Recently, my family had the honor of hosting some young adults for a few hours over dinner. It was an enjoyable way to spend our evening. The food was good, the company comfortable, and the conversations were fun. (Also, I feel the need to tell you, not a single person was glued to a phone.) Let me give you some perspective here to help with the understanding of how remarkable this situation was. My husband is in his forties, and I am fast approaching that milestone. We have four children. My husband has a stable job, and we are relatively well off financially. Our guests were barely in their twenties, single, no kids, and every, single one of them is working hard trying to survive in an unforgiving world. Now look back up at the part where I said the company was comfortable, and the conversations fun. Here was a motley group of people, which, by the way, included my two teenage daughters, and we all experienced a few hours of easy community together. Seems a bit unusual, doesn’t it? (This also involved a stray cat found in the middle of the road, which our guests felt comfortable enough to bring along with them. My husband and I are not cat people, so this was a first. However, I could not be more overjoyed that acceptance was felt by those invited into our home.)
There’s a beauty in this situation I want to highlight, a reason why this shouldn’t be unusual or surprising, a reality that should take place more than it typically does. It is something so amazingly simple, yet it is one of the most difficult concepts for us to apply to our daily lives. It is the absolute fact that in Christ, because of Jesus, we can experience joyous community with anyone, no matter our differences. The awe-inspiring glory of the body of Christ lies in the bringing together of peoples to a place of commonality as humans created in the image of God, no matter their race, nationality, background, socio-economic status, gender, political leanings, religion, (you get the picture). Jesus didn’t come for a select, special group of people. He came for all, and He came to heal the great divide between humanity and God and between the divides we as humans create between ourselves.
Check out this scene in scripture: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'” (Revelation 7:9-10).
Isn’t that an incredible view?! Imagine being part of this massive, heavenly event where a tapestry of humankind is gathered in unity to worship before the throne of the God of the universe. It’s quite a different picture than what we get here on this earth when we look at the world. It’s also quite a different picture from what we often see within the church, those who are supposed to be offering the world a glimpse of the Revelation scene as described above. Disagree with me? Just take a look at a comment thread on social media about a controversial topic, and you will find plenty of examples of people who have quite sadly typed out hateful messages all in the name of Jesus or look at the silly debates over non-essentials Christian leaders get hung up discussing all while people Christ died for are cast outside the church and are turned off by our nit-picking. It makes me angry and sad to witness. I can only imagine the extent to which it grieves God.
Unfortunately, so often we focus and argue and fight over what makes us different and divides us rather than seeing the common thread we as humans all share. We all bleed. We all experience hunger, thirst, pain, and loss. We all know the wonderful feelings of joy and love, and most of us can appreciate the beauty in a sunset. We’ve all failed. None of us is perfect. We all want to be known, valued, and loved. We have more in common than we think, and it is through these shared experiences that we discover our feet actually really do meet on level ground.
Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This means that within the church, among those who call themselves Christ-followers, there aren’t supposed to be differences between us that cause division. We are supposed to be one in Christ. In John chapter 17 when Jesus prayed for the future church, He prayed for this. He said, “…that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me,” (John 17:23). Did you catch that Jesus said the world would know the love of Christ through the church’s unity? What in the world do we think we are accomplishing with the petty arguments and judgments we level against one another? What message do you think we send to the world when they see the way we treat people who have a different worldview than we do?
When we stand on our high, political platform (just one of may examples) shouting condemnation on all who disagree with us, we look absolutely NOTHING like Jesus. We are called to be the aroma of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:15). More often than not, people who label themselves with the term, “Evangelical,” have an aroma that quite frankly stinks to the point where the term “Evangelical” in our society is more a curse than a blessing. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2, “Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen…Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful,”(verses 14, 23-24). What part of these verses gives any of us any permission to scream and shout our opinions at people with whom we don’t see eye to eye? What do you think you are accomplishing in the name of Jesus? I can guarantee that no one has convinced anyone to become a Christ-follower through debate and the thrashing, bashing, and abuse of humans through words. Rather than experiencing good news from us, the world is over and over again receiving our message as bad news because the way we live and speak bears no resemblance to the Savior we claim to love and follow.
Next time you feel compelled to berate someone with your point of view as you cast judgment upon them without making the effort to truly know a person deeply by listening to his or her unique experiences, I challenge you to stop and close your mouth. James 1:19-20 says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” We would all do well to follow Jame’s advice. Until you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes, until you’ve really heard them, seen them, taken time to look past your blind-sighted judgment to view the person God loves just as much as He loves you, then you have no place to talk. “Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues,” (Proverbs 17:28). Some of us have played the fool far too often for far too long. It’s sinful, and is utterly shameful. We are guilty of profaning the name of God when we act this way.
So what does all of this have to do with my dinner story? Well, last Sunday evening was a perfect example of what happens when we choose to lay aside our differences and truly stop to pay careful attention to and genuinely show interest in and love for the human behind the label, no assumptions, no judgment, just the warmth of an open home, good food, and the art of hospitality. In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus did when he shared a meal with people. By His time spent around the table with outcasts, He embraced these persons as friends with full acceptance. I wonder…what would happen if more of us chose to spend less time arguing and bickering, which only causes a deeper divide and spent more time listening, loving, and opening our lives to people with the sole purpose of showing acceptance for those who need it from us the most? After all, Jesus Himself was a friend of the people who bore the negative labels of society, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners,'” (Luke 7:34). May we all be a friend of “sinners,” because each and every one of us is a sinner too. We all need God’s grace.
So the next time you feel the need to yell, “Liberal! Baby-killer! Millennial! Hore! Homosexual!” maybe you should just hold your tongue and look to have a meaningful conversation where you ask good questions and listen while speaking less and doing so face to face with the actual person. It’s exactly what Jesus did. The reason Zacchaeus experienced genuine life-change was because he had a real encounter with Christ. That’s what people are supposed to experience when they meet a Christ-follower.