by Danetta Kellar
Many years ago I sat with a friend who was in great pain. The ones who had caused it were within her own trusted circle of believers.
In a quiet whisper, her eyes averted, she confessed, “I like non-Christians better than Christians! At least they don’t pretend to be something they are not.”
As her sister in Christ, I took this not only as a confession, but also as an opportunity to critique my own life and friendships. I had been hurt by Christians, too, and I understood her suffering. Haven’t we all felt like her sometimes? But what kind of friend have I myself been?
Examining my own heart, I wondered, am I one of them?
One of the pretenders, the ones who say one thing but hide something else in their hearts? Have I hurt others in the name of my own righteousness? I surely have been a pretender at times in my life, and perhaps you have been too.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:9-10
Love Must Be Sincere
According to the dictionary, sincere means free from pretense or deceit, proceeding from genuine feelings. When we harbor judgement, frustration, and anger in our hearts, sincerity flees. Who wants to do the hard work of remaining sincerely loving while grappling with these issues inside? Instead, the easy way for most is to begin pretending, avoiding confrontation.
The hard way, however, is the right way.
The hard work of letting God use our relationships to purify our hearts, making our love sincere as we value people made in His image, is the right way.
The easy way of pretending brings death to relationships, ministries, churches.
Sincere love does not practice pretense or deceit. It means what it says. How refreshing.
Hate What is Evil, Cling to What is Good
We see each other’s weaknesses and faults. Who are we fooling?
What if we hated the evil that mars our friend's freedom and joy but clung to the good we see in him? What if we held each other accountable for the hard things and loved the good things with a crazy, accepting love? One of my mentors once told me that the secret to sincere love was to love the heck out of people but not let them get away with anything. I believe she was onto something.
Love hates the evil it sees. It clings to the good and won’t let go.
Be Devoted to One Another in Brotherly Love
I have watched devotion unfold before my eyes in recent weeks as my husband has stood beside his parents during life-changing illness. Devotion puts others first. It does not whine about its own needs and rights. It gives them up for another, because the love is so great. Could we love one another with such devotion? Putting others first, laying down our rights for another?
Devotion loves so fiercely that it forgets self.
Honor One Another Above Yourselves
Honor is an actual position in society in many cultures around the world. Could we bear to love another person above our own status? Our own reputation? Our own position in society?
We care what others think of us.
Honor invites us to care less about our own reputation and place importance and value instead upon the lives of others. Honor’s helpmate is humility.
This is no easy three-step formula Paul has given us. It is hard work, and we need help.
It was shortly after ministry began in Africa that I came face to face with this problem. What do I do when I disagree with my sisters and brothers in Christ? How do I handle it when they hurt me or others? What if they just get on my nerves or don’t like me? Or, goodness me, what if I don’t like them?
I tried forcing my opinion upon others. I tried to spiritualize things and exhort others to my point of view. I even tried managing other people’s problems for them discreetly. I prayed for patience and quietly fumed. I tried being nice on the outside and shoving my bad attitude down deep in the inside. But my heart only grew more frustrated.
There is, it would seem, no substitute for laying our hearts bare before God.
One dusty hot day after an unpleasant conflict with a fellow believer, I retreated into the small back room of our little house. It was the only place I could hide without the village children finding me. I was upset, and I needed privacy for my pity party. I had been wronged, I believed, and I dropped to my knees and cried out to God, telling him all that was in my heart.
After the tears began to dry, a strange thing happened. I was convicted.
Like the sound of the rains when they sweep up our hillside from the river, I could sense God’s grace coming to make my heart clean again. My heart. I had not really come to God focused on my heart. I was focused on the conflict between me and my friend. I was frustrated, sure I was justified in my complaint. Certain I was right.
Alone with God, it was my own heart that was convicted and changed.
From that day onward I began a new discipline in my life. Every time I saw something in another that made me critical, concerned, upset, I would go to God before going to man. After all, I reasoned, if I’m right, then I am going before the loving God of the universe who made that person in His image. And he has the power to change that person’s heart. If I am wrong, I am going before the loving God of the universe who made me in His image, and has the power to change my heart. Either way, it is a win-win situation. Take our hearts before the One who gave His life to make them clean.
More often than not, I now rise from my knees changed, and my course of action or words may be completely different after getting alone with God. Most times, it is my own heart that needs to be changed. I have rarely if ever been commissioned by the Lord to go to a person and lay bare their sins. I am made too aware of my own as I sit quietly before Him, and the incredible grace and mercy our Father has for each of us puts me in my place.
We often go to people with our complaints, our criticisms, our opinions, before pausing to talk to God first. I wonder how much our congregations, our ministry teams, our small groups, our relationships would be transformed if we only adopted that one discipline. Go to God before you go to man.
Maybe then my friend would be more comfortable with fellow believers. And I would too.
Lord, please make my love sincere. Change my heart first, that I may clearly see the good in others and honor them above myself. Teach me to come to You before I go to man. Amen.
How do you handle conflict with fellow believers? Let’s talk about it.
What to do when the hardest thing about being a Christian is other Christians. #unity (Click to Tweet)