Christians for years have lived a Chinatown knockoff version of Christianity that is looking less and less like the life of Jesus and the way he invites his people into. Christians are viewed with hostility or seen as irrelevant. In a book written by David Kinneman and Gabe Lyons entitled Un-Christian the authors cite how Christians are perceived as hypocritical, as people who treat others like projects or targets; anti-homosexual, out of touch with reality, agenda driven and judgmental. Research shows that this generation of those outside the Christian faith rarely see Christians who “embody service, compassion, humility, forgiveness, patience, kindness, peace, joy, goodness and love.” Even those inside the Christian faith are tired of the impotent brand of Christianity. One 35 year old believer, “Christians have become political, judgmental, intolerant, weak, religious, angry, and without balance. Christianity has become a nice Sunday drive. Where is the living God, the Holy Spirit, an amazing Jesus, the love, the compassion, the holiness? This type of life, how I yearn for that.” There is a brand of Christianity that repels instead of compels. It is not the original version.
Could we become a people that help create a new perception, give the world a fresh and compelling vision of Jesus and what His followers are to be as they are brought into conformity with Him? Could Christianity be seen as compelling and relevant and Christ and his Church seen as the hope of the world, a people who live in the way of Jesus and address the brokenness of this world with the power and love of the Kingdom? Could we live in such a way that we elevate the relevance of Christ and melt the cultures resistance to Jesus and his Kingdom? Not talking about managing impressions or holding up our finger in the winds of culture and asking it what we should be so they will think well of us. We are talking about being faithful to Jesus and walking in his pattern for our lives, being who he envisions us to be and living how he showed us and taught us to live. We are talking about living under the influence of the Holy Spirit so that we do the things Jesus did and we bring God’s future Kingdom into our present more and more as we walk in the way of Jesus. This is the way the early church lived and they had favor with all the people (Acts 2:46). They were a people that were compelling. They were held in high regard in their culture for the pattern of their lives and for the great things God was doing in and through them to bring hope and healing to people’s lives. If we could sum all of that up, it would be that we would become a people of compelling love.
The way of Jesus was the way of love. He embodied Love. As he walked the earth, he extended love in the most compelling ways and to people who the culture had rendered unlovable. He touched lepers, spoke kind and forgiving words to prostitutes and adulterers, healed the demon-possessed who were outcasts and untouchables; dined with the irreligious rule breakers that were shunned by the religious rule keepers, all the while telling the religious rule keepers that their rule keeping could not earn God’s love and they needed his grace just like everyone else. His love reached its climax in his self-giving for sinners, in laying down his life in our place as a sacrifice and substitute for us – taking on God’s just displeasure against the sins of all who would believe in him. When we look at the love of Jesus, he redefines love for us – “actively securing the good of another at cost to yourself without requiring merit or demanding payment.” Jesus said to those earliest Christians, as I have loved you, so you should also love one another. In fact, it was the very thing that was to define them. John 13:34-35. Love is what the church, the followers of Jesus are to be known for. It is the very thing that is to define us because it is the very way that our Lord lived. It does not currently define us in our culture. It defined the earliest Christians. They were a people who loved with a staggering, rare, self-less, sacrificial, agenda-less love that secured the good of others with no demands of payment. This is vintage love; the love that Jesus displayed in perfection and the love his earliest followers displayed in imitation. It was compassion in Action: 1 John 3:16-18. So they cared for one another and love became the brand that marked them. Tertullian (155-222 AD):
But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another, for themselves are animated by mutual hatred; how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves will sooner put to death.
But not just to insiders, but loving those outside their community as well, compassion in action – securing the good of others at cost to yourself w/o requiring merit or demanding payment. Illus: During the time of the plague in the third century, Christians were known for entering the cities instead of fleeing them. Dionysius writes about 250AD
"Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty; never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and caring for others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead….
Love is Our Agenda. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God and love our neighbors. Paul celebrates the love that exists in the churches. This became the focus for many of his prayers for the churches. 1Th 3:11-13. Raises important note: Holiness is the fruit of love. Scripture says that holiness is the result of a life that abounds in love. I grew up with a heavy emphasis on obedience. A focus on obedience can lead you into the pattern of the Pharisees. They took pride in their obedience to the law. This led them to treat people with condemning self-righteousness. They became rule followers who despised others who did not follow the rules as closely as they did. So you can be obedient to a law and lack love. 1Corinthians 13 says that no religious experience, or rule keeping righteousness is worth anything if you have not love. But a focus on love, abounding in love, increasing in your capacity to seek the good of others without requiring merit or demanding payment, will result in a blameless life. Focusing on love leads you to treat people with self-sacrificing compassion, not self-righteous condemnation. We could ask it like this: Do you focus on issues or people? When you focus on issues, you will strive to win (and striving to win almost always puts love out of reach). Your concern will be on being correct. If you focus on people, you will strive to love. Your concern will be on being compassionate. Example: You can focus on the issue of homosexuality and debate all day its ethical nature, and fight to prove your view correct. Or you could focus on the people, on the homosexual, and seek to love that person and strive to understand that person and show compassion. Issues or people? If you focus on the people, striving to secure their good, showing them compassion, then when you talk issues, it will be to dialogue and understand instead of to debate and win. So people walk away from you and say, we did not agree, but I felt respected, listened to, and cared for. My view may not have been accepted by that person, but I was. Bonhoeffer: “we must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or don’t do, and more in light of what they suffer.” What they do or don’t do = issues; what they suffer = people. Understanding them, caring for them, serving them, loving them.
Again, not the sporadic exercise of love, but steady embodiment of love. The kind we see in the Gospel. If we are going to live this way, it will be a work of the Holy Spirit in us. The first Christians, filled with the Holy Spirit, living under the influence of God’s Spirit. Galatians 5:18 (love is the key fruit of walking under the Spirit’s control). We need to become a community from which the Holy Spirit is driving from our individual hearts and collective heart all pride, lust, greed, indifference, and self-promoting patterns and where the Spirit is giving us a new capacity to love, to love until it hurts. To Love by befriending, listening, understanding, serving, and taking on the sufferings of others and bearing them, just like Christ has taken our pain upon himself and died for us. The only way we will change the culture’s perception of Christianity is not through arguments that defend the reasonable nature of our faith. It will be through love.
We have to say this: the greatest way we can love others is to compassionately connect them to Jesus Christ and his purpose for their lives. But, we do not withhold our love from people who refuse that connection. We love them as people not targets. When we truly love, like Christ loved, we will be a compelling people that shape the future. Michelangelo said, “Critique by Creating.” We can critique this world by creating a better one. We can critique the current conceptions of Christianity by creating a new perception one that is carved out by love.
I would hope people would look at us and say, “Those Christians are the one who run in when everyone else is running out. Those Christians are the ones who didn’t give up on the crumbling inner cities. Those Christians are the ones who brought peace to Darfur. Those Christians are the ones who put an end to human trafficking. Those Christians are the ones who helped win the war on AIDS around the world. Those Christians are the ones who write those incredible lyrics, pen those unforgettable books, and create artwork that’s mesmerizing. Those Christians are the ones who helped my mother when she got Alzheimer’s. Those Christians were the ones who were kind to me when I was new to the area. Those Christians are the ones that made me want to believe in God.” – Margaret Feinberg (author and speaker). That’s compelling.