Often we hear our critics speak about how Jesus is “loving” in a way that assumes that this “love” of Jesus is something that simply affirms everyone in the state of life that Jesus finds them. It’s an attractive way of thinking and, really, what people are saying is “I want you to affirm me exactly as I am”. In other words, people don’t like to be honest about our sin. And who can blame them?
It’s a version of “love” that is particularly prevalent amongst those challenging us over sexual ethics and no more so than in the debates over homosexual behaviour. During a recent piece of media work I did I heard the same argument put again and again and again; “God is loving so why don’t you love people?” By implication I must surely not love people because I was prepared to say that their personal lives were not properly ordered (just as, no doubt, my own is certainly not).
But Jesus’ love is far more powerful and wonderful and, above all, transformative than that. One example will be enough to make my case.
In John 4 we see Jesus meet a woman drawing water at a well at noon. The normal time of day to do this task would be dawn or dusk, to avoid the heat. But she has something more terrifying to avoid; other people. As becomes quite clear very quickly her life is not what it should be.
John 4:16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” 17 “I have no husband,”she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
Now I think that’s pretty confronting! Jesus lets her know He knows all about her life and, in particular, the sin that has brought her to the well at midday and, no doubt, estranged her from everybody else in the village.
This isn’t the “love” our world looks for. It’s far too challenging. Or is it?
What happens next is truly amazing! After talking for a little longer with Jesus the woman goes back to town…
John 4:28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
Rather than fleeing from the one who exposed her sin and pain she runs to tell other people about Him! And they come to find out more themselves. It’s not just that Jesus knows about her life that has struck her. This is far more powerful. Jesus knows all about her sin – perhaps the first person to ever know all about it and instead of running away she longs to tell everyone about Him!
Here is real love. Jesus doesn’t just say “I love you just as you are”. He effectively says “I know all about your sin. All of it. And I love you all the more and want to provide forgiveness and a new life!” The language He has used has been all about “drinking water” but the meaning is obvious – He comes to forgive and restore eternally.
No wonder she runs as fast as she can to tell people! And no wonder perhaps for the first time in her life she will now speak openly of her immorality with others, not hiding it away but allowing Jesus to deal with it. Now that’s real love.
Nathan Tasker puts it well…
Great article David.
It is so hard to deal righteously on either side of this.
As the witness, or even victim, of sin we’d often prefer to ignore it (and there are times when I think this is right) or talk to someone else about it (which is usually wrong).
As the sinner, we’d rather get defensive than accept what someone has said. Or we’ll pretend to listen, but not really accept what they’re saying and seek to change. These responses get all the more easy when concerns are raised in inappropriate ways and means. (I can show you a couple of emails if you’d like 😉 )
But like you said we need to welcome critique even when it hurts. Just as we shouldn’t feel hopeless for others in their sin, we shouldn’t feel hopeless when our sin is exposed.
We have hope in the gospel of Christ for transforming, we have security of sins forgiven.