Controversy is not a new phenomenon; it has existed from the beginning of time.
How do we have honest and vulnerable conversations about controversial subjects in our families when we disagree?
How do we teach our children to abide by the moral standards we have grown to understand as important?
How do we differ in perspective from those whom we love and continue on in meaningful relationship?
I have some good news to share! Love is not contingent upon agreeing with somebody. If it is, then you are displaying conditional love. We are to love at all times. Here are some things that Love does- “…always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres” (1 Cor 13:7). Here are some things that Love isn’t- boastful, angry, selfish, rude, and dishonoring (1 Cor 13:4-5).
If you have been on social media or anywhere on the internet since it came into existence, you have seen intense examples of conditional love. I love you… until you offend me. I love you… until you don’t support my cause. I love you… only if you love me back. The world wide web was created just 25 years ago in 1990 by Tim Berners-Lee. The internet/world wide web is an interesting place of free-flowing information that holds within it every juxtaposition and contrast known to man. Online, you can sit behind your tablet, phone, or computer and say just about anything you want. You click submit, send, enter, etc… and it’s out there for never-ending scrutiny.
Why is it so important for you to tell other people how much they offend you?
Why is it such an overwhelming temptation to use your Facebook to shame and demean others?
Why can’t you choose to display words that reflect love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and… self control?
The use of social media and the internet in general is not something you or I are entitled to… it’s a privilege- we should learn to be more responsible with it.
But I am getting away from my point. My point is- we must learn how to have face-to-face, real life, in-person conversations with other humans whom we most likely disagree with while, at the same time, demonstrate the love of Jesus. We are to be a friend to everyone. Proverbs 17:17 says that “A friend loves at all times.” The proverbs offer advice that will likely promote wisdom and life satisfaction… we can certainly choose to reject these suggestions, but it will be at the cost of our contentment and ability to have successful relationships. The real question is not “How can others change to understand and agree with my perspective?” but “How do I learn to accept and love those who God puts in my path, even when our perspectives vary significantly?” We are all really good at pointing out differences, anomalies, and irregularities. But, America- especially- seems so far from learning cultural competency and identifying similarities between and among ourselves. We should be valuing diversity, interacting with people groups and cultures unlike our own, and developing relationships with people whom we disagree with. If you only have relationship with people who agree with you… you are missing it.
What would the Love described in 1 Corinthians 13:7 do in response to the topics of: abortion, gun control, gay marriage, video games, marijuana, obesity, vaccines, immigration, death penalty, and political parties? We need to take a serious look at the controversial topics that you and I are coddling and treating in an indulgent or overprotective way. Yes, we must have convictions about these subjects, but when did we get so fixated on winning or influencing a debate that we lost the ability to demonstrate love to the person in front of us? Our focus is all wrong. We must stop magnifying the problem, and begin magnifying the Lord. Next time you get into a conversation with a family member, stranger, friend, neighbor, etc… here are some things to consider:
1. Love always protects/bears all things
We all have personal convictions and varying perspectives on every topic under the sun. The way that love “protects” in conversation and interactions with others is by displaying reticence. This word means “not revealing one’s thoughts or feelings readily.” This is tied to the self-control fruit of the spirit. As a counselor, I must display reticence in order for my clients to feel loved and empowered to seek the change they need to succeed and thrive in life. Immediately revealing my personal feelings about their sin, choices, or behavior is rarely beneficial or constructive. It would be unkind for me to assert my opinion about their lifestyle choices and habits without first building relationship, trust, rapport, and challenging them to see multiple perspectives. After all, kindness leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). We must allow ourselves to be counseled by others. Love is patient and chooses to learn from others.
One of my favorite fortune cookies that I ever got said “Consider everyone you meet to be your teacher.” Silly that I found this in a fortune cookie, but the message is powerful and has deep significance. If you can step outside of yourself for a moment and choose to learn something from the person across from you, you will grow in humility and wisdom. You will learn to love without condition. 1 Peter 4:8 says that “Love covers a multitude of sins.” Cover others so as not to expose fault and condemn them based on your personal convictions, but choose through compassion and kindness to forgive, just as Christ forgives you (Eph 4:32).
2. Love always trusts/believes all things
One commentary that I use often makes this statement:
To ‘believe all things’ means that Love “Takes the best and kindest views of all men and all circumstances, as long as it is possible to do so. It is the opposite to the common spirit, which drags everything in deteriorem partem [“the worst part”], paints it in the darkest colours, and makes the worst of it. Love is entirely alien from the spirit of the cynic, the pessimist, the ecclesiastical rival [religious opponent], the anonymous slanderer, the secret detractor [critic, belittler, attacker].”
Don’t give into the temptation that because you tend to be more pessimistic that you should or always will be that way. It is going to be hard for you or I to demonstrate the love of Christ through a lens of defeatism, gloom, and despondency. Frankly, I’m sick and tired of hearing this phrase: “Well… the world is getting worse and worse- it looks like we are approaching the end.” Really? It is statements like these (amongst other things) that incite fear and cause non-Christians so much confusion: “I thought Christians were supposed to trust God and be hopeful despite their circumstances. If they can’t do it, why would I choose Jesus?”
3. Love always hopes
Hope means “believing that something good may happen” (Webster). The Greek definition is “the expectation of good; joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation.” God is the source and author of hope (Romans 15:13). Some may describe hope as a silly, ignorant, oblivious perspective. But my challenge question is this: Will you ever experience a miracle in your life if you try to pray apart from hope? Hope chooses to shift focus away from things that are divisive, ‘dis-unifying’, and isolating. It is not that hope doesn’t notice and isn’t aware of what is going on in the world, it simply chooses not to allow those things so much attention, and therefore-power. When you disagree with someone apart from love- you giving division a measure of power that it does not deserve. It is the enemy’s job to “steal, kill, and destroy…” (John 10:10) not yours. I once heard this line in some movie and it has stuck with me: “There is a fine line between denial and faith, and it’s much better on my side.” I would rather have hope for somebody or something for the rest of my life (even if I never see the fruit of it) than resign myself to a perspective that anyone or anything is beyond redemption, rendered incurable, or a lost cause.
4. Love always perseveres/endures all things *
You and I are to experience persecution with a patient and loving spirit. Whether you are pro-life or pro-abortion and feel that you are being persecuted… endure with steadfast love. Whether you are pro-gay marriage or against it and feel that you are being persecuted… persevere with constant love. You and I should be beyond offense if we are living the normal Christian life. Don’t allow yourself to become so easily offended by the comments, actions, and choices of others. Forgive “seventy times seven times” (Luke 17:4). “But I am so weary of forgiving and dealing with people’s ignorance and hatred…” I believe we have two choices: 1. Fight against people, submit to the temptation to become defensive and in the process- hurt others; 2. Or, seek to understand the other’s perspective and sit in the tension of disagreeing with them and loving them unconditionally. Unconditional love is different from unconditional agreement. To say that I accept and unconditionally love you regardless of your stance on any controversial issue, and that you accept mine and unconditionally love me regardless of my stance on any controversial issue does not mean that we have to agree. And that’s okay. People on both sides of every divisive topic that they are confronted with day to day must treat each other with dignity and respect above all else. 1 Timothy 2:10 reminds us that we are to commit our lives to loving people into eternity: “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.” Fighting and cajoling on Facebook is a poor way to show the love of Jesus. Love endures by resisting the impulse to react and defend… rather, it will choose to edify, encourage, acknowledge the suffering and reality of others, and will not give in to complaining.
I will say it again. Love is not contingent upon agreeing with somebody. If it is, then you are displaying conditional love. We are to love at all times. Here are some things that Love does- “…always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres” (1 Cor 13:7). Let’s learn to learn from those who are different from us and treat them with kindness and unconditional love. Let’s do away with forcing perspectives and acting with entitlement. Let’s love the way Jesus did.
(*Caveat: I will continue making this statement in blogs where issues like “persecution” or “submission” are mentioned. I will never condone abuse (treatment of a person or an animal with intentional cruelty or violence, esp. regularly or repeatedly) in any form. Abuse and persecution are separate issues. If you are experiencing abuse, seek counsel to help you find protection and healing. Abuse is never something to be minimized, or endured.)