Both / And
by Shawn McEvoy, Crosswalk.com Editorial Director
Consider the following sets of words:
- Compassionate, communicative, kind, fair, long-suffering, patient, accepting, gentle, merciful, understanding.
- Honest, holy, set-apart, stand-taking, consistent, dedicated, mature, righteous, unyielding, just.
Which set best describes you?
Sometimes it feels like we Christians divide ourselves into these two camps. Camp A rightly believes that "God is love," and as such they do a fairly good job of not alienating those they meet and know and care for. Of course, with every strength there's a weak side, and sometimes our well-meaning Camp-A brethren can become wishy-washy and overly accepting, even false.
Camp B, on the other hand, rightly believes that "God is holy," and as such they do a fairly good job of reminding those they meet and know and care for that sin is sin, and God can not tolerate it. Of course, sometimes our well-meaning Camp-B brethren can end up sounding a lot like gongs and cymbals, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. People know we're here, but they wish we'd quiet down for a bit. Perhaps all the conflict between our own camps has torn at your heart and worn down your spirit, too.
Now consider... which set of words best describes Our Father? Think about it before answering. We'll come back to that thought in a minute.
I have a close friend, a youth minister, who has served many years at his current church. Recently, he was summoned to a meeting with the personnel committee and several parents. The gist of their message was that he was teaching the students too much about discipline and truth and knowing what the Bible says and so on. The criticism apparently was that there wasn't enough about love and compassion in his messages.
Reading between the lines, it was clear that fear was at work: fear that these students weren't being prepared for college and a world that is more about tolerance and acceptance and where Christian students who literally believe the Bible are ostracized. After all, who hopes for their child to face unpopularity, embarrassment, and harsh criticism while they're already struggling to get ahead in the world? My friend would point out that he's not opposed to compassion and love, not in the least. But what kind of foundation do you want to build in the youth?
It's sad. Because at the end of the day... why can't we have both?
I'm not talking about vacillating. I'm not talking about compromise. I don't want to be lukewarm.
I am talking about balance; checks and balances. I do wish to be balanced. A position of balance is a position of strength. A balanced person stumbles less often. How much fun is a teeter-totter where all the weight is pushed to one side?
I am also talking about paradox. A paradox is a seeming contradiction that nonetheless contains truth. A paradox says an object or person or idea is both this and that. Jesus is the world's greatest paradox, being both fully God and fully man. With Christ as the example and the cornerstone, one learns to see that the whole Bible is full of paradox, including the fact that we can and should "Speak truth." "In love." Both/and. Just like Jesus.
- He didn't excuse sins. But He did forgive them.
- He was equal with God. But He didn't consider equality with God a thing to be grasped.
- He was sinless. But He refused to cast the first stone at the accused.
- He demanded His followers take up a cross and follow Him unreservedly unfettered. But He was sad for those who weren't ready to do so.
Truth. In. Love. Both. And.
Don't forget, Campers, you have the Holy Spirit, which gives you wisdom, which instructs you as to which set of characteristics is needed in a given circumstance. Pull up the tent poles. Become nomadic. You can put on the armor of God, but if your feet aren't balanced beneath you? Ask any beginner student of martial arts what the result will be.
But even if you find yourself gravitating more towards one campsite or the other, that's okay. The same chapter that talks of the need to speak the truth in love also mentions, just a couple verses earlier, that, "It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up."
We're on the same team. And the goal is a "built-up body." One that won't stand unless balanced, unless level, unless unified. What's the result? Refer back to our verse today. When we "speak truth in love," we will "grow up." Bottom line, Campers, our body needs to mature.
Intersecting Faith & Life: Simply ask yourself the next time you proclaim the Word: am I being loving? Are my motives pure? Likewise, the next time you get those warm feelings about how fair and open-minded and communicative you're being with unbelievers and sinners, ask, "Lord, what truth do they need to know?" Love enough to tell the truth. Be truthful enough to not misrepresent how your Lord meets broken people where they are. It can be scary to think about doing, but remember that "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and discipline."