There is a story of a pastor who began to be annoyed by one of his parishioners. After every sermon, the farmer would say, “You sure told ‘em, pastor,” as he shook the pastor’s hand. After a while, the sermons became more person, more pointed towards the sins of the farmer – yet every week, it was the same response. Finally, one day it snowed so hard that the only people to make it to church were the pastor and the farmer. The pastor realized that this was his chance after they decided the services could still happen and he laid into the farmer up one side and down the other. At the end of the sermon the farmer came up to the pastor and said, “Well, they weren’t here today, but if they were, you sure would have told ‘em, pastor.”
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the admonitions, warnings, and threats of judgment in the Bible are meant for “them.” I am beginning to think that’s not true. I am beginning to wonder if many of those words are meant for those who claim to be followers of Christ, but do so only for appearances. “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
Those verses are easy to use by pointing to “them.” When you really think about the verses, it can just as easily describe those in the church who claim to be following Christ. Oh, we in the church like to point at those outside the faith who are living “wrong,” but let’s face it: do we really expect people who don’t claim to follow God, to follow God’s laws? And, if we are being precise here, not God’s laws but our interpretations of God’s laws? We who claim to follow Christ can’t follow God’s laws, we need His grace each and every day for forgiveness and strength to live. If we can’t follow God’s laws, how can we expect a non-believer to do that. Our message to non-believers should never be “live right!” with the subtext of “and maybe God will forgive you.” Our message must always be “God loves you and I love you. Let me show you the grace of God.”
Let’s start looking at things in a new way. May I say that non-Christians do not need to “clean up their act, they need the grace of God.” If I can say that, then maybe it will affect how I deal with people who don’t know Christ yet, or have rejected Him, or a facsimile of Him, in the past and haven’t come back to Him yet. I’m not going to focus on all that they do wrong – I’m guessing they could point out a lot of wrong things I do too. I’m going to focus on the God who loves them and has loved them since the beginning of time. I’m going to focus on showing them the grace of God and the forgiveness shown in Jesus Christ. (How can I focus on forgiveness if I don’t tell them how bad they are? I think most people have enough guilt that they know they need God’s forgiveness.) At the same time, when I read passages like the passage in 2 Timothy above, I’m not going to use it as a way to get “them,” I’m going to use it to look inside myself and see how I need to let God work inside of me.
Lord God, thank you for Your grace that brought mercy and forgiveness to me. Remind me of that grace whenever “they” begin to frustrate me by their actions. Remind me that the “thems” of this world need Your grace and mercy, not my condemnation.