From: ChristianGovernance eletter, December 6, 2012
In reading the latter chapters of Acts, I was struck by a contrast in Paul’s attitude towards two different types of people.
Christians today really seem to have difficulty dealing with the idea that we can, and should, handle different people differently. True, we are to love all men – even our enemies.
The story goes that a Christian couple was in the counsellor’s office, and they were hoping he would give them a Biblically acceptable rationale to divorce. They told him they no longer loved each other. He told them to start loving each other again as husband and wife. They said they couldn’t. He said, start then by loving yourselves simply as neighbours because God commands us to love our neighbours. We can’t do that, they said. We fight like cats and dogs, and we don’t even like each other. Fine, said the counselor, let’s start at the lowest possible level: Love her like your enemy because God has commanded us to love our enemies.
We are also commanded to do all we can to live at peace with all men. But even if we do all we can, we may find a lack of cooperation from another person, thus preventing peace.
But these aren’t the sum total of what the Bible teaches about relationships. We are to be ready to forgive, but Biblically you can’t forgive someone who doesn’t ask for forgiveness over a genuine offence. Then there’s the annoying yet popular statement Christians like to make about hating the sin and loving the sinner. With very few exceptions, the main issue about which we ever say this is homosexuality, which itself should be a red flag. It’s a non-livable concept. It only makes sense in theory. And non-Christians don’t even take that claim seriously anyway.
But here’s a more problematic situation for many Christians: we talk about God being a God of love. Then atheists point to all the terrible judgments God poured out on people in Old Testament times. And we sometimes point out the terrible warnings of judgment in the New Testament Scriptures as well. This is problematic, though, because the only way that many of us can make sense of God’s judgment in OT times is to attribute that behaviour to a different kind of God.
What so many of us fail to see is that we have theorized religion rather than maintained the personal realities of God. We can talk about His judgment in theory, and talk about good and evil in theory, but when we have to talk about the personal implications of sin, wickedness and judgment, we get stuck. The reality is, however, that God deals with the just and the wicked in two very different ways. God never promises the kind of peace, protection, love and healing to non-Christians that He promises to provide to His people. It is not surprising at all that the Bible records God’s personal judgment on wicked people as well as His great blessings of love and mercy on His children.
It’s stunning how Biblically illiterate we are, or how embarrassed we are at God, that we get caught stuttering and speechless when non-Christians claim great contradictions with their false notion of a god of love and the inconsistency with that caricature and the Biblical record of God’s judgment.
Back to Acts. In Chapter 20, we read about the apostle Paul meeting with the Ephesian elders. These are men. These are leaders. These are bold, courageous shepherds of God’s people in a hostile environment. Yet, of all that Paul said – instruction, exhortation, warning – the one item that Luke says dominated their thinking when he was finished, was that they would see him no more: “When Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again.” What a bunch of girlie-men! What’s with this display of emotion! Stiff upper lip, boys!!!
So we see here, the great affection between Paul and the Ephesian elders that came from the development and nurturing of close, trusting, loving friendship.
Then a few chapters later, we see Paul lashing out in anger at a false accuser. (And yes, there is such a thing as godly anger. Be angry and sin not, we are commanded. Anger is an important legitimate emotion that, when targeted at a problem rather than a person, can be used as a powerful motivation to effectively address that problem.) In Acts 23, the high priest, Ananias, ordered someone to slap Paul, and the Apostle responded: “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!” Paul was subsequently rebuked for speaking this way to a high priest, but his anger itself is nowhere condemned. He was condemning hypocrisy. He was expressing disgust at injustice.
We need more of this kind of mature, well-rounded, passionate Christian spirit among Christians today. Pray for it for yourself and for others, for Christian leaders – pastors and others. We need more godly anger against the anarchy of public moral perversion that is tolerated, and even embraced. We need more godly love and devotion among Christians to strengthen the unity of the Church, and to make it an inviting place for others. The best experts draw a link between most homosexuality and abuse experienced by children in their homes. There are so many incapable and wicked parents who withhold love from their children, intentionally or otherwise. If they are overtly abusive, they make things worse, but even the simple withholding of love and acceptance can be devastating for some, and be a decisive factor in the perverted, disoriented attempts of these young people to seek out love elsewhere only to become ensnared in homosexuality or some other devastating lifestyle.
God has a different relationship with Christians than He does with unbelievers. Psalm 1:6 reads: For the LORD knows the way of the righteous …”. God deals with Christians differently from how He relates to non-Christians. So should we. Even where we are commanded to do good to all men, we are told to give priority to other Christians: Galatians 6:10 – “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” This particular love and relationship should encourage and uplift us, not be a cause of embarrassment. The Apostle Paul is a great example to us in such things. We would do well to meditate on his example as it’s found in the pages of the book of Acts.
May God grant the Church more godly love, more godly anger and more godly sorrow. And may He grant more of us the courage to pray for these things – for His glory, for the building of His Church and for the advancement of His Kingdom.