can often lose their way when they’re trying to bring others to Jesus. Author Bob Goff, someone I probably would’ve dismissed all those years ago as not being “theological enough” puts it this way:
Arguments won’t change people. Simply giving away kindness won’t either. Only Jesus has the power to change people, and it will be harder for them to see Jesus if their view of him is blocked by our big opinions.
St. Paul had a similar attitude toward his evangelistic encounters. He wrote: Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Colossians 4:5-6). Elsewhere he writes, Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Ephesians 4:15).
Here’s the important thing for us to remember: love is never opposed to truth. Kindness is never opposed to good theology. Gentleness is never opposed to an articulate explanation of the Gospel. Principles are never opposed to showing mercy. An argumentative and combative spirit, however, is opposed to everything that Christians should stand for.
Yet, we wouldn’t know that based on how many of us engage in evangelism. Many of us can be downright bullies – especially on social media. Our non-Christian friends may hate the message of Christianity, but they should never hate the messenger.
Psychologist and author Carl Rogers once said, The central core difficulty in people, as I have come to know them, is that in the great majority of cases they despise themselves, and regard themselves as worthless and unlovable.
Love is never opposed to truth. Kindness is never opposed to good theology. Gentleness is never opposed to an articulate explanation of the Gospel. Principles are never opposed to showing mercy.
Let me tell you something – he was right. The more time I spend with people, the more I come to see the true of those words. Does our message, demeanor and speech communicate to people that we deeply love God’s image bearers, because we have learned what it means to be deeply loved by God himself?
Or do we end up just heaping a greater sense of shame, worthlessness and alienation on others by the way we treat them? When we try to make someone look stupid and illogical, chances are they’re not going to feel very loved. As Ann Voskamp has said, It is best to befriend those now who we hope to be his friend for all eternity. She’s right.
Recently, I’ve been waking up to the realization that a Christ-like love isn’t something we wait to show to others. We don’t need to wait to have all the right answers and rebuttals, we don’t wait to have all the right theology, we don’t wait for the exact and perfect timing to show love to others.
If we are becoming more like Christ, then our love is going to reflect that. We will be compelled to engage with others in love, to reach out to that neighbor who annoys us, to move toward those who have wronged us. Love doesn’t wait. As my new friend Bob Goff would say, love does.
Whenever I find myself unwilling to move toward someone in love, whenever I find myself more motivated by winning an argument by making someone else look stupid, God always seems to remind me of my professor from that class all those years ago. I can still hear his voice, and it continues to ask me: “Do you love them?”
Bob Goff – Everybody, Always
Scott Sauls – Befriend