Tuesday, February 3, 2015

NBA #3: Truth AND Love

New Believer Advice #3:  Dovetailing from that: Remember that it’s “truth and love,” not “truth or love.”
            If we overemphasize truth and underemphasize love, we will be judgmental, legalistic, uncompassionate Christians who just want to tell everyone else how to live.  And we will make it all about following the rules and changing your behavior, instead of following Christ and changing your heart. 
            But if we overemphasize love and underemphasize truth, we won’t stand up for God’s biblical truth or tell people the hard things because we won’t want to make them feel bad or guilty.  We will “tickle the ears” of people, telling them what they want to hear.  And consequently, we will share responsibility for them drifting further and further from God and His Truth. 
            Remember, we are accountable to God for what we do with His Truth.  It isn’t easy to stand up for truth, but there might be a time when we have to.  For the sake of other people’s souls and lives and for the moral climate of our churches and country.
            The way to balance this “truth and love” is to . . .
            - abide in the Word regularly so that you know the truth.
            - live it out peacefully and graciously in your own life so that people can see something different about you.
            - share God’s truth confidently, firmly, and gently when an opportunity or invitation to do so arrives, but with respect for other people’s right to agree or disagree.  Even God allows people to make up their own mind, to decide if they want to agree with Him or disagree.  He shares the truth, gently calls to us, and wants us to agree with Him, but He doesn’t force us to.   And if we choose not to, He allows us the consequences that go with our choice to rebel.
            It’s not your responsibility to force the Truth on people.  Just live it in your own life while loving others and taking opportunities to respectfully share it (and taking a firm but gentle stand when necessary).  And this will hopefully draw others to Christ, as they see more and more of Him through you.

(New stuff for this post)
            Hopefully, as we have grown in our faith, we have also grown in tolerance and in compassion, in the ability to let other people have their own beliefs, while loving the person behind the opposing beliefs. 
            I am not saying that whatever anyone believes is good or true.  If someone refuses to believe the truth, it doesn’t make it any less true.  If someone believes there is no God, it doesn’t make Him go away.  It just means that they are allowed to refuse to believe the truth.  They can believe a lie if they want to.  And they will have to face the consequences of it in the end. 
            We have to live and share the truth with others, but we should not be forcing it on them.  Each of us has the right to choose what to believe, what to put our faith in.  It doesn’t change the truth, it just means that they have the God-given right to not believe it, to rebel, to be resistant.  So we need to be careful about how we share our faith with those who don’t want to hear it, especially with those who are easily angered by our faith and who fight against it. 
            In fact, the Bible tells us not to throw our pearls before swine – not to throw precious truths at people who just want to attack them
.           Jesus warns, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs.  If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”  (Matthew 7:6)

            It also instructs us to leave a city that resists our efforts to share the truth with it and to “shake the dust from our feet” when we do, meaning basically to give them over to their hard hearts and to leave them alone in their rebellion.
            Matthew 10:14, 16:  “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. . . .  I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

            Sometimes living our faith needs to be more about shrewdness, about knowing when to refrain, than about zealous evangelism.  There might come a time when we are to stop sharing truth with people who don’t want to hear it and to give them over to the hardness of their heart.  If this has to happen, at least we can keep praying for them.  And we can still live out our faith before them in gentleness and love, praying that they might see something different and desirable in us. 
            And as we grow in our faith, we need to make sure that we are growing in our faith, that we do not stay at a “baby Christian” level.  We need to be maturing in faith, learning more through reading the Word, meditating on it and applying it to our lives, letting it deep into our hearts and minds to transform us to be more and more like Christ, drawing us closer and closer to God as He is in His Word.  We need to know what we believe and why we believe it so that we can be ready to give an answer whenever anyone asks us the reason for the hope that we have. 
            “Always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect.”  (1 Peter 3:15)
            Our job is to have the answer and to give it when asked, not necessarily to go around shoving it on people and forcing them to admit that it is true. 
            I think as we grow in our faith, we learn that evangelism is oftentimes more about living Christ than verbalizing it.  It’s more about being a light that shines so others can see it and less about beating people over the head with the Bible. 
            It is a slower process this way.  And more difficult, because it involves us needing to seek righteousness, to live with integrity, and to live with compassion, grace, forgiveness, and love (especially for people we don’t like).  But how we live is a more convincing testimony than any words we might say.  
            In addition to growing in compassion and tolerance, hopefully we have also grown more confident in our faith and are able to firmly, securely stand by it, without feeling ashamed of it or like we have to hide it when others disagree with us or mock us. 
            There will always be someone who doesn’t like us or our beliefs.  There will always be a mocker.  And they will only have as much power over you – to make you feel bad about your faith - as you let them have. 
            We need to be people who can confidently stand by our beliefs in a world that mocks Christians, that wants “relativity” to rule, that wants us to tell them that whatever they do or believe is just as good, and that wants to change the definition of tolerance from “agreeing to disagree, being able to live respectfully alongside other people who differ from us, letting them take responsibility for their beliefs while we take responsibility for ours” (my paraphrase) to “agrees with and supports everything that everyone else believes and does, as long as you are not supporting Christians.”
            Once again, it is not our job to force the truth, but to share it and live it and stand by it.  Our best testimony is not what we say but how we live.  Let our actions, our decisions, our love, our compassion, our tolerance, our striving for righteousness, our integrity, our reflection of Christ, and our gentle yet firm convictions be our testimony for the Truth of the Gospel.  Let it speak Christ to others, even when we are not using words.