True Christian Love

It seems like forever since I penned a blog. Honestly, not much has inspired me to write lately. I don’t know if that’s out of discouragement regarding what’s been going on in our world or just pure apathy. However, a thought has been rolling around my pea brain for a number of years that I think is worth putting on paper today.

Many know that I love social media – not so much to post (although I do) rather to view funny memes, interesting blogs, and generally keep up with my friends. That said, I run across a ton of posts regarding the human condition, relationships, and self-care. Honestly, most disturb me.

I’m about to share some of my deeper thoughts so buckle up and remember this comes from someone who has experienced childhood trauma and all the stuff that comes with it.

Let me start with this premise: Nothing happens without causation.

No thought, action or reaction happens in a void. Everything we think and do is based on some cause experientially, behaviorally, and even chemically. In other words, there is a reason for everything.

Here’s my second premise: Most behavior – especially bad behavior – is a symptom and not a causation unto itself.

Simply put, we are conditioned to think and act in certain ways based on a variety of inputs but the actions themselves are symptomatic of the causation and do not represent the cause itself.

Here’s my last premise in this string: One cannot change their behavior until they address the unresolved issues of the cause.

I think that one seems pretty self-evident.

Why do I bring all this up? Because as Christians we are not to judge people but instead have compassion and empathy toward people, being able to turn the other cheek and forgive bad behavior, as well as help people who clearly are in crisis due to unreconciled issues in their lives.

Unfortunately, what the body of Christ seems to do is the exact opposite – we judge, we marginalize, we ostracize, and we throw away these undesirable people. Not quite the example that Jesus set for us.

Before I get on a roll here, let me say this loud and clear: People are responsible for their actions no matter their causation. People MUST take the appropriate steps to both restrain themselves from bad actions AND heal the causation traumas that precipitate those actions. PERIOD.

But what about we Christians? What is our role in these relationships where someone is clearly broken and struggling, and their actions affect us adversely? What do we do to be Christ-like in these situations?

I have five points that I think will make sense when put together.

KNOW WHO YOU ARE IN CHRIST

It is vital for every Christian to understand who they are in Christ so that they don’t define themselves by any other standard. You are not defined by your relationships, your job/title, your material goods, your social status, or even your reputation! You are defined by Christ alone! When you understand this – truly embrace it – you no longer can be manipulated, made to feel guilty, or default to taking things personally. Once you embrace your true identity in Christ nothing can affect who you are, including someone else trying to define you differently.

HAVE EMPATHY NOT JUST SYMPATHY OR COMPASSION

Those three words mean different things. It’s great to be sympathetic (feel sorry for someone). It’s great to have compassion (feel badly for someone and want to do something about it). But as Christ-followers we are called to feel empathetic toward people – feel what they feel by meeting them where they are in their need based on their reality. Once there, we can bring the truth of Jesus into their lives and truly make a difference. Often when working with the broken, Christians cannot get their heads wrapped around the reality the broken live because they’ve never had a like experience. But that approach is trying to understand the other person through your own lens. Instead, accept what they say their reality is – no matter how far it is from your reality – and work with them from there. Understand that their reality may be completely bonkers, but it is what they know from the causes that shaped them. Approaching them from your reality just isn’t going to work if you want to help heal them.

HOLD OTHER CHRISTIANS ACCOUNTABLE TO THE FAITH

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 5:9-12 that we are, indeed, to hold our brothers and sisters in Christ accountable to the doctrines of the faith. We are to do so lovingly and with grace but firmly in truth. Broken people need to know what Christ calls them to and then have someone walk with them in accountability toward that end. For example, I had some anger issues due to PTSD when I was younger, yet scripture tells me not to sin in my anger – which I often did. There was a conflict between my actions which came from very definitive causes and my faith which told me to act appropriately. My wife helped me see that conflict and I was able, with her help, to overcome my bad behavior and act as a Christian man who loves Jesus enough to obey what He says! Our goal with the broken is not to give them a set of rules to live by because it makes our lives easier. Our goal is to show them how God would have them live and then work with them to embrace the power of the Holy Spirit for transformation into that life.

SEE THE OTHER PERSON AS YOUR BROTHER OR SISTER IN CHRIST FIRST

Relationships are inherently selfish. In any relationship, you basically have two sinners who get together as friends or intimates and then try to find common ground to meet their own needs. What is different about Christian relationships is that we are supposed to change that paradigm to this: two sinners who get together in relationship in an effort to glorify God by meeting the other person’s needs. See the subtle but important difference there? It is so hard to submit your needs to the glory of God through personal sacrifice that most relationships can’t pull it off. Instead, we claim our Christian faith but hold on to our own selfish desires. In other words, we don’t die to ourselves but instead seek ways to feed ourselves in the most “Christian” way possible. By seeing the other person as a brother/sister in Christ first, however, we can actually do what Jesus calls us to. My wife is my sister in Christ first. This means my job is to glorify God by how I treat her not as a wife – which is temporal – but as a sister in Jesus which is eternal! This allows me to sacrifice myself for her because it truly does glorify God because I meet the most important commandment: Love God and Love Others – then everything else falls into place just as Jesus says (Matthew 22:36-40). If my wife and I both see each other as brother and sister in Christ first, we both will work diligently at serving one another to glorify God and then we both will have our desires and needs met. See how that works?

DON’T MAKE YOUR BROTHER STUMBLE

Scripture tells us not to make our brother stumble (Romans 14:13-23). Basically, what this means is don’t do things that will cause your brother/sister in Christ to falter. The first objection I usually hear to this is, “People are responsible for their own emotions so you can’t put that on me!” I would agree in a worldly sense, people are indeed responsible for their own emotions and reactions. But we’re not talking about worldly things here; we are talking about heavenly things, and Christians behavior toward others has very little to do with the way the world does things. Jesus calls us to consider the other person not just ourselves. Philippians 2:3-5 (which is my “life verse”) says this: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus….” Jesus served us sacrificially and expects us to do the same for each other. It really does work if I am sacrificing for you and you are sacrificing for me! But even if you’re not sacrificing for me, I am still to sacrifice for you to honor Jesus. By doing so, I don’t cause you to stumble. In other words, I’m not going to do things to trigger you, set you off, pick a fight, or create a reaction in your that causes you to sin. I am voluntarily taking this responsibility upon myself not necessarily for the other person but to glorify God!!

So, what does all this have to do with my original premises that thoughts, actions and reactions – especially bad ones – are a symptom based on experiential and behavioral causations? Well, everything if you want to love others as you love yourself! Let me get into the weeds here with real life examples.

The Addict

There are lots of types of addictions – drugs, alcohol, pornography, illicit sex, gambling, work adrenalin and more. Addicts more often than not abuse relationships because their addiction is more important to them than the people around them. Addicts also more often than not break the law because they need resources to feed their addiction. Addicts relapse. They are people who lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, coerce, make excuse, justify their actions, and can be people with whom the Bible says not to associate. So, as Christians should we just write them off? Let Satan have them until they come to their senses as Paul puts in 1 Corinthians? Or, is addiction a symptom of a much deeper causation? In my experience addiction is a symptom with many people “self-medicating” to assuage their guilt, shame, anger, depression, anxiety or pain from previous trauma(s). Society tends to look at the addiction and ignore the causation traumas. But you cannot treat the addiction without healing the trauma. That’s why as Christians we must work with the addicted to identify the underlying cause of their condition whether it be emotional trauma (depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc.), mental/emotional health (addictive personality disorder or other impulse related conditions), or even a physical issue such as traumatic brain injury.

The Emotionally Abused

Significant portions of our society have been abused physically, sexually, and emotionally as children. Abuse and neglect of children is epidemic yet is a dark secret in our society in that one never really knows the background of their co-workers, neighbors, or even friends. The emotionally abused usually are functionally dysfunctional. In other words, they seem as normal as anyone else in public but in private they are controlling, manipulative, hyper-sensitive and insecure, angry, inappropriately hypervigilant, and often self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Sometimes they can be narcissists focused only on themselves; workaholics striving for higher and higher accolades. Others self-sabotage believing they don’t deserve anything of worth for themselves. The range of behavioral dysfunction is as wide and deep as the range of abuse. These types of people are nearly impossible with whom to have a meaningful relationship. Again, as Christians should we just walk away or should we identify the causation traumas and walk with the person toward emotional, mental and spiritual health?

Mental Health Conditions

A step deeper into the morass is mental health. People whose brains do not function correctly due to chemical imbalances or internal wiring issues are particularly difficult. Personality disorders, bi-polar, schizophrenia and other serious mental health conditions left untreated are not just challenging but can be dangerous! Even when treated these conditions are not cured nor are they completely controlled. Should we just lock these folks up and get them out of society because they are so difficult or should we as Christians do our best to work with them and approach each person individually based on their own unique situation?

Criminals

People who break the law come in a lot of different flavors ranging from someone who had a lapse in judgment to someone who has clear anti-social personality issue. Crimes range from the minor speeding ticket to heinous acts, such as murder, rape, and pedophilia. Are the worst of these throw-away people or after they serve their time for the crimes they committed should we Christians work hard to bring Jesus into their lives so that they can be born again through the transformational power of the Holy Spirit?

Do you see where I’m going with all this? All these memes I originally noted when I started are about you taking care of you. Certainly, there is a place for that in our lives – we must protect ourselves to some degree by having proper boundaries and making decisions that do not enable another person’s bad behavior. However, as Christians we are called to a very different standard than simply self-preservation and self-protection.

I believe we are called to love others.

True Christian love is sacrifice – a sacrifice of comfort, personal preferences, personal desires, and more.

True Christian love is loving the unlovable.

True Christian love is being second not first.

True Christian love is loving someone enough to tell them the truth AND then walk with them in that truth.

True Christian love is meeting people where they are and walking them to the Light of Christ.

True Christian love is really dying to yourself and picking up your cross daily just as Jesus commanded!

True Christian love is not a meme about how victimized you were because of someone’s bad behavior but having empathy toward a person because their bad behavior is just a symptom of something much deeper that is keeping them in bondage!

So, I ask you this my brothers and sisters in Christ – how will you act this day? Will you love as Jesus loved us – right where we are but enough not to leave us here? Or will you love as the world loves based on its judgments?

One comment

  1. Veronica Heilpern · · Reply

    Tom, you are truly a Brother in Christ, my friend. I feel the Holy Spirit teaching through you. Thank you for being open to His Wisdom, and for being willing to share that when you can. This post came at a wonderful time for me as I look at broken behaviors I’ve had and try to heal. It’s an ongoing journey, and I pray I can remain on it. Thank you again. Love and blessings to you and Lisa, as well as wishes for a Blessed Christmas and an awesome New Year.

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