I have been reading Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller.
Today I read the chapter entitled Love: How to Really Love Other People. In the chapter Don talks about having lived with hippies in the woods, and having felt completely loved and accepted by them. He then gets on a bus to go to Colorado because he is contracted to work at a Christian summer camp. Once there, people begin talking about him behind his back, and then send word that he really needs to shower and shave so as not to be so offensive.
He knew that people smoking pot in the woods, while they may show great love for others, was not the way of Jesus. The spirituality was wrong, even destructive, but they had the love thing down pat. But he, like many of us, know that within the Christian faith, which I believe to Truth, love is usually given conditionally. It is on the condition that you say the right things, be theologically correct, vote for the right candidate, and take a shower, shave, and have the right hair cut.
The question becomes: How can we love unconditionally and not let go of what we believe to be the Truth as found in Scripture?
One thing that helped Donald Miller work through this dichotomy of loving without judging, of loving unconditionally, was the realization that we often speak of love/relationships in terms of a financial metaphor. We invest in a person. We value people. We have a give and take relationship. All of these are financial/money related metaphors.
If someone doesn't act the way we think they should, we withdraw from them. They KNOW that we disapprove of them. We cannot hide it.
We often feel the need to lead with our beliefs or to at least let the person know where we stand on certain issues. We begin our "responses" with "Yeah, but..." And we never really listen to others do we? Someone once said, "People confess the misdemeanors before they confess the felonies. They will talk to you until they sense you are uncomfortable. That is where your 'love' meets your religion."
For many "Tolerance" has become an evil word. Tolerance is simply allowing other people to think for themselves and live with those consequences. It is not my place to tell anyone how they should live; it is God's.
How do I do this as a preacher of God's Word? Very humbly; because I might not have it right. I attempt to explain and interpret the Word of God, but I am not the morality police. I am not called to make sure that everyone falls in line with how I interpret the Word of God. I am called to love people; all people.
Everyone I have every tried to guilt, legislate, or argue into living a better life has only caused alienation and ruined the relationship. Love is not like currency or wages that I withhold if someone doesn't do things the way I think they ought to. Love is unconditional, no matter what the person chooses to do.
I understand that it is hard to do when that person is your child and you see them destroying their lives. It is hard to do when you believe that people who do certain things are going to hell for doing them and you really do love them. It is hard when the person you love is making choices that are going to damage relationships and hurt others around them. But true love is patient, kind, bears all things...We are called to love our neighbors with this kind of love; even if we disagree with their stance.
Here are some practical ways that I choose to do in order to love others:
1. Listen to them. Truly listen without judging what they are telling you, or being shocked by what they tell you. You do not have to respond with what you believe to be the "right way" they should have handled a situation. Simply listen and demonstrate empathy and understanding of how they feel.
2. Let God bring the conviction. Making someone feel guilty is not the same as conviction. Only God can bring conviction, and guilt (not the same thing as feeling guilty) will follow. Your laws and beliefs may not be the ones they hold even after they are "saved."
3. Lead with love not your beliefs. Always ask, "What is the loving thing to do?" I know some people think that telling them the "Truth" is loving, but it is not often loving in the way and at the time they choose to do it. Truly care for people. The Bible calls it compassion.
4. Serve them sacrificially. If there is someone that you cannot stand, find a way to serve them in loving, practical ways.
5. Pray for them. Don't pray that God changes them; pray that God blesses them. Pray that God enables you to love them as He loves them.
Here are some related posts:
A Great Reminder
Curse of the Moderates
Tolerance (different post)