What are you known for?
My perception of the things I read and the things I hear, is that Christians are often characterized by what we are against, rather than what we are for. I do not believe it is an entirely fair assessment, but it doesn't change the fact that we can often be perceived as people who are against others. Against others beliefs, against others lifestyles, against others... [fill in the blank].
What if we were known by what we are for?
If I were to ask you what defines you as a Christian, how would you answer? If you had to consider what distinguishes you, as a Christian, from the general population, how would you answer? My assumption is that one of the reasons others often perceive Christians by what we are against, is because we personally define ourselves by what we are against. Frankly, that is not a very compelling vision. I am not motivated or inspired by opposing things, but on the other hand I am inspired by the things God affirms in the Scriptures.
I want to be known by what I am for. I want to be known for my love. I want to be known for my grace. I want to be known for my patience. I want people to know that I am for Jesus. The things I want to most define me are the things that I affirm, because the Scriptures affirm them as well.
Should we oppose nothing?
It is a common tendency for us humans to swing the pendulum too far in one direction or another. Lest we assume that in order to be known by what we are for that we need to remove all objections, this is a false dichotomy. There are plenty of things we should oppose. There are plenty of things we should stand against.
When events occur like what happened in Charleston last week, Christians should cry with a united voice that it was an evil act which goes against all that God desires for his creation. We ought to be passionately opposed to the racially motivated murder of innocent people.
We stand against hate and oppression and murder.
There are many acts that we as Christians ought to oppose. There are many behaviors that go against the heart of God in the world.
And it goes beyond just actions and behavior. There are also doctrines that tarnish the gospel of Jesus and are not consistent with the Scriptures. We should fight for truth and thought that is in line with Scripture, and this means we must oppose things.
These are just a couple examples of ways that we are called to stand in opposition to false doctrine and evil behavior. There is far more that can be said about this, but that is not the thrust of this post. My goal is to say that the church of Jesus Christ would be well served to consider what we are for. This little aside is to communicate that it doesn't mean we should not oppose anything, but let's not let our opposition be the thing that primarily defines us.
What should I be for?
There are many things that the Scriptures heartily affirm, and that we as Christian should be known for.
Our love for Jesus
First, and most important, we should be known for our love of Jesus. He is the defining figure of our faith. He is the crux of human history. He is God with us. He is the greatest servant-leader to have ever walked on earth, and he remains the savior of the world. Jesus Christ is our great hope, and we should be known by our love for him. Every other thing we ought to be known for flows out of our love for Jesus.
Our love for one another
We should be known by our love for one another. Jesus said that by our love for one another, we will be known as his disciples (Jn 13:35). Unfortunately, we are often known more for the way we quarrel and fight amongst ourselves than the way we love one another. And I don't even mean across denominations and churches - we have fighting, quarreling and dissension within local congregations on a regular basis. We should be known by our radical love for one another.
Our love for our neighbor
When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, he answers, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Mt 22:37-40)." Jesus pairs our love for God and our love for our neighbors together in explanation of what is the greatest commandment. Are we known for our profound love for our neighbors?
Our love for our enemy
Jesus calls us to not only love one another, and not only love our neighbors, but also to love our enemy. He said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mt 5:43-44)." Are we known for the grace and love that we show to those who persecute us? Are we known for the kindness we show to our enemies, even when they are unkind to us? Our natural desire is to retaliate, to spew hatred when it has been flung at us. This is not the way of Christ. He calls us to sacrificial love for our enemies, even when they are not loving toward us. Are we known for our humility and love, even toward those who are enemies to the gospel?
The fruit of the spirit
The final thing I will mention that ought to define us is the fruit of the spirit. In Galatians, Paul describes the works of the flesh as qualities that stand in opposition to the fruit of the spirit. He is calling the Galatian church away from things that once defined them. He is calling them away from gratifying the desires of the flesh, because they are opposed to the things of the spirit. Here is an example of how we might be defined by things we are against. Paul is calling them to leave behind the works of the flesh, because they are inconsistent with the fruit of the spirit. The works of the flesh include: "sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these (Gal 5:19-21)."
Paul speaks out against these things, because he has something better in mind for the church in Galatia. God has something better in mind for the church in Galatia. Paul calls them to the fruit of the spirit, which are "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23)."
Are you known for your love?
Are you known for your joy?
Are you known for your peace?
Are you known for your patience?
Are you known for your kindness?
Are you known for your goodness?
Are you known for your faithfulness?
Are you known for your gentleness?
Are you known for your self-control?
If we are known for something as the church, wouldn't it be great if these are the things that come to mind? Wouldn't it be great if we were first known for our love. Our love for Jesus. Our love for one another. Our love for our neighbors. Our love for our enemies. Wouldn't it be great if we were known for your joy. For our peace. For our patience, our kindness, our goodness, our faithfulness, our gentleness and our self-control.
How is God calling you to bring new definition to yourself today? It begins with our love of Jesus. Let's start there. And then, lets consider what other ways God is inviting us to be known by what what we are for, before we are known by what we are against.