My bride posted an image on Facebook last week that caught my attention. It’s two sentences graphically organized that read, “Ministry is not simply accepting people the way they are. It is loving them enough to help them change.” These sentences got me thinking about confrontation. What place does it have in the Christian life? Does love have any say in this topic?
I’m sure my wife would admit there’s jargon in her sentences that could be easily misconstrued. The word “ministry,” for example, has a range of meaning that may or may not be understood by every reader. I would guess that when my wife uses the word “ministry” she means the spiritual work or service of Christians toward one another (among other nuances). So what she is saying in these two sentences is Christians who love each other will help each other change.
But that’s more jargon, isn’t it? What does it mean to love each other? What does it mean to help each other change? What is change? Is it necessary to help others change?
A popular saying today is “we just need to love each other” or “let’s just love each other.” We need to be accepting of the differences we all have. We need to celebrate diversity. But that mantra, “let’s just love each other,” presupposes an agreed-upon definition of love. Is that really the case though? Do we really have the same understanding of what it means to love each other?
A biblical worldview defines love according the Scriptures. The word for love is used 551 times in the New Testament Scriptures. It means “to love, value, esteem, feel or manifest generous concern for, be faithful towards; to delight in, to set store upon” (Mounce, Greek Dictionary). Love is an expression of the essential nature of God, the perfect characterization of the relationship between God and humans, and the supernatural character of God reflected (Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, s.v., “love”). Fundamentally to love means self-giving for the good (good, as defined by God) of the object.
To love someone from a biblical worldview means, then, to give of oneself for the good of another. In the context of my wife’s two sentences, loving someone could manifest itself in an awkward conversation about sin and what it means to repent and walk by faith in what God says to be true. But that’s unpleasant. Nobody likes being confronted about something they’ve said or done. Often, therefore, we rationalize that it’s unloving to confront someone about their sin. After all we don’t want to be labeled as intolerant or unloving.
But that’s not how the Bible portrays love. Galatians 6:1–5, for example, teaches that Christians should confront each other’s sin to restore such a one in the spirit of gentleness. Christians are to fulfill the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens. Matthew 18:15–20 teaches that sin is a significant enough issue in life that we must confront sin and seek restoration. This passage, of course, is balanced with 1 Peter 4:8, which says, “love covers a multitude of sins.” Christians should not go around looking for infractions to confront. Sometimes it is prudent to let the Bible and the Spirit of God work in the heart of the other.
Another bit of jargon is in the phrase “accepting people the way they are.” Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” That is, come as you are. We try to be happy and helpful and loving but are frustrated. God’s design was for humanity to live in perfect harmony under his authority. But we try to live life our own way, we try to say, “Whatever you believe is fine for you, you just live so that you’re happy!” The Bible calls that sin. Life doesn’t work when we ignore God and his original design for our lives. There is still brokenness, there is still pain, there is still frustration. But we selfishly insist on doing things our own way, saying that we are happy and content the way we are.
We may think we are okay now, but our sin leads to brokenness. It’s a vicious cycle downward: we try to make things better on our own, which leads to brokenness, which leads to a desire for something better, which leads to us trying to make things better… And on it goes.
That’s where this graphic helps, I think. When we come to the place where we know our efforts are totally inadequate, we come as we are to church (or a Christian, or the Bible), where we are welcomed the way we are—broken, lost, and looking for something better. But as Christians love us, they share the truth, to help us understand that God’s way is the way to heal the brokenness in our life. Christians love us and identify with the brokenness because they too are broken. Christians love us…enough to help us through the ugly process dealing with our sin the way God says it ought to be dealt with: confrontation and repentance.