It has almost become a truism nowadays that whatever the secular world thinks is really neat is probably the opposite to what biblical Christianity is all about. If the world is really into something, it is likely the Christian faith should have nothing to do with it.
As C.S. Lewis once put it: “I have some definite views about the de-Christianizing of the church. I believe that there are many accommodating preachers, and too many practitioners in the church who are not believers. Jesus Christ did not say, ‘Go into all the world and tell the world that it is quite right.’ The Gospel is something completely different. In fact, it is directly opposed to the world.”
Many of the great believers have taken such a view. To be right with God most often means to be wrong with men. To seek to please God will often result in men being offended. Jesus and the disciples knew all about the offence of the gospel, and it is time we started knowing about it as well.
Today the world is above all else immersed in Political Correctness, and a new eleventh commandment has appeared: ‘Thou shalt not offend’. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t offend anyone. Be as placid, apathetic, innocuous and bland as you can be. Just make sure you don’t get anyone upset.
Such an attitude is supposed to represent tolerance, acceptance and openness. But all it really does is show us that we are a bunch of spineless wonders who would never rock the boat for any reason. As GK Chesterton rightly said, “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.”
But this of course has nothing to do with biblical love. Love does not mean allowing anything to happen and not speaking out. Real love is not about winking at evil, overlooking sin, and countenancing that which displeases God. Biblical love is all about speaking the truth, even if it causes offence.
John Piper has written some very wise words about these matters. In his 2006 volume, What Jesus Demands from the World, he lists 50 things that Jesus has commanded – things which we so very often downplay, overlook or simply ignore. One of these is the need to speak the truth to others, even if it hurts and offends.
Says Piper, “If a person can claim to have been hurt by what you say, it is assumed by many that you did not act in love. In other words, love is not defined by the quality of the act and its motives, but by the subjective response of others. In this way of relating, the wounded one has absolute authority. If he says you hurt him, then you cannot have acted lovingly. You are guilty. Jesus will not allow this way of relating to go unchallenged.
“Love is not defined by the response of the loved…. This truth is shown by the way Jesus lived his life. He loved in a way that was often not felt as love. No one I have ever known in person or in history was as blunt as Jesus in the way he dealt with people. Evidently his love was so authentic it needed few cushions. It is owing to my living with the Jesus of the Gospels for fifty years that makes me so aware of how emotionally fragile and brittle we are today. If Jesus were to speak to us the way he typically spoke in his own day, we would be continually offended and hurt. This is true of the way he spoke to his disciples and the way he spoke to his adversaries…The point of this is that the genuineness of an act of love is not determined by the subjective feelings of the one being loved.”
Quite right John Piper. When we read the New Testament, we see time and time again Jesus and his followers offending people, angering people, and alienating people, simply by speaking the truth. But Jesus and his disciples did not worry about everyone going off on a pity party. They were too worried about speaking truth.
In other words, they loved people enough to offend, when necessary. They did not go out of their way to offend people, but they never for a moment held back from speaking truth out of fear that someone might take offence or throw a hissy fit.
It is absolutely vital in this age of false tolerance, weak-kneed indifference, and PC pandemonium, that we learn to speak truth, even if it costs us a few votes or a few friends. This is so very vital, because the wellbeing of others is at stake – both temporal and eternal.
Let me illustrate this with one very powerful story which I have shared before. It concerns a homosexual who was offended big time by Christians telling him the truth. But in the end he was so very grateful that Christians loved him enough and cared about him enough to persist in telling him the truth. Here in part is his story:
“Let me just say a hearty ‘THANK YOU’ to my wife, and my parents and family, and my friends, who cared enough about me to offend me! I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I consider the ramifications in my life had the people in my world bought into the lie that to love me was to affirm my homosexuality. When I left my wife to pursue homosexuality, she boldly told me that she knew God could work in me and in our marriage and that she would not pursue divorce. She protected her interests but always professed her love for me and her desire to work through this together.
“My parents (and other family members) told me that what I was doing was wrong. They found Exodus, got materials, and tried to get me to talk to a counselor. They also called frequently to check on me, sent me money when I needed it, came to see me on my birthday, and flew me home for holidays. My friends drove hours to talk to me about what I was doing, and told me what they believed. They flew from other towns to take me to dinner and tried to convince me to get help and to turn from what I was doing. They also sent me cards and letters full of love and affirmation of our friendship.
“And each of them offended me. Each of them made me angry. I viewed them as bigoted, and unenlightened, and ignorant, and prejudiced, and hateful. If they truly loved me, I told them, they would accept my homosexuality and affirm me in the lifestyle I was living. I ignored their calls and I viewed them with skepticism. I did my best to sever my relationships with those who were offending me. But they would not let me go. They did not coddle me, but they refused to give up on me.”
His thoughts about Jesus are quite interesting as well. Referring to the book by Jeff Konrad, another former homosexual, You Don’t Have to be Gay, he says, “that book showed me more than the sentimental, saccharine love of Jesus that gay theology had sold me. It showed me the powerful love of the risen Savior.”
He concludes with these moving words, “Today my marriage is restored and has grown beyond my imagination. I have three beautiful children and am living out the call on my life to vocational ministry. Healing has happened in my family relationships, and I am closer to that cadre of friends than ever before. As I listen to people debate the ‘gay’ issue and talk of affirmation and inclusivity of homosexuality, I wonder where I would be today had Stephanie accepted my claim that I had always been gay and would always be gay and pursued divorce like I wanted her to do. I wonder where I would be if my parents had joined PFLAG [Parent and Friends of Lesbians and Gays] and supported me in my quest to live homosexually.
“I wonder where I would be if my friends had encouraged me to divorce Stephanie and had rallied around me in my homosexuality. I wonder where I would be if my pastors and spiritual shepherds had encouraged me to accept the very thing I needed to lay before the cross of Christ. I shudder at the thought. I know it must have killed them to think of losing me, but they loved me enough to take that risk. THANK YOU, dear friends, for your offense to me. At the time, the Truth you shared was the aroma of death to me (II Cor. 2:15) but today it is the sweet fragrance of LIFE.”
Real love means speaking real truth into the lives of real people with real bondages and dead-end lifestyles. While we of course must always be gracious, tactful and considerate, we must never let the spirit of the age browbeat us into silence. Truth is far too important, and people desperately need to hear it. Woe to us if we do not love others enough to be willing to offend them.