I was reading a church bulletin lately that contained one of those stereotypical articles about a contentious point of doctrine, and it ended with a declaration: “Those who love the Lord will honor His Word!” And it’s one of those phrases that always leaves me a bit uncomfortable. It contains the same dangerous assumption as the oft repeated refrain: “If someone really loves God, then they’ll…” fill in the blank.
It boils down to this: “The struggles you have are different or more obvious than mine. Therefore you can’t possibly love God as much as me.” It’s a way we collectively pat ourselves on the back. When we say things like this, the unspoken part is, “I’m doing the right thing, so I’m showing love for God better than this other person.” We aren’t admitting it, but we’re practicing comparative spirituality. I may not be perfect, but at least I’m not worshipping with a piano like some folks I could mention. Isn’t God lucky to have someone like me on His side?
Isn’t this the error Jesus was addressing in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector? Two go up to pray, and the Pharisee prays to himself like this:
God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.
Isn’t the Pharisee comparing the evidences of love between himself and this tax collector he has probably never met before? “I evidently love you because I do these things…unlike some tax collectors I could mention.” We think we’re making the point about God, but it’s not. We’re putting ourselves up front. We’re placing ourselves on a pedestal.
The Conversation Ender
In my head, what comes out of my mouth (or gets typed by my fingers) is measured by this one metric: how would someone outside of Christ respond? If someone who does not believe as I do sits in on a Bible class I’m facilitating or in which I’m participating, what will the words said in that class do to and for them? Will they be brought closer to Christ or driven farther away? Condescending comments divide, and they serve to end a conversation before any meaningful dialogue can occur.
Seriously, try a similar approach with your husband or wife: “You know, if you really loved our children, you’d do the laundry more often.” “You’d get that garage clean if you’re really dedicated to being a good spouse.” How do you think that would go? What about other settings? “If you respect your boss, you will put in more overtime.” “If you love your country, you’ll vote the way I want you to.” In none of these cases do I see the conversation ending well. How can we then think the “If you really love God” line of reasoning will go any better?
Now, do I believe God has a definite plan laid out for us? Yes. Do I believe that, to be truly pleasing to God, we must follow His blueprint? Of course. Do I believe godly love leads to obedience? Absolutely. But I’m not going to judge your heart based on our disagreements. In your daily life, your love for God may even shine more brightly than mine. I’d ask my fellow Christians to consider doing the same: drop the dangerous assumption that, because someone views God’s will differently than you or me, their love is inferior. That’s one of the mistakes made by the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, and I’d rather us not be guilty of the same fault.
If we see error, yes we should correct, but we should do so with the love and patience we see in the Scriptures. Critical assumptions get in the way of love. They get in the way of patience. We are less forgiving of those upon whom we look down, and we are looking down when we say things like, “If they really loved God,” even if we aren’t admitting it. We’ve all fallen short of God’s expectations. We all need His love. We all need His mercy. We’re all on equal footing before Him. Let’s be sure to treat each other equitably as a result.