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Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Loving Sinners the Way Jesus Did

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One book author said it well. Most churches today lack love, especially for sinners. They may love each other in church but they often neglect non-Christians who sometimes feel left out or out-of-place because believers keep their church fellowships too tightly sealed---like an exclusive club. Non-believers find it hard to squeeze their way in.

But what's the solution?

The popular notion today is to give special treatment to the unchurched. I even read something about asking people what they want or expect from a church and build church from that foundation. In other words, go after people. They say that demonstrates "love" for sinners. Yeah, once upon a time I also thought so. I made sure I entertained visitors in church, made them feel welcome so they'd go back next Sunday. I thought that was how Jesus did it---until one day I sought Scriptures to confirm it.

Sinners Should Pursue Jesus (That's God's Love)

To my surprise, Jesus never did anything like that in the Gospel. He didn't think of ways how to attract people to his church so they'd come back or asked them what they looked for in a church or religion. He didn't conduct surveys. He simply preached the Gospel and concluded, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear," and then left. To God, that's how you show love for sinners.

I can imagine Jesus being loving with people, cheerful, friendly, patient and good---plus all the other fruit of the Spirit because he was filled with the Spirit. Yet, he never pampered sinners or non-believers just to show that he loved them. He never tried to please people.

God's thoughts and ways are higher than ours. To us, pleasing people is important to grow our ministry. And it's really effective. You see your church building full packed with people. People like it when they're pampered and given importance. Problem is, Jesus never did this. He never pleased people. He just pleased the Father.

Yup, crowds and multitudes followed him around. But he was never happy with that. There were times he tried to hide from them. One time he even rejected their "good" plans for him.

Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. [Jn. 6.15]

If this were to happen today, lots of pastors would probably like it and approve. Make you king and have the whole nation as your followers? Isn't that what church (and church planting) is all about today? Grab in as many people to your church as you can?

Well, don't get me wrong. When I talk like this, some folks think I'm against church planting and evangelism. When Jesus said, "Destroy this temple," it didn't mean he was against the temple. He just wanted to get some things right. And loving sinners doesn't mean we go after them, please and beg them to stay and let them run the church by asking what they want to happen there.

With Jesus, he simply told them the Good News and left them to decide whether they'd go after him or not. You see, to Jesus, it's sinners who must pursue him, not the other way around. Today, church thinks it should pursue sinners and make everything appealing to them. Christ is not the center anymore but people, especially sinners.

If Jesus had made a survey and asked the rich, young ruler what he looked for in a church, the young guy would have said a bible-based church that gave alms to the poor. And if Jesus were a people pleaser, he would consider that and start a church thus. Many rich, rulers would join him and it would be a very successful church---rich, peopled and moneyed. A mega church.

God's Love Teaches Us to Pursue Him

But nope. Jesus said sell all your possessions and give to the poor. Not just "alms" but all your possessions. Then come follow me. Churches follow after people but Jesus says, "Come follow me." It's a huge difference. Jesus knew how his demands would disappoint, if not offend or discourage, the rich, young ruler. Yet, he continued with his demands, because it's how God loves sinners. When the rich potential member left because he couldn't give in to the demands, Jesus never followed up, went after, or re-considered or re-stated his demands.

In other instances, Jesus called the religious leaders "hypocrites." Sometimes, "you fools" or "white-washed tombs." Believe it or not, this was God's way of loving sinners---telling them the painful truth right at the start rather than pampering them with niceties. Remember the Canaanite woman who came to Jesus for her demon-possessed daughter? Jesus rejected her plea, saying he came only for the people of God, not gentiles, whom he slighted as "dogs."

Look at Zacchaeus. Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus' house for dinner. You see that? You got to clearly see this. Jesus invited himself and to Zacchaeus it was a BIG favor. Pastor, can you tell an unchurched or sinner to "Hey, you must buy me dinner tonight!"? Churches today do feeding programs to attract people to church (which isn't bad). But Jesus fed people---not to attract them and make them come back next Sunday---but because he had compassion on them. He loved them because he loved them, period, not to please them or make them pursue him. Pursuing Christ must be of your own initiative, prodded, of course, by God's saving grace.

You should want Jesus desperately in your life to be saved. You can't "try" Jesus for now and accept him so you won't end up in hell, or so you'd have a happier life or so God would prosper you. You should run to him and cling to him with all your might.

That dinner, Zacchaeus did all he could to please Jesus. He was like saying, "Jesus, what do you look for in a disciple? What should I do to please you? I'll be all you want me to be---just so I can have you in my life!"

Sinners should come to a point when they realize how big and precious a treasure Jesus is and do everything to have him for good. As it is, it's the church that finds ways to please sinners. Well, they will be attracted to church, and once they find themselves in it, watch how they'd use it for their own interests. They'd be kings and emperors and lords there, building their own empires and later controlling the pastor to submission. It always happens. You offer them kingship, they'd gladly take it and use it later against you.

But how about the parable of the lost sheep? Didn't the story say the man left the 99 to look for the one lost sheep? Isn't that telling us to pursue after unbelievers? Well, the sheep was with the 99 before it got lost, that's intimated in the story. So it's about those in church who wander away and get lost. We have to look for them and bring them back. But we cannot "bring back" unbelievers because they're not yet part of the flock. They're still outsiders.

And before we spend our whole lives running after church members who go astray, consider the Prodigal Son. The father didn't go out to look for his son. His son "came to his senses" and went back to his father who saw him from a distance (he was probably praying hard for him to come back) and ran to him and hugged him. The hearts of the fathers should turn to their sons [Malachi 4.6 and Luke 1.17] but the parable of the Prodigal Son gives us a good idea how.

A lot of believers today won't understand the principles here. To God, the element of sincere and determined pursuit of Jesus is of the essence. He looks for it even from among non-Christians or sinners, not just disciples. Our evangelism and church planting should be grounded on this principle. God's love does not pamper. It challenges us to forsake all and pursue Jesus, from salvation to discipleship to fathering.

It's like how a man discovers a treasure and hides it somewhere in a property. Then he goes and sells all he has to buy that property. What church does today is to sell all it has to pursue people, not show people how to sell their all to buy the property where God's treasure is hidden.

The Canaanite woman pursued hard after Jesus nonetheless (even after being rejected by him), saying "but even the scraps that fall from the table are eaten by the dogs." In short, "No matter, Lord. I still beg for your mercy." She stubbornly insisted. Then Jesus was pleased and granted her request.

You see that?

How should we love sinners? By loving them as Jesus did. Tell them the whole truth, leave them to decide for themselves, and pray for them, hoping they'd madly pursue Jesus with all their lives.

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