For most of my life, I have always been “controversial” in my opinions, beliefs, and advocacy. But, I have a confession…I don’t like being controversial. My preference would be to live the “simple life” in quiet and out of the public eye. One of the main reasons is that people scare me, not because I have social anxiety, but the behaviors and words of people are many times more harmful, then they are comforting.
Just this morning I awoke to a Facebook comment that told me: “May God have mercy on your soul” (Basically telling me that I am going to Hell). This message was from a “Christian” sister who insists that she does not need help interpreting the Bible, she just needs to read it and believe it. The irony is that both Jesus, the Son of God, and the Apostle Paul state that sacrificial love is the key (Matthew 22:40) and fulfillment to the law (Romans 13:10). And so the condemnation that I received for the purpose of defending the faith, actually ran counter to the core message of the Bible: LOVE.
My response to her was, “Thank you for the prayers! May God bless you.”
This individual was not the first, and (sigh) she will not be the last. I wish it was so easy to dismiss the criticism and judgments of others, but the truth is—IT HURTS! We all desire to be loved and accepted, and people always come up short on the love and acceptance end.
So, do I retreat? Nope. Why? Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it best:
“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. 'The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared' (Luther).” From Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community
The enemies of Jesus were the religious…but He sacrificially loved them and loves us—to the very end. If we are followers of Jesus, then we must follow His example of sacrificial love, even for our enemies.
We must also practice self-love because we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Mark 12:30-31). How do we practice self-love? We practice is by basking in the Father’s unconditional love for us!
When I am condemned, shunned, criticized, mocked or scorned, I choose to remember that I am never alone and I am loved beyond comprehension. Meditating on these verses help:
“31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[j] 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k]neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8)
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
“Who are you to condemn someone else's servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord's help, they will stand and receive his approval.” (Romans 14:4)
Psalm 91- Read Here
I also turn on some good music that feeds my soul. I really appreciate Matt Maher’s “Your Love Defends Me.”
The important thing is to remember that we are not defined by the opinion of others, but only by the Father. The Father loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) and that we are the apple of His eye (Zechariah 2:8).
Always remember, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). Trust that God’s love is big enough for you and your enemies.
As a final note, allow me to address those who like to shun others in the name of Jesus, the Bible, or your religion: STOP.
Jesus, the Word made flesh, says these are the GREATEST commandments:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Jesus adds to these commandments: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). There is no scholarly debate on these verses!
Further there are no debates on the following that expound upon the themes of love, grace, and redemption in the community:
We can disagree on interpretations of scripture, but we must remember to Major on the Major and Minor on the Minor. As the old saying reminds us: “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.” Love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:10; Galatians 5:14).
THE WORD made FLESH in JESUS said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
And, when the Pharisees attempted to get Jesus to condemn the woman caught in the act of adultery, He said: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”… Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:1-11).
When we stand before the judgment seat of God, I do not think He will ask us “Why did you love too many people?” or “Why did you let so many people in My Church?” Rather, the words of Jesus may echo in the time of judgment when we may hear:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to… Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:13, 23-24)
God doesn’t want us to pull from His garden of souls, He just wants us to water them with love (Matthew 13:24-30).
Dr. Rob Weinstein is the Founding/Senior Pastor of Bethany Grace Community Church in Bridgeton, NJ. He is also a Professor of Business Studies/Academic Director/Chair of Human Resource Management Studies. He is the Founder of the M25 Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness and food insecurity in Cumberland County, NJ.
In addition, my thoughts and opinions change from time to time I consider this a necessary consequence of having an open mind.
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