[This article is an edited transcription of our March 2006 Tape / CD of the Month, The Balance of Truth and Love: Valuing Right Doctrine and Right Relationships by John Schoenheit.]
God bless you and welcome to this Spirit & Truth Fellowship International monthly tape / CD. This month I will be talking about having right relationships. That is having relationships that are a blessing, having relationships with people in which friendliness and friendship is there and genuine love for each other occurs.
You would think that in Christianity this would be the world’s easiest thing. Something funny happens in Christianity. How do I know this? Well, I know this because it happens in me. I am talking on this monthly tape / CD about something in which I have wrestled with in the past and to some degree still do wrestle with it. Thankfully because I am aware of it, I am working hard on myself. I still see in myself, and in others, that what I consider to be truth (right doctrine) is very important to me. It is very important to me to be right in the way that I believe about God. If you know me, then you know that I have studied very hard in the Word of God to understand it. Once I think that I understand it then I am very confident of what I understand, and that is as it should be. I am confident of what I believe. I believe very differently from many ministers. For example, when I turn on the Christian T.V. and I hear ministers who are very different than I am, they are very confident too. Well, praise the Lord! I think that is as it should be. I think if we read the Word of God and come from the assumption that God wrote the Word so we could understand it and know it and Him, then we should be confident in what we believe. That is important. It is important that you understand as I go through this teaching that I am not talking about losing confidence in what we believe. What I am talking about is something I have seen in myself and in Christianity today. That is sometimes the “truth” that I know, that I think I am sure of in God’s Word, creates in me an intolerance for other Christians and other people in general.
Now, is that not a paradox? What I have discovered here is sometimes the truth that I know, rather than being an engine that drives love in me and produces loving relationships actually drives me from relationships. In other words, because of the truth that I know, I look at other people that do not believe like I believe and I do not bring those people into my heart by truly loving them. For some reason I wrestled with this in my past and to some extent today. Is that not strange? I will say it again, sometimes the “truth” I know rather than being the engine that produces loving relationships drives me from loving relationships.
I think all of us know that we are supposed to be loving. We know we are supposed to be kind to people. Why is it when we settle upon something that we believe and say, “This is what I believe; this is the truth,” that it is so hard for us to be truly kind and compassionate and loving to others and have friends that do not believe like us? I think it has to do with how we hold our doctrine in our heart. We actually elevate our doctrine over love. We elevate our doctrine over our relationship with people. Well, guess who does not do that? How about God?
As I have been reflecting on this lately, I thought about how nobody has more truth than God. God is the truth. When He had Scripture written, every syllable was true; and yet, I know that God has worked with me when I did not believe the truth on a lot of things. I see when I talk to other ministers and other denominations, that the Lord is working through them and people are getting saved and blessed under their ministries. What is very apparent to me, and I hope to you, is that God is working in them just as He is working in me! What does that tell me? It tells me that God values the relationship more than the truth that they hold. Last week I was studying the Bible, and I saw something that changed a point of Scripture that I had believed for 35 years. This happened last week. We are changing all the time. We are getting better all the time! All of us think that we are learning more all the time; at least I hope that we are.
If what we know is holding us back from being in genuine-fulfilling friendship / relationship with people, then something is wrong with the way we are relating to our doctrine. We are putting our doctrine above the love of people. A way has to be there to do both.
Matthew 9:9 and 10
(9) As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
(10) While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples.
That is an amazing truth. Tax collectors and sinners came to eat with Jesus. Notice it does not say Jesus sent out the twelve to round up tax collectors and sinners. That is not what happened. All Jesus did was go to dinner. He went and called Matthew and had a dinner, and the tax collectors and sinners came. That tells me they were very comfortable with Jesus. They were comfortable being around him. Now, did he teach them things that were true? Certainly, Jesus did. Absolutely he did; then, why is it when I try to teach people things that are true, sometimes people run from me. What is the difference here? I think the difference has to be in what you believe in your heart about people.
For years, I kind of held the position that something was wrong with people if they did not believe the truth, or somehow they were less intelligent, or somehow they were less valuable. I am not even sure what I believed, but I know I thought they were not as good as I was. I thought they were not as valuable as I was. I was proud, and I elevated myself because I believed what was right, but I see that all over Christianity. So many Christians are out there that separate themselves from other Christians because what they believe is right. I do not see that in the life of Jesus Christ, and it breaks me.
We talk about being broken on the “Rock of Jesus Christ.” Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a point of breaking. If I do not have sinners who want to be around me, then I am not being like Christ, because Jesus Christ had sinners who wanted to be around him. This happened throughout his whole ministry.
Matthew 11:16 and 17
(16) “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
(17) “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
What is he talking about here? He is talking about people who are judging other people. People who are evaluating other people based upon what they believed and based upon their behavior. He said, “Do you know what the people of this generation are like. They are like children.” They said, “I played the flute, and you would not dance. We sang a dirge, and you would not mourn.” Let us translate that. “I taught the dead were dead, and you did not believe. I believe this, and you do not.”
We become dissatisfied with people that are not on the same page with us doctrinally. Maybe I should say, “I have been dissatisfied with people or have kept people at arms length that are not on the same page with me doctrinally.” That should not be happening.
Matthew 11:18 and 19
(18) John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’
(19) The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’ But wisdom is proved right by her actions.”
What a great verse. What is the wisdom of God? How about love your neighbor as yourself. How about to love like Christ loved? We should love as Christ loved and not criticize each other for each other’s doctrine.
Now, does that mean I do not think doctrine is important? No, I do think that doctrine is important. In fact, I see the importance of fellowshipping with like-minded believers because when I study like-mindedness in the Word of God, I see that when like-minded believers are together that great power and great effort is there.
I understand the practical reality that you need to minister with people that believe like you do. Early on in my ministry an interesting circumstance occurred. Because of a mutual friend who was in the hospital, another pastor and I ended up in his hospital bedroom at the same time. We were both there to minister to him. This man was very sick and possibly going to die. The limits of the practicality of the other minister and I ministering together very quickly became apparent because I believed Satan caused the man’s sickness and we could pray and get the man delivered. God wanted the man delivered. Furthermore, I believed if the man did slip into death that he fell asleep and awaited the return. The other minister who walked into the room at the same time I did believed that God sent the sickness for a reason and he was there to help the man ferret out the reason that God would make him sick and if the man did die, he would go home to be with the Lord, which was okay too. It became apparent in a few minutes that the two of us could not minister together.
As I teach this teaching, I do not want you to hear me saying, “Well, John Schoenheit is saying we should disband our fellowship.” That is not what I am saying. I recognize that it is important to minister with like-minded believers and I believe we have a lot of truth. Is that being honest? Absolutely it is. Why do I believe that? I believe that because I have studied the Word for years, and I understand the medium of language in which the Bible is written. I also know that if you have turned on the T.V. and listened to ministers that believe very opposite things than I do, that they believe they have the truth, and they should. Why should they? They should because if you do not have faith in what you believe then how in the world are you going to expect God to bless your ministry?
Praise God for men and women of God who stand up and have faith in what they believe! Yet, at the same time, we have to hold it lightly. Like I said, just last week, I unlearned something I thought I knew for 35 years. Well, praise God for that! An interesting tight rope is there for the minister of God and for the Christian to be taught truth and believe it; and yet, they should not hold that truth above love in relationships.
Let me show you something out of Hebrews. I want to remind you about what we just read about the religious people during the time of Christ. They said, “We piped unto you, and you did not dance. We sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” The people of Christ’s time, like me, like our ministers today, and like so many Christians, criticized others. “We did this, and you did not do that!” We criticize others when they do not conform to what we believe. That has just got to stop. It has to stop in me. It has to stop in others. I have got to be able to see people through Christ’s eyes and realize that the person is more important than the doctrine they hold. That is why Christ gives revelation across the board. He gives revelation to Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, and people with Spirit & Truth. He works with them and he blesses them. He overlooks the doctrinal problems that we all have. I am not going to stand here and say everything I believe is true. If I did not like people who did not believe like me, if I met myself five years ago, I would not like myself. Sure, I have changed, a lot.
We have got to love people from our hearts.
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
The word thoughts here, enthumesis, is better written emotions or passions, and the word attitudes is better written intentions. It is the Word of God that judges what is an emotion from what is an intention. Sometimes we do things emotionally, and sometimes we do things because we intend to do it. The Word of God judges (separates) that.
I want to point out the word judges. The Word judges is the Greek word kritikos. We get our English word critic from that word. What is intriguing about the word kritikos is that it is the only time in the New Testament that it is used. The critic, the only critic is the Word of God. I am not the critic. “Oh but Lord, I know the Word!” Maybe I do, maybe. I thought I knew the Word at the beginning of last week but learned something I did not know. I thought I knew the Word 20 years ago, but I have learned a lot that I did not know. The Word of God is the critic and I am the lover. That is the deal!
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have to love people. We have to really care about people. We have to be able to enter into relationship with people. What I am saying here, the chewy caramel of my message, is if we are going to truly be like Christ, and I would assert, if we are going to have prospering churches / home fellowships, then what has to live in them is love and friendship. That love and friendship has to live first in my heart.
Let me talk to you about what I mean about having love in my heart. Let us say that I am invited to a minister’s luncheon, and I sit down across the table from a minister of another denomination. I am very polite, and he is very polite as we make small talk. We talk about various things; we talk about the Word of God and about each other’s families. That is nice. That could on the surface seem to be the start of a loving and friendly relationship. What is really important is not what I am saying to the minister, but what I am saying to myself. If I am having this conversation with this minister or another Christian of another denomination or somebody on the street and I am being polite and kind to them, but within my own mind, my self-talk, my conversation with myself says, “Well, I can’t wait until we get through this small talk to where I can really teach this guy some truth. Man, this guy must really be messing up his congregation because if he is teaching them the stuff he is telling me he is teaching them, then they are a mess. Boy, this guy is really off the wall. I can’t believe how he can read the Bible and not understand the simple truths.”
If I am having a critical, unloving conversation about the person, that then, is the posture of my heart. It is not the small talk or friendly talk I am making on the outside that reveals the posture of the heart. It is the thoughts that are going on in the inside. I will assert that we will not truly be successful as lovers of people until that conversation changes. I do not for one-minute think that Jesus Christ walked around Judea saying, “Well, that guy doesn’t know this. Well, this guy over here is really messed up because of this. Well, that guy, what a mess.” If Jesus Christ did that, then that is all that he would do. Nobody held more truth than Jesus Christ. He was the consummate lover of people. His internal talk was about how valuable people were. That is why Scripture says in Romans chapter five that when we were his enemies, Christ died for us.
What is our internal talk about people? It is very important that we understand how to talk about people and how to change that talk. For people like me who did not talk very well about people for many years, thankfully there is help. I read a book called Practicing Right Relationship by Mary K. Sellon & Daniel P. Smith. I am going to read a couple of things from this book because I think they are very important. I also think there is a word of hope, a message of hope, in this book for people who have a hard time with relationships. Let me tell you something. If you are now where I was two or three years ago and where I still am to a certain degree, if you are finding the truth that you know instead of driving loving relationships is actually producing a situation where you are keeping people at arms length because of the truth that you know, then you and I both need to change. We need to know how to enter into truly genuinely loving relationships. We need to learn how to truly, genuinely, love and appreciate people.
This book Practicing Right Relationship talks about four areas where people such as us need to grow. One is self awareness—am I aware that in my mind I am saying nasty things about the guy across the table even though I am making small talk on the outside. The first thing I need to be is self aware. Am I aware that I am being critical which means I am a critic? Am I aware it should not be occurring? I start with self awareness. I need to be aware of what genuine love looks like.
Second, I have to be able to manage that. I need self management. What is the difference between self awareness and self management? Oh, I learned that one, big time! Do you want to know where I learned that one? I entered ministry with a foul mouth. I used vocabulary many times that was not a blessing. I used obscenity. Years after entering the ministry, I became aware from Ephesians chapter five that obscenity was not right in the eyes of God. I became aware that I should stop, but that did not mean I could just stop on a dime. Oh no, I gave myself many lectures about how I should stop using obscenity because I found a big difference existed between self awareness and self management. I had given myself a lecture in the morning about how “I was going to go through the day and not use any obscenity and break my bad habits,” but then somebody cut me off in traffic, and I lost all my presence. We need self awareness and self management.
Third, we need social awareness. How are we with people?
Last, we need relational management.
What does social awareness look like? Let us talk about love and what it feels like to be loved. Have you ever received a loving act? I am going to assert that all of us have had somebody love us at one time or another. Some of us are fortunate to have people around us who love, and they love a lot. Loving acts and kind acts are generally remembered for years and years.
It was intriguing to me how the Lord helped Tee-up (prepare) this teaching in my life through a couple of different things. I had been thinking and praying about love and friendship, and praying about how to be truly and genuinely kind and compassionate to people. I did not just want a surface compassion with an inward talk about how they did not know the Word, they did not know this, and they are that. No, I wanted a genuine compassion accompanied with a self-talk of how valuable people are, what a blessing they are, and how the Lord is working with them.
Yesterday morning, I was watching the History channel on T.V. while I was on my exercise machine. It was a show about D-Day. A man was interviewed for the show who had been shot in the chest on D-Day. He was carried off in a stretcher and taken to the hospital; of course, thousands and thousands of people were wounded on D-Day. Stretchers and stretchers were there as far as you could see. The man had a blanket put over him, but the nurses and corpsmen were so busy that they did not really have time to give a lot of individual care to each and every person. The blanket was not tucked under him, and the man was chilly. The man was shot in the chest and too weak to even straighten out his own blanket. He felt the blanket being straightened out and tucked underneath him. It was helping him to be warmed. The man turned, rolled his head over to see who did that, and next to him was a wounded German soldier. The wounded man said, “I did not speak any German and the German soldier didn’t speak any English,” but the wounded man said, “Our eyes locked, and to this day, I remember that act of kindness!” That was 60 years ago. Sixty years ago, an enemy soldier in his love to humanity just does something kind and it is remembered. I think that the enemy soldier was a German Christian. Can I prove it? No, I cannot prove it, but that is the way Christians live. Christ said, “They will know us by our love for each other.” He did not say they will know us because our doctrine is so right. I know that you have probably heard that before, but it is true. It is not just acts of love that we do on the outside while we have an internal conversation about what that person needs to learn going-on on the inside.
We need to have self awareness, self management, social awareness, and relational management. The good news is that if you are like me and you do not feel like you have been very good in that, then you can change. I can change.
In this book, Practicing Right Relationship, they write the following:
Life-giving relationships happen neither automatically nor magically. They are created by people who make the choice to be open, authentic, caring, and curious about each other.”
I am making that choice. I am making the choice to be caring. I am making the choice to be curious. I am making the choice to be open with other people. They go on to say:
The skills that are required to create and maintain such relationships can be learned. Right relationships are important not only for the fulfillment that they each bring but also for what gets created through them. These relationships are a vehicle through which God works and affects change in the world. The stronger and healthier our relationships then the clearer channels they can be for what God wants to birth in the world.”
Well, amen to that! I believe that God wants to birth great things in the world. I believe that truth makes people free. I believe if I can enter into genuine meaningful dialogue about what is true with other people then things will change, and God’s will can be done.
Now, that person might be thinking the exact same thing I am thinking. I am thinking they do not know the truth, and I do. That person is thinking, “He doesn’t know the truth, but I do.” If I keep that person at arms length while I batter him with doctrine and that person keeps me at arms length while he batters me with doctrine, then we are not going to go very far. Instead, I can genuinely love that person in my heart and not make small talk and not simply open my living room but open my heart. That is what needs to be opened. My perspective has to be different. My internal self-talk about people has to be different. If that person is talking to himself about how valuable I am and is curious about why I believe what I believe, then I can talk to that person and be curious with that person. Now we have a chance of affecting great change in both of us. Maybe, we will come to the point of like-mindedness, and maybe we will not. I will tell you what, even if we do not, we are both in a position to better understand each other. We can better understand that we are in the same fight of trying to find God, trying to see God when we see through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13:12), and trying to do our best for God’s people. We can bless each other and go back to our own fields of work. Does that make sense?
On page nine Sellon and Smith write:
We have discovered as have many others that good relational skills can be learned and honed across time.”
Praise God because I did not start out with many good relational skills. What a word of comfort that they can be honed and they can be learned. That is great! Practical skills and self awareness, self management, social awareness, and relational management are all needed. Through practice these skills can be built, confidence developed, and right relationships lived.
They write at another place:
Right relationship depends on knowing to the best of our ability not only who we are but who the other person is. What makes that difficult is that we often think we already know the other person, his likes and dislikes, his aims and goals, even at times what he is thinking and feeling.”
Absolutely, when I read this paragraph it was like, “Duh.” I run into somebody and say, “What church do you go to?” They tell me what church they go to, and then I am exactly like this book says, “I think I already know the other person. I already know what he believes, his values and his goals,” yet I have not even asked him about them. Is it not true that we pigeon hole people and then the internal talk starts? We then wonder why we do not have a close relationship. We wonder why we are not effective as ministers, why we are not effective as Christians, and why we are not effective lovers of people. We have to change our heart. We have to open our heart and change our self-talk. We have to begin to elevate people and understand that doctrine is a vehicle for deliverance, but it is not as important as the person who is being delivered. We have to keep talking about that in our minds until we genuinely believe it.
Sellon and Smith go on to say:
As children we were naturally curious, linking observations with the question, ‘Why?’ Why do you have to go to work? Why does rain fall down? Why does John make that face when Mrs. Adams calls? As we get older, we tend to lose our curiosity. Now, rather than asking why someone makes a face when Mrs. Adams calls, we typically form a hypothesis in our mind and then take that hypothesis as true, and we never check to see if we are correct. In other words, we make up stories.”
Is that not exactly what we do? I know that is basically what I do. You hear something you have heard before and you run yourself right through the path. Pretty soon, you know the whole story, but when in fact, all you know is that you saw a face.
Let me tell you something about curiosity. I have been talking to a cognitive therapist, and he has the best take on not being defensive. I do not know about you, but defensiveness has been a problem in my life; especially when someone who is close to me challenges something that I believe or hold dear. I was looking for tools or keys that would help me not become defensive. How can I genuinely love and appreciate people and not show up so defensive? This cognitive therapist taught me about curiosity.
This is something that can go back to what we are learning here from Sellon and Smith. It is self-awareness and self-management. The first thing that you have to be aware of, is that you are defensive.
Somebody comes up and says, “Why are you making eggs for breakfast this morning?” You say, “What…” and bite their head off, but later on in the day, they are cold toward you. You say, “Why are you being so distant?” They say, “Well, it is the way that you bit my head off this morning.” You say, “What? What did I do? All I did was tell you why I wanted eggs!” That is not being self-aware.
When we know how we are making people feel it is called social awareness, but when we know what we are doing, when we feel we are being defensive then that is self-awareness.
What can I do in the situation when somebody says, “Why are you making eggs this morning?” Instead of being defensive, you can use the great tool of being curious. You could say, “Well, I have some good reasons for making eggs, but why are you curious?” If we are curious with people, it can help us not to be defensive. If we are curious about other people, we could say, “Tell me why you go to that church?” They say, “Well, I like this, and I like this and this.” You say, “No kidding, well those are wonderful things. What about the teacher?”
You begin to enter into a dialogue with the person. Maybe the person is very blessed with the teaching and very confident of his doctrine etc, etc. Maybe by being curious, that person will open his or her life to you, and you will be able to discuss things. Maybe he or she will be very curious about you, and you will start to talk about things, so then the next thing you know, you find out you can be close to each other. Even if you practically realize at the end of the conversation from a person of another denomination, that they are very happy with believing that God is totally in control, the dead are alive, or a bunch of other things that I do not believe the Bible teaches, then I can recognize the practical reality that we would have a hard time ministering together. I can open my heart to that person, and that person can open their heart to me. We can be friends. We can realize that in our own way, we are both fighting as hard as we can to get truth to people to set them free, to obey Christ, and to be like Christ.
Sellon and Smith go on and talk about questions you can ask so you can enter into right relationships with people. For example:
What do I want my relationship with this person to be like?”
I can tell you how to make the relationship cold and distant. If you or I in our self-talk think that the person is not worth anything unless the person believes like we do, then the relationship will be distant. If you or I say in our self-talk that we want our relationship to be meaningful, then we cannot enter into it thinking that the doctrine is more important than the relationship.
What attitudes and values do I want to honor as I am with this person?”
“What must I let go of in order to turn toward this person?”
“What is the goodness in this person that I will see and trust?”
“How will I acknowledge to the person the holy goodness that I see in her or him?”
This book, Practicing Right Relationship, is very good for ideas and ways to enter into relationship with people because people are valuable. I am in the midst of reading another book called In Search of Excellence by Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman. This is a book that was on the New York Time’s best sellers list for over three years, yet the lesson from this book is quite simple. These men went out to find why companies succeeded. Why were some companies very successful and other companies not so successful? They had some simple conclusions. They write here in their introduction:
Moreover to our initial surprise, the content of the culture [corporate culture] was invariably limited to just a handful of themes. Whether bending tin, frying hamburgers, or providing rooms for rent, virtually all the excellent companies had it seemed defined themselves as de facto service businesses, — the customer reigns supreme!”
What are they saying here? They are simply saying when they surveyed companies and found out what made a company successful, they found out that the customer reigns supreme. The customer was the thing that was important, not what they were doing, not their production line, and not their management techniques. The customer was important, and the customer felt that. Because the customer felt important, the customer then patronized the company.
That is how our relationships work. We need to make people feel important, which you do when you open your heart and enter into friendship with them. If I open my heart and make somebody a friend and ask them questions about themselves and make them feel important, do they not know that? Sure, they know that. You feel it when somebody makes you important. Sure you do. I do. We feel it! I also know when I am being patronized. I feel that too. Absolutely, I do.
Dan Gallagher and I were in a computer store the other day, and a guy was behind the counter. The guy was messing around with some kind of thing that he was doing. We stood there. Whatever he was doing must have been more important than Dan and I (who were waiting to buy something) because he sat there and fiddled and messed and fiddled and messed, and Dan and I stood there and stood there and looked at each other and looked at him as he was looking down. It was like we were not even there. He did not even so much as look up and say, “Guys I will be with you in a minute; I am really sorry, but I have to finish a transaction.” He did not say anything that made us feel important. You know what I said to Dan as I was walking out, “If there was another computer store close by that sold this stuff, I would go there!”
Well, what am I saying? I am saying that as a human being you know when you are being devalued, and you know when you are being valued. Christ made people feel valued. That is why publicans and sinners came to him. That is what we need to do. We need to so love people in our hearts that our self-talk reflects how valuable people are, what a blessing they are, and how good they are.
Let me go on here with the introduction from In Search of Excellence. It says:
The customer reigns supreme. The question would be, “how do you get your company and how do you get the employee to have the customer reign supreme?”
They say the answer right on page five of their book. They say:
For us, the very important message of the research that these actions spawned and a theme that we shall turn to continually in the book is that ‘attention to employees’ not work conditions per se that has the dominant impact on productivity.”
Once again, why were the companies successful? It was because the companies treated the customer right. Why were the customers treated right? It was because the company treated the employee right, so the employee was blessed and was happy and was excited about working for the company, so they treated the customer right.
I am going to assert that God treats us right. Jesus Christ treats us right. I know I have received revelation when I have been wrong. I know the Lord has worked with me when I have been wrong. Like I said, if I based my liking or not liking people on them being like me, then 20 years ago I would not have liked myself. The Lord makes the sun shine on the just and unjust alike. God (management) loves us. Now we are the employees, and it is up to us then to get so excited about God’s love, God’s forgiveness, and God’s compassion that we love others. Let’s look at Luke.
(9) To some who are confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable.
(10) Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
(11) The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, robbers, evil doers, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
(12) I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all that I get.
This man means, I know what is right, and I actually do it.
Luke 18:13 and 14
(13) But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven but beat his breast and said God have mercy on me a sinner” [Christ concludes the parable].
(14) I tell you that this man rather than the other is justified before God, for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Do you know what I see in this parable? I see a man whose doctrine separates him from others. Do I believe that the Pharisee fasted twice a week? I sure do. Do you think that he actually gave a tenth of what he got? Sure, he tithed. What is interesting is that the Pharisee stood up. Is he working hard to be approved unto God? Absolutely he is.
What you and I do for God does matter. It blesses God that I study the Word. God called me to be a teacher. I had better study. It is not a matter of the Pharisee not needing to fast or not needing to tithe. He did. It is not a matter of then saying that I do not need to do what is right. We do need to do what is right, and we do need to hold the truth. But look how the Pharisee used it against somebody instead of saying, “I have a lot to teach. People are valuable. People are God’s creation. This guy over here; he needs God’s help. I am going to go over there and bless him. He is valuable. The Devil is beating him up; I am going to go over there and get the Devil off his back. I am going to help him.” If it turns out that the tax collector (sinner) does not believe exactly like the Pharisee, it is okay. We love each other where we are. Instead, the truth the Pharisee knew only put distance between the two people.
Let me repeat where I started from. What I discovered about myself and what I see in others is sometimes the truth that I hold rather than being an engine that produces loving relationships, actually drives me from loving relationships. It keeps me at arms length from one another.
I see good reason why this started in my life. For the first 17 years of my Christian life, all I had ever read was the King James Version of the Bible.
2 Timothy 2:15a (KJV)
Study to show thyself approved unto God.
I am going to tell you what. I was all over that. Hey, I am a good student. I have always been a good student. I made A’s through high school. I was president of the National Honor Society. I was on the Student Senate. I have always had three pens in my pocket. I have always been a nerd! Can I study? You bet I can study. “Study to show thyself approved unto God.” I am all over that. I am totally there.
I look at people who are academically challenged because it is not their ministry. Their ministry is in ministries of mercy, ministries of compassion, ministries of art, or ministries of music. Maybe they are not as good at studying. Heaven forbid I should actually think they were not called to study all the time like I am. See, if I had a paradigm in my mind that study is the way to be approved unto God then it is real simple; and furthermore, it makes it real easy for me to critique other people. I can see whether they are studying or not and decide whether they are approved unto God. I did just that!
I am glad that I moved on from there, but I lived in this paradigm of “study to show thyself approved….” Therefore, whether you were approved unto God or not had to do with how much you knew and whether your doctrine was right. I started reading the New International Version in 1985 or so, and I read this:
2 Timothy 2:15a
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved.
Wow, that is totally different than study. You see, the Greek word spudoso does not mean study. It means to apply a diligent effort. You could say, “Make a diligent effort to present yourself approved unto God.” Why does the King James Version say the word study? It says that because in 1611 when only 10% of the population could read you studied by being a disciple. A silver smith in 1611 did not become a silver smith by reading books. They studied, that is to say that they apprenticed with a silver smith. He would have them first build the right kind of fire. They might spend a year learning how to build it right. Then, they learn to melt the silver to the right temperature. A period of study occurred that might have gone on for years. Today, sometimes we call that understudy. In 1611, it is very important that you understand that at that time study did not mean read. It meant to understudy and make a diligent effort when you understudy the person. The translation here of “do your best or make a diligent effort to present yourself to one as God approved,” is what God is looking for us to do. In Revelation, it talks about God wanting us hot or cold; He does not want us lukewarm. He wants us to make a diligent effort. [For further study read Discipleship Basics.]
I am going to assert that in my life, I have met many people who do not believe like I do, but they are making a very diligent effort to be approved unto God. They get up in the morning and they pray. They do daily devotionals and they keep a journal. They witness and they go to church faithfully. They do what they have been taught to do. I know and have known so many people who make a diligent effort based on what they have been taught. Maybe some truths are there that might help them and might set them free in some areas, but they are not going to care that I know them until they know that I care.
This old saying became old because it is true. “They do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.” It is very important that we care for people and that people get that we care for them. They need to understand that we care for them.
By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Praise God! We need to love one another. We need to show compassion for one another. Let me assert this to you. How will you know whether you are loving one another or not? How will you know whether you are truly showing compassion? You ask the other person. That is what is valuable.
It is like the man who was wounded on D-Day. It may have been an enemy soldier, but he knew that he was being loved. It was like Dan and I at the computer store; we knew that we were not really cared for by the sales person. It was very apparent that we were not really important. I am walking out of the store telling Dan that if another computer store were around I would go to that one. Let’s say the manager overheard that, and the manager bounced over to me and said, “Why would you say that?” I would say, “Well, I just don’t feel like we were taken care of in here. We weren’t very important to your store.” If the manager argued with me saying, “Well, you are very important, and our man treated you fine. Our man had work to do. You have to understand that. He treated you with great care because he has to get his things done first.” Do you think he would have changed my mind? No, he would not have changed my mind. I would have thought he was trying to keep me as a customer so he could take more money. You have been with people who really love you, and you felt loved. Remember, “They will know you by your love for each other.”
How do I know that Jesus Christ loved? He sat down for dinner, and people who did not agree with him doctrinally, publicans and sinners, came to be where he was. He made them feel important, and because he made them feel important, their hearts were opened to him when he taught them the truth.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,…
Remember when we read from In Search for Excellence that the company has to make the employee feel good. This is God telling you what you are. Are you a Christian? You are holy. Well, I do not feel very holy today. Well, management is saying that you are holy, and furthermore, management is saying you are dearly loved. You are cared for. God says that you are so valuable to Me. You are My holy beloved children. God is pouring out His love to us. If we are saying, “Well, maybe I am wrong on a few points.” Do you think God is saying, “Oh well, in that case, I cannot love you”? No, He was pouring out His love to me when I was an enemy. God loves us. He is telling me how holy I am. What is my response to that?
(12b) …clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
(13) Bear with each other, and forgive what other grievances that you may have with one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
(14) And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
You see, God loves me to the point that I feel really loved and accepted and blessed before Him. This is why it is so important that you confess Jesus as Lord and become saved. Then you are a holy child of God and you are in God’s family, blessed with all spiritual blessings. He is not holding anything back. What happens is we feel loved up, and if we feel loved up properly? Then, we realize that God loves every single one of His children the exact same way. At that point, doctrine does not play a part in it. Christ did not die for me because my doctrine was right. Christ did not love me because my doctrine was right. God did not pour out every spiritual blessing to me because my doctrine was right. Why then am I taking someone whose doctrine may not be right and holding him at arms length? Why am I not acting like God does and pouring out every blessing I have to this person and thinking about them and how valuable they are? What is it about me that I have so elevated my doctrine and my being right that it has put me at arms length from people to which I ought to be loving? Why has my doctrine become my enemy?
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have to change the posture of our heart. It is something we have to do.
clothe yourself with compassion
It does not say sit around and pray until God makes you humble. Prayer is important, but we have to work on ourselves to change the posture of our heart. It is like Sellon and Smith say:
There is self-awareness and self-management. We have got to become self-aware, and we have to self-manage.”
Romans 12:2 has a word of hope for us. It says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The word of hope is if you have been like me, one of these people that your difference in doctrine from somebody else has set you apart from him or her, then you can be transformed. That does not mean to merely make small talk on the outside and be friendly but to be transformed. Every Christian can become a genuine lover of people, and every Christian can realize that if God loves them and me and our doctrines are different, then I can be like God and love people whose doctrine is different, truly loving them from my heart.
Matthew 5:43 and 44a
(43) You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
(44) But I tell you: love your enemies…
By the way, who was teaching that? Not the Old Testament. The Old Testament did not say to love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but that was the way that it had been interpreted in the religious teaching of Christ’s day, so where they would hear “love your neighbor and hate your enemy” was not the Old Testament but in the local synagogue.
(44) But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you
(45) that you may be the son’s of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
(46) If you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?
(47) And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Don’t even pagans do that?
(48) Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.
The word perfect is the Greek word teleios. It is to be mature. Sometimes I read The Message (which is not a literal translation) by Eugene Peterson. He takes great liberty with the text, but sometimes he does a good job of getting the sense of the text.
You are familiar with the old written law, love your friend and its unwritten companion, hate your enemy. I am challenging that. I am telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.”
I love that. It is people that we differ with that most challenge us to be like Christ. When I am with people like me that believe like I do and think like I do, I do not have to do a whole lot to be like Christ. When I am with somebody who is truly different, that is when I am really challenged to be like Christ.
When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for then you are working out your true self, your God created self. This is what God does, gives His best, the sun to warm and the rain to nourish everyone, regardless of the good and the bad, the nice and the nasty. If all that you do is love the loveable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run of the mill sinner does that. In a word, what I am saying is “grow-up.” You are kingdom subjects, now live like it.”
The reason this caught my attention was because of the phrase “grow-up.” That is exactly what the Greek word teleios means when he says “be perfect.” It is grow to the end, and Peterson phrased that as “grow-up.” Do you see here what Christ is saying? That God gives His best. He makes the sun to rise and sends rain on the evil and the good. What good does it do to send it on the evil? Well, it has a chance of opening their heart and touching their life. Remember that people do not care how much you know until they know how much you care. If we are going to be effective as ministers, and I would assert even further, if we are going to truly be like Christ, instead of just being right, we have to make a decision here. Are we going to be right or are we going to be like Christ? If we are going to truly be like Christ, then we have to change our heart. We have to be transformed by the love of God that God gets us to where we are true lovers of people.
We realize that doctrine is important, and that doctrine sets people free, but it is not important if people will not hear it. It is not important if it makes us a critic. Remember, the Word of God says, “It’s the only critic, and I am supposed to be a lover.”
A beautiful poem was written by Edger A. Guest called Sermons We See. It goes like this:
I would rather see a sermon then hear one any day.
I would rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear.
Fine counsel is confusing but examples are always clear.
The best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds.
For to see good out in action, is what everybody needs.
I soon could learn how to do it if you’ll let me see it done.
I can watch your hands in action but your tongue too fast may run,
And the lecture you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do.
For I might misunderstand you and the high advice you give,
But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.”
I can talk about right doctrine, and I can talk about being like Christ, but if I am keeping people at arms length then there is no misunderstanding how I act and how I live.
I would like to close with an assertion. I would like to assert that God has given His best to people and truly opened His heart to people no matter where they stood doctrinally. I would like to plead and implore for all of us to take a look at how we self-talk about other people. What do we truly think about other people? Have we gotten to the point where we are truly like Christ and people are more important than what we believe? We can love people and care for them and show compassion to them and think good thoughts about them in our heart (even when they do not believe like we do), and do it while maintaining that what we believe is important, and be confident in it.
We can serve God and worship God the way we know to while loving, blessing, and touching others because that is the best that they know, and after all maybe we are wrong—don’t think so, but maybe we are.
God bless you!