“The Christians were seen as religious fanatics, self-righteous outsiders, arrogant innovators, who thought that only their beliefs were true.”* Sound familiar? Ever heard of Christians today accused of this?
Actually that quote was about early Christians in Rome.
Surprising isn’t it? Today the Church is often reminded – and justly so – that we are not called to stand in judgment of the world. And the people who say this are right! A valid critique of Christians today is our lack of love when communicating our frustrations and disagreements with our culture. We can be dogmatic in our views, arrogant in our beliefs, and snobbish in our opinions. ‘I’m right, you’re wrong, therefore, you’re going to hell!’ is sometimes the way we come across.
We in the Church are far from perfect. And we have not handled things perfectly. The older I get the more I find myself praying ‘how do I live today, Lord? How does a Christian handle…?’ Walking in the footsteps of Jesus is not easy and there are rarely quick and easy answers. And I’m not saying we are excused from our call to love and to serve because this is a hard situation we’re in.
Yes, the Church is called to serve others, to be a light to the nations and show the world what Jesus was like. Yes, we are to be known by our love and that includes our love for every single person out there regardless of how they live or who they are.
But that doesn’t mean you will fit in and everyone will love you back.
The early church in Rome wasn’t on the offensive. They weren’t walking down the streets decrying Rome’s complete lack of moral integrity. They weren’t picketing the famous gladiator games, or throwing mud on the idols. They weren’t standing on the street corners shouting out how all of Rome was going to hell.
And yet, they were still seen as arrogant, narrow-minded, and a menace to society. Numerous emperors during the first 4 centuries of the Church’s existence persecuted Christians because they were seen as dangerous and unhelpful to Roman society. The Christians didn’t fit in. They didn’t stand with the culture and support all the different belief systems that were available.
The early Christians in Rome lived according to the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah and they were still disliked by much of the population.
But maybe that’s just the way it is.
Right now the world is filled with darkness and death. It is groaning under the curse of sin awaiting its redemption as well. The cultures of earth are being formed by people of the earth. They may have good intentions but sin still abounds and taints it all.
Jesus has called believers to live holy lives. Remember what holiness means – separate and distinct. If you claim to be a follower of Jesus you are to look different and live different. You aren’t to act like everyone else. You are called to be different.
A Christian is not suppose to ‘fit in’ perfectly.
And this will naturally cause struggles. We’ve all been there. Haven’t you ever been in a situation where another believer walked by you or came in the room and you were a bit embarrassed to be doing what you were doing or wearing what you were wearing, or saying what you were saying? Their simple presence was enough to convict you, and they didn’t have to say anything.
Believer, if you’re living the kingdom life your presence will be convicting and polarizing. Some will gravitate to you because they love the Jesus they see in you. Others will hate the differences. You will be convicting because you are different.
You are pure in an impure world.
You walk according to integrity and honesty in a world where truth is becoming relative and integrity is old-fashioned.
You love and serve even those who hate and spit on you – and they may still dislike you and others may still misunderstand you.
Again, this is not an excuse to be callous or rude. Since no one’s going to like me anyway – why bother to be loving. The command is still to love God and love our neighbor regardless of whether or not they love back. And the critique still remains – are we loving others in our interactions with people? All too often I find myself having entered into a discussion not because I love the other person but simply because I disagree and want to air my opinion. I want to show people where they are wrong and how I am right.
Yes, Christians are called to show the world the love of Jesus… but that doesn’t mean everyone is going to like us or appreciate us.
Jesus was the most amazing man who ever lived. Gracious, gentle, compassionate, strong, a leader among men, and yet not even He was loved by everyone. Sinner and religious leader alike were either drawn towards Him or hated Him. Because Jesus wasn’t like everyone else.
Believer, neither are you to be like everyone else. And even some of your very own brothers and sisters in Christ will not appreciate the difference.
Yes, as Christians today we are suppose to be known by our love for all men, women, and children. We are to help heal and repair the pieces of an incredibly broken world. We have been called to serve others and be kind. But that doesn’t mean the world will want us or love us. Because we have also been called to live according to a standard that God has set. Because we’ve also been called to be holy – set apart and unique. Because we’ve also been called to bring the Kingdom by obeying the King.
And not everyone wants Jesus as King.
*quoted by Witherington III, Ben, Women in the Earliest Churches (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) 213.