Over the last few months, I have been in many situations where my beliefs have come head-to-head with those around me. It can range from work habits, friendship norms, politics and religion. I live in a society that discourages confrontation, so I often hold my anger inside. In many of these cases it has caused distance and bitterness in my relationships.
But as a Christian, I need to love people well.
My friend asked me recently, “Are we preparing millennials well for a world where people will have very different beliefs that often contradict their own?”
It caught me off guard. How do you love someone well, especially when you disagree with them?
I thought loving people well would mean spending time with people, hearing their stories, writing notes and baking things for them. While these are nice things to do, they aren’t love.
Instead, I found myself placed in a group of broken people that were very different from me. They had different views on politics, current events, social issues and even what good community looks like. Through this, I have learned how broken I really am. There was a tendency within me to get angry and disengage when people didn’t see eye-to-eye with me.
A higher form of love
God calls us to a higher form of love. A painful love. Love means giving of yourself, whether that is through time, energy, resources or reputation, by associating yourself with people or groups that often are avoided.
Love means considering the needs of others more important than your own. Love isn’t contingent on others responding to you the way you want them to. Love—true Christ-like love—is meant to be unconditional, sacrificial.
There are parts of ourselves we feel we have to hide because we have been given parameters around what we should act or think. Sometimes this means being nonoffensive toward others, inclusive of everyone and never disagreeing openly with others.
In my home, I was encouraged to be creative and not let anyone put me down for being different. When I was in college, I was given room to express my beliefs through my classes.
In the midst of all of that, though, I had to adhere to various unseen parameters. I could have my opinions on politics as long as they were politically correct. I could have my religion as long as I didn’t disagree with others’ religions.
Stepping outside these parameters would mean risking alienation, rejection or being seen as hateful. I realize now I do the same thing to others. People around me are allowed to have their opinions, as long as they don’t betray my core beliefs.
Living out our identity as children of God
But I’m learning that we are not our ideas, we are children of God.
I believe as Christians we first need to remember what Christ did for us. We are all imperfect and our imperfections are offensive to our perfect God.
Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. Colossians 1:21
Christ died to reconcile – to restore – our relationship with God.
Our ideas should not separate us from fellow believers because we are united in Christ. Moreover, our ideas should not distance us from people from other religious and spiritual beliefs because our love for others is what’s meant to set us apart. We as Christians are called to love one another. We are called to care about and understand each other.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these. Mark 12:30-31
Our sins and imperfections are deserving of death. Christ brought us out of death and slavery. We are redeemed, bought with a price.
I’m learning that loving people and being open to understanding their point of view also comes with a price. Love isn’t baking cookies for friends or writing encouraging notes. Love is uncomfortable and hard because people are messy. We are called by God to give of ourselves and lean into the messiness so we can be proof of God’s work on this earth.
But how do we begin?
1) Ask questions
In moments when I find myself in a conversation with someone and I’m thinking, “What is wrong with this person?” I find it helpful to ask questions like, “How did you come to believe that?” instead.
Questions help us not judge hastily.
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:1-2
Asking questions helps show a person you care about what they are saying. It will also help you understand that personhood and experience better.
2) Be filled with the Spirit
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told the disciples he would send a helper – the Holy Spirit. He told them to not try to share the Good News of salvation until the Holy Spirit came. We are not supposed to try to be reconcilers of man and God without the Spirit. So why would we try to love those who can be hard to love without Him?
3) Remember who you are
We are created uniquely for God’s glory.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22
We are the body of Christ, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters of the Most High King. We are the reconciled and redeemed. Let's bring that knowledge of whose we are into our conversations and relationships!
Pursue humility, putting others before yourself, in order to love people with Christ’s love. Rely on and be filled with the Holy Spirit, because without him we do not have the strength and power to succeed at loving others well. Finally, remember who you are and what Christ did for you. He loved you past the point where it was painful. Therefore, go and do likewise.
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