What does love require?

September 22nd, 2014

Jesus lived a "both-and" life, not an "either-or life. Throughout his ministry we see him committed to both compassion for people and passion for truth. Rather than viewing grace and truth as being in opposition to each other and feeling the need to choose one or the other, Jesus believed and demonstrated that both are essential in representing the Father's heart and transforming the lives of people. And he told his disciples to follow his example.

"You are the salt of the earth," Jesus said. "But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything" (Matthew 5:13). Salt was important in the time of Jesus. It was used to season food - to bring out its best - and to preserve meat and fish from decaying and becoming rotten. Jesus tells us in this passage that people who follow him should be like salt, bringing out the best in others and keeping the good in this world from becoming spoiled and rotten.

The table salt we use in our homes is a combination of two elements: sodium and chlorine (NaCl). Sodium is never found alone in nature; it is always connected with another element. Its "gregarious" nature is evidenced by the fact that there are over 200 sodium compounds. You might say that it's willing to accept just about anything that's out there.

Chlorine, of course, is the gas that gives bleach its pungent odor. It's a powerful disinfectant, but you have to be careful with it. If misused, chlorine can be poisonous and destructive.

Grace is like sodium. Its nature is to reach out and receive. As long as grace is embracing people, it's similar to what we see in Jesus. But often in the name of grace, just about anything is accepted, including beliefs that contradict what the Scriptures reveal as the mind of God and behaviors that oppose his will.

Truth is more like chlorine. It's a cleansing agent, and there are times when we need to use it to "clean up" our thinking and the church's teachings. But by itself, truth can be offensive and difficult to be around - and if mishandled, truth even can be deadly.

If we're going to be salt, if we're going to make this world a better place as Jesus said we should, then we need to possess both grace and truth just as Jesus did. We must have compassion for people and passion for truth - not one instead of the other or one more than the other, but both together in equal measure.

A good friend accepts you, believes in you, and encourages you. And if this person is truly a good friend, he or she also tells you when you are failing. A good friend isn't the one who only makes us feel good about who we are but the one who also loves us enough to help us become better than we are spiritually and emotionally - and sometimes that means speaking words that are difficult for our friend to say and for us to hear. But sometimes that's what love requires.

I hope that we - as individual Christians and as the church will be a good friend to all - the greedy, the self-righteous, the sexually immoral, the prejudiced, the alcoholic, and the judgmental, to name a few. Being a good friend means loving people as they are, speaking the truth they need to hear, and then nurturing their growth so that they can become the persons God desires them to be. Anything less and we will fail God and the people we are called to help. We must be committed to being a good friend to people who need to know the hope that is to be found in Jesus Christ. And that means combining grace and truth the way that Jesus did - both-and, not either-or.

Before writing these final paragraphs, I again watched the video of Nik Wallenda making his way across a tightrope 1,500 feet above the canyon floor at the Little Colorado River Gorge last year - with the wind blowing strongly and he struggling to keep his balance and stay on the wire for an excruciating twenty-two minutes. Funny, I knew he made it, but my stomach tightened and my heart started racing all over again. It just looks so incredibly difficult and dangerous. One minute he had to lean his pole a little more to one side to stay on the wire, and then in the next minute he had to lean it more in the other direction to keep his balance. But he did it, and the world watched in awe.

There will be times when we will have to lean toward grace and other times when we will have to emphasize truth. As we talk with and minister to wounded persons, especially those who have been hurt by the church, it will be right for us to favor the side of grace. As the winds of our culture blow in the direction of postmodernism and moral relativism, we will have to lean a little harder in the direction of truth. It's a balancing act, and there's freedom - actually a necessity - to favor one side of the pole and then the other. But all of the time we must keep a firm grip on both sides, knowing that if we let go of either, the results will be tragic.

There's something else Nik Wallenda did as he made his journey across the canyon. Over and over again he called out to Jesus. One of the bravest men in the world, Wallenda was humble enough to ask Jesus to help him stay on the wire and keep his balance.

You and I are called to something that is terribly difficult and immensely important. And if we get it wrong, the results will be disastrous. We are called through our words and our actions to make known the One who was a friend of sinners and the transformer of lives. If we choose either grace or truth, we won't keep our balance or represent him well. It's only when we combine both compassion for people and a passion for truth that we will walk in his footsteps and be used by him to do the work of his Kingdom. And there's nothing more essential for us to do than humble ourselves, confess our need for help, and call out to Jesus for strength and wisdom.

excerpt from: The Trouble with the Truth: Balancing Truth and Grace by Rob Renfroe. Copyright ©2014 by Abingdon Press. Used with permission.

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