Jesus – friend of Sinners, how I love that title! For so long it has been a personal testament to me, that Christ would be the friend of someone so obviously imperfect and broken. It is now a song title, in a new single from Casting Crowns. Being a friend to the sinner and loving everyone unconditionally is the most radical aspects of Jesus’ ministry. It is the one that made so many people uneasy: that the Creator of the Universe would stoop so low to forgive and partake in life with thieves, murders and whores. It seems more likely that God would come to the already pious. Jesus, ever so eloquently direct, stated His mission in Mark 2:17,
It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.
As I’ve been driving around, hearing this song by Casting Crowns, I keep wondering why it impacts me. For instance, the line nobody knows what we're for only what we're against when we judge the wounded is stuck in my head. But why? As part of the Christian family, I have relations who do terrible things. But I’m pretty mild mannered; I pray, study, worship, serve, give – all things to all people, as the Apostle Paul would say.
It turns out though I still have sickness left in me too. You see, I try to change people around me. I do my best to instruct them on the way The Lord would have them live their life, so they would be better and prosper. I expect them to listen to me without thinking how my comments might push them farther away from God. I want them to be easier to live with but mostly, I want the gardens of their lives to be full of fruit and not so many weeds. Instead of loving them as they are, weeds and all, I want to come in with my landscaping crew for an overhaul; so they will look good on the outside. However, it seems I don’t care too much about what is going on inside.
I find in some relationships, I have traded love and relationship for condemnation and religion. For someone who has been forgiven so much, I have the nerve to judge others; like the Unmerciful Servant from Matthew 8:21-35. Instead of treating people as I have been treated, I beat them with righteousness. Jesus instructs His Disciples on this very thing in John 13:34-35. This is where the radical-ness of His ministry and mission comes to fruition when He says,
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
When I try to change people with words by arguing them into submission, they will not get the message of how much God loves them. I just end up cracking the concrete shell of their hearts, which they created to protect against my attacks. The world will know I am a Christian by my love or think me a hypocrite for lack of it.
Henri Nouwen writes in Here and Now: Living in the Spirit that human made love is subject to the shifting and changing of human regulations and customs. We don’t take on the role of helping them by trying to change them. Once we love people in God’s way instead of trying to change them, we will be recognized as Jesus’ Disciple and the relationship will be a sign of God’s love. Nouwen goes on to say that our love is an outpouring of God’s and we must claim and reclaim that He is the source of it all.
We have to act upon what we know to be true, the basis of our faith: God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son for us. He left it to us to accept that gift. God is the embodiment of Truth, but He doesn’t push, force or badger it upon us. He is gentle, patient, kind, not to mention endlessly forgiving. Jesus is the full expression of that gift, incarnate so we can literally experience it in the flesh. To want that for others is the utmost divine desire, but the only way we can achieve it is by imitating how Jesus lived His life. It takes practice to love and not judge. It goes against the grain of our humanity, but to be a true disciple, we must meet them where they are and want to love them more than pursuing the change.
If you are struggling with a relationship in your life, stop for a minute and look at how much time you spent trying to prove God’s way is the right way. There might be an opportunity to put down the pickaxe and use the gentle spade of grace. Search for ways to demonstrate your love, including using less words and more action. Lastly, depend on the power of God to work through you and make the change in the right way and in the right time.