Part 10? Give me a break. No one wants a 10-part series, but that’s where we are. This blog series is called The Future of Christian Leadership. I’ve mentioned this before every blog entry but I will do it again for the new people. This whole series is based on a message I gave at the Acts29 National Conference in October of 2022. I am expanding those same ideas in this blog space because I only had 18 minutes at the conference and I have all the time and entries in the world here.
The basis of the message was 1 Corinthians 16:13–14 which says, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” My argument in that message and in this blog space is that these two verses do a great job of outlining the task of Christian leadership in the coming years of increased secularization and social upheaval. There are five verbs in these two verses and they are paired together in a way that creates helpful tension between their ideas. And the two pairs orbit around a central idea that animates it all.
The section we are looking at this week (and for the last couple of weeks) compares two ideas that live in some tension with one another - or at least they seem to these days. Paul challenges the Corinthians to “be strong” and to be sure that they “let all that (they) do be done in love.”. These two ideas should not be in tension with one another, there is no intrinsic reason why they would. But, in our day, it seems as if those who want to be strong have forgotten the call to love, and those who deeply want to love the world around them, forget that they will have to be strong if they intend to hold firm to the gospel.
Last week, we talked about the need to be strong. There is a lot of chatter online about whether or not Christians should strive to be winsome in our present culture. My two cents are that we need to be Christian. If you are arguing for winsomeness because it will “work” to convince people that we are correct, or even worth listening to, I think that is unlikely to be effective. If you are arguing for winsomeness because it is the Christian thing to do, then I am all in. I think a critical, ungenerous tone in our dialogue is not only unhelpful but is unChristian. We should strive to be like Christ in all of our communication.
So what does it mean to be motivated by love in all of our interactions? I’ll set the bar here: whatever you say and however you say it should be deeply shaped by a desire for the greatest good of whomever you are talking to. That was a bit confusing, so let me restate it. If you say or do something that is motivated by anything but a deep, Christlike love for the other person, you are operating outside of Paul’s admonition here.
If your hope is that your opponent is chastised, shamed, embarrassed, owned (or pwned) or that your comments elicit praise from your allies and a piling on, you are sinning against your brother or sister.
Some of us think that being motivated by love means that we only say nice things or that we avoid conflict altogether. This is not the case. Jesus was purely motivated by love and sought conflict regularly. The difference is that no one can question that he had a deep, redemptive love for those he confronted. Every word out of his mouth was motivated by the greatest good he could bring about for them. His path was a path of sacrificial death and every step along the way was a testimony to his love.
I will even go so far as to say that we can quote Jesus directly in our communication and still be sinning against whoever we are talking to. We have the capacity to wield even the Word of God in ways that are meant to be shaming and therefore sinful. The question really isn’t about what we are saying and doing, but rather from what place we are doing it. Paul’s words are a challenge to those of us who like to fight and especially those who use an online platform to do it.
So, before you type that most recent comment, ask yourself, “do I love this person, and is this comment genuinely meant for their greatest good?” If the answer is yes, go ahead and press send. If it’s no, delete it immediately. If the answer is maybe, delete it and go pray. Lots of pastors are prophetically oriented and love to confront and critique people and institutions. We need to hear Paul’s word here and ask ourselves honestly, do I love my neighbor, and am I acting out of that love? If not, shut it down.