Winning Isn’t the Goal


Wrestling

“Defenders of the faith are inclined to be bitter until they learn to walk in the light of the Lord. When you have learned to walk in the light of the Lord, bitterness and contention are impossible.” —Oswald Chambers

If maintenance on a house is neglected for years, the house eventually becomes derelict.  Once a house has been neglected for too long, the owner is faced with two choices: save it by performing a costly renovation or simply demolish it and haul away the rubble.

Saving a house through renovation requires a sizeable investment of time, patience, and tender loving care—not to mention the monetary investment. Demolition, on the other hand, is the easiest path.  It simply requires that the house be vacated and demolished.  It is faster than renovation and usually much cheaper, but in the end there is no shelter remaining.

According to my unscientific observations, in many ways modern Christianity is like a house that has become derelict. The greatest threats to this house (the Church) come not from the outside, but from the inside where in many places the foundation is crumbling and the framework is rotting.  Just like a real house, repairing the damage the Church has suffered in recent years, much of it self-inflicted, will take a large amount of time, patience and tender loving care.  The Church today needs a major renovation.

Many Christians are disturbed, even outraged by social changes they perceive as threats to their religion.  Some of the most controversial perceived threats are the gay marriage movement, the “pro choice” abortion rights movement, prohibitions on prayer in public schools and prohibitions on the display of the Ten Commandments and other religious symbols on public property. There are many, many other examples, but these four seem to frequently make the news.

Some Christians have become activists against these perceived threats. While activism aimed at keeping the government from encroaching on the freedom of religion is certainly appropriate, Christians must be careful to follow in Christ’s footsteps and show love to those who disagree with them and even to those who might hate them!

Some Christian activists exude anger and hate, contrary to Christ’s teachings. In isolated instances, there has even been violence and threats of violence. Extreme examples of activism, like that displayed by the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, have made national headlines and are harmful to Christianity as a whole.  Members of this church have adopted a radical anti-gay stance that includes picketing funerals carrying signs declaring “God hates fags.”  The church’s website claims its members have participated in over 50 thousand pickets.

While the Westboro example is extreme, there are many other examples where Christian churches have become embroiled in nasty political battles. Rather than worrying about perceived threats from the outside, Christians would benefit more from focusing on the real threats from within the church.  Indeed, we see that much of the hate and anger exuded by some Christians today is directed towards fellow believers, as denominational infighting is ripping many mainstream denominations apart. How can we expect the lost to listen to us when they see the shameful behavior Christians display towards one another?  How can we hope to convince them we offer a better way?

In Revelation 2:3-4 (NIV), Jesus admonished the church in Ephesus for “having left your first love,” indicating the church needed to get back to the basics.  This ties in directly with Colossians 3:8 (NIV), where St. Paul tells us to put away anger, wrath, and malice; instead, he says in verse 12, we must, “…put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering.”  This is the model Christ gave his followers through many examples in his own life; it is the model Christians should adhere to in our actions towards believers and nonbelievers alike.

Far from trying to overturn Roman rule, as many Jews had hoped he would, Jesus did not resist Rome’s temporal authority. When asked whether the Jews should pay taxes to Rome, Jesus replied, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21 NIV)

When interrogated by Pontius Pilate, the cruel Roman Governor of Judea, Jesus did not question Pilate’s authority.  Instead Jesus told the man who could release Him or order His crucifixion, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36 NIV) Afterwards, when addressing the Jewish leaders who had delivered Jesus to him to be crucified, Pilate said of Jesus, “I find no basis for a charge against him.” (John 18:38 NIV)

Around 312 A.D, during the reign of Emperor Constantine, Rome recognized Christianity as a legal religion.   This remarkable feat, going from persecuted underground church to a legal religion recognized by the Empire, was accomplished not through violent revolution, but by years of adhering to the tenets of the faith while suffering terrible persecution.

It was not political activism that ultimately convinced Rome to accept Christianity, but perseverance and faithfulness to Christ’s teachings by the early Christians. The tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, and longsuffering displayed by Christians prevailed over Roman cruelty and oppression.

John 3:17 (NIV) tells us, “…God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Will the modern Christian Church continue to demolish itself from within or will it choose the more difficult path and renovate?  In the meantime, will the Church show hatred and cruelty towards those it disagrees with, or will it win them over in the manner that Christ commanded?

When you come across someone you disagree with, or someone whose behavior you condemn lying injured by the side of the road, what will you do?  Will you stop to give help or simply cross the road and pass by on the opposite side? Jesus answered this question in the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37)

If we are commanded to so show so much concern for a stranger’s physical wellbeing, shouldn’t we care even more about his or her spiritual welfare?  Think about this the next time you become angered by something in our changing society or something in Christ’s Church.

Our time would be better spent repairing our own house than trying to demolish the house of our neighbor.  Remember that the kingdom we serve is not of this world (John 18:36).  Winning arguments with those we disagree with isn’t the goal of Christianity—the goal is winning souls for Christ.

Ephesians 5:2 (NIV) tells us,Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.”  If more Christians would focus on doing this, everything else would simply fall into place.   

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Geoff on August 20, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    I concur. People can be persuaded to share a belief, view or value but they cannot be forced. Even taking the fight to the political arena and passing laws only provides punishment for getting caught. Laws generally do not change people’s minds or their behaviors. Plus, using force on others is just exhausting.

    Reply

  2. Written with wisdom. Thank you. I feel the same way about this issues and am pleased that you wrote this blog and expressed it so well. Often it is said that “Christians kill their own wounded.” What a horrible phrase to be said about people who are supposed to be following and loving Christ.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Shawn on August 22, 2013 at 12:36 am

    Great words, Zack. I was reminded of these Scriptures as I read your post:

    [14] If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. [15] But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. [16] Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. [17] For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:14-17 ESV)

    and

    [12] For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? (1 Corinthians 5:12 ESV)

    We would do well as the church to sharpen our ability to witness rather than beating outsiders with our blunt witness of blaming and finger-pointing.

    Reply

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