Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Love That Cures

"And we urge you, brothers and sisters,
warn those who are idle and disruptive,
encourage the disheartened,
help the weak,
be patient with everyone."
1 Thessalonians 5:14

"Loving others" is the mantra of Christianity and with good reason. Scripture is adamant that love, above all else, be the mark of a true Christian. We can easily see this in the Old Testament Law, where God declared through Moses "love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD" (Leviticus 19:18). In other words, we are required to love because God is God, and he is a God of love. Jesus repeats this message in the New Testament, telling his disciples "My command is this: love each other as I have loved you" (John 15:12) and "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34, 35). Scripture even tells us that if we don't love other believers, we cannot truly be saved: "whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar" (1 John 4:20).

But what does it mean to love a fellow believer?

Well, there are all kinds of theories, but perhaps one of the most pervasive, and most damaging, is what we could call accommodating love. This is the kind of 'love' that desires a relationship with the other person above the spiritual growth of a brother or sister in Christ.

Let me give you an example. Say you've been going to the same church for several years and have become good friends with a number of believers. One believer in particular has become especially close to you. For several years you have shared life together, been in each others homes, attending Bible studies together, and helped encourage each other during times of emotional crisis.

There is just one problem, this brother has a serious problem with arrogance and pride. Or to slightly change the scenario, perhaps this brother has legalistic attitudes and judges other who don't adhere to his personal preferences. Or perhaps he disparages his wife and speaks of her in demeaning ways. Whatever the issue may be, this is a dear brother in Christ but you are fully aware of a spiritual weakness in his life. Yet you've never said anything to him about this.

Ever.

Perhaps you are afraid if you say something he would leave the church or even end the relationship. I know many pastors who think this way. Many years ago I became aware that a man in the community was involved in an affair. He was a member of another congregation and in a conversation with me, bragged openly about an affair with a younger women. Not listening to my counsel, I sat down with his pastor and informed him of the situation. After I was done, the pastor looked at me and said "thanks, but I'm not sure what you expect me to do about this." Somewhat shocked, I replied, "Well, I simply expect you to address a spiritual sin in the life of one of your members". To my horror he replied, "Well if I did that he would leave the church."

Is this love? 

If anything, it is a selfish form of love, more appropriately called lust, because you value your friendship with this person more than you value them as a fellow sibling in Christ. You care very little about their relationship to God, but only the enjoyment you receive from the friendship. You've just gotten really good at hiding your selfishness under the thin veneer of Christian language. Throw in a couple of Bible verses about love, and you all set.

But is it really loving to allow a weaker brother or sister in Christ trapped in a pattern of sin to go unchallenged? Is it loving to allow this person to walk through life ineffective for Christ and undermining, by his sin, the very Gospel he claims to cherish? Is it loving to allow such a person to go to their death unwarned of the righteous judgement that is in store for them unless they repent?

The Christian way to love is to administer healing love. In olden days, pastors were sometimes referred to as "curate of souls". This comes from the Latin word curatus, which referred to one who sought to cure or heal someone's soul. A modern equivalent would be "counselor", which is one who attends to, provides for, cares about, and seeks to bring healing to someone who is troubled in soul and spirit. Perhaps the greatest compliment I ever received as a pastor was when a congregant, who was encouraging someone else to come to me for pastoral counseling, told her "don't go see Pastor Josh unless your willing to change, because he will always take you to God's Word."

In other words, Christians are not to treat other believers like they are in a hospice ward: bandaging wounds, administer painkillers, and stupifying immobilized believers so they can live their lives (if it can be called life) in complacency. Instead, we are called to bring the healing of the Gospel to our brothers and sisters in Christ who are spiritually wounded. Sometimes this means helping them cut out the spiritual cancer in their lives. Sometimes it involves a difficult intervention with a brother addicted to his pride. Other times it involves reminding a sister of God's great and comforting promises. It always involves a loving willingness to open God's Word and point them towards God's healing truths.

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