The church has always been a controversial place. Everyone has a different opinion, and church culture and beliefs smash up against the beliefs of the world like two monsters in a truck rally. We’ve crushed each other for all of history, the upper hand shifting back and forth from us to them, and it seems like the debates and the misunderstanding are only getting uglier.
It’s a tense place we live in. We’re sandwiched between church culture and popular culture, trying to keep our footing.
But what do we do when our next-door neighbors live in a way we fundamentally disagree with? It’s difficult to know how to act. Either we befriend them, which seems like condoning their sin. Or we keep our distance and our moral integrity.
But neither feels right.
There’s the old phrase, “love the sinner, hate the sin,” but even that doesn’t seem to help. Our hate isn’t known for its accuracy, and often misses its target. Having your sin hated doesn’t exactly feel the same as being loved.
So what do we do? How do we love people without condoning their sin?
The answer isn’t easy to live out, certainly, but when I feel stuck, I always look back at how Jesus did things.
If I had to boil down Jesus’ treatment of others in one phrase it would be this: Jesus saw people as people.
When Jesus met the woman at the well, He met the woman, not her sin. He didn’t see her as an adulteress, or a woman who had gone through several husbands. He saw her as a woman—saw her heart, her struggles, her needs, her deepest desires.
I bet you Jesus would never tell you He ate with sinners and tax collectors.
Instead, I bet He’d tell you their names, and the wonderful things God placed in their hearts. When the woman came and anointed His feet with oil, Jesus saw the woman and her love, not her sin.
This is where I think we most often miss the mark. We often see people’s sin long before we ever see the people buried under it.
Good friends of ours live next door to a gay couple. They’re the kindest women—funny, and caring. But so often I think we refer to people living differently than us the way I just did: “The gay couple living next door,” instead of mentioning their names, or their stories, or the great thing we noticed about them when we met.
Jesus modeled so much for us and sometimes it can feel overwhelming trying to become more like Him. But when I look through the scriptures, I notice one thing above all the rest.
Jesus treated people like people, not people like their sin.
What would it look like for us to implement this in our lives? What would it look like to meet people, and look in their eyes, and ask their name, and hear their story? What would it look like to intentionally see people for who they are instead of for what they’re doing?
I think we’d find ourselves being much kinder, much more compassionate, much more loving.
Most of all, I think we’d find ourselves looking much more like Jesus.
photo: Johnny Ainsworth, Creative Commons