Q Zone: Insight from our Intern

InternWe just finished our mini-series last week (12/1/13) in Acts 15 (“Conflicts in the Kingdom”), and though we answered many questions in our live Q & A, two are still remaining.

What better way to acclimate our current pastoral intern, Jason Laxton, to the FFC culture than give him a shot at the last two questions. (Curious about Jason’s plans once he’s done here at FFC? Click here for our 4-minute interview where he and I discuss this very topic.)

So, Jason, take a shot at the Q Zone!

Q: In sharing truth with others, both believers and unbelievers, we often are accused of “judging” the other person.  How do we resolve this?

You can’t. In fact, many times  judging, or discerning, is exactly what we are doing. The Bible actually calls us to do this (1 Cor. 2 –  “the spiritual man judges all things”), though not as someone’s ultimate master — that’s God’s role. But we are to judge/discern humbly and non-hypocritically, well aware that we are under the same kind of criteria (Matthew 6).

So what we need to wrestle with is this — what can we do so that our discernment — “judging” — is seen in the best way possible? This is a great question and one I struggle with at times. Speaking the truth is absolutely good, honorable, and right. As Christians, we are often exhorted to be bold, to not hide what is true, and to hold the truth up as a light. At the same time we must also remember what Paul said in 2 Timothy 2:24-26, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”

When Christians give testimony to what they believe and defend the faith, they are to do so “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). In other words, we are to witness in a loving, courteous way. This is not to say that Christians should never speak negatively regarding the actions of others. The gospel message condemns sin and calls sinners to repentance and faith in Jesus (Acts 17:30). However, there is a right way and wrong way to do anything, and speaking against sin doesn’t need to be abrasive. Christians are called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), and, as we know, love is not rude. (1 Corinthians 13:5)

A husband who loves his wife will not treat her rudely but with courtesy and respect. A pastor who loves his congregation will not speak of them condescendingly to others. A Christian who loves his neighbor will remember his manners and act accordingly. A life of love is shown in our words and actions and will impact others to bring glory to the Lord. Remember, we do well when we love God and love His people!

Q: Any guiding thoughts on loving others with truth (1 John 3:18)? I understand and appreciate loving others by not “throwing our freedom in their face,” but sometimes legalism can seem especially toxic and needs dealt with, right?

A few succinct suggestions on loving others with truth. After all, John’s challenge in this verse is for Christians to be genuine in their love. One of the distinguishing marks of the child of God is love, a love that originates in God, displays itself in actions of self-sacrifice, and is evidence of eternal life.

  • Love without deceit. No hidden agenda.
  • Love without expectation. No return assumed.

These two things will really manifest why you are loving — because you want to obey the truth — and will speak louder than words.

Some further reflection on this topic.

The main reason we run into difficulties in loving others is sin, both by us and by those we try to love. Humans are fallen creatures. Apart from God and His power, we are selfish, and loving ourselves comes much more naturally than loving others. But love is not selfish; it seeks the best for others (Philippians 2:3). Battling both our own selfishness and sin tendencies, as well as the selfishness and sin tendencies of others, can make love a chore. But in this difficulty we come to better appreciate the enormity of God’s love for us. And when we love others in spite of their lack of lovability, God’s Spirit shines through, He is glorified, others are edified, and the world sees Christ in us.

Legalism, like you said can be very toxic. Doctrinally speaking, it is a position opposed to grace. Those who hold a legalistic position often fail to see the real purpose for law, especially the purpose of the Old Testament Law of Moses, which is to be our “schoolmaster” or “tutor” to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Even true believers can be legalistic. We are instructed, rather, to be gracious to one another: “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters” (Romans 14:1). Sadly, there are those who feel so strongly about non-essential doctrines that they will run others out of their fellowship, not even allowing the expression of another viewpoint. That, too, is legalism. Many legalistic believers today make the error of demanding unqualified adherence to their own biblical interpretations and even to their own traditions. For example, there are those who feel that to be spiritual one must simply avoid tobacco, alcoholic beverages, dancing, movies, etc. The truth is that avoiding these things is no guarantee of spirituality.

Paul warns us of legalism in Colossians 2:20-23, “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’” These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. These kinds of regulations have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” Legalists may appear to be righteous and spiritual, but legalism ultimately fails to accomplish God’s purposes because it is an outward performance instead of an inward change.

To avoid falling into the trap of legalism, we can start by holding fast to the words of the apostle John, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17) and remembering to be gracious, especially to our brothers and sisters in Christ. “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4). “You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat” (Romans 14:10).

A word of caution is necessary because, while we need to be gracious to one another and tolerant of disagreement over disputable matters, we cannot accept heresy. So know what is close-fisted doctrine and what is open-handed preference. Use truth to lovingly defend in regards to close-fisted areas (“contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” – Jude 3), and use grace to maturely serve together in regards to open-handed preferences.

If we remember these guidelines and apply them in love and mercy, we will deal well with both legalism and heresy. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

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