Saturday, February 22, 2014

"I don't care what people think." Well, you should.

This advice is often given: "Just be yourself and don't worry about what other people think." I believe sometimes this is right and sometimes it is very wrong, and the distinction is this:

Category #1: Maybe people will think I'm a loser, but I don't care what people think.

Category #2: Maybe people will think I'm insulting them, but I don't care what people think.

For category #1, yes, absolutely, go for it! Do what you want, and don't worry about other people judging you. Wear what you want, dye your hair, follow your dreams, whatever. Don't let anyone hold you back.

But I do have some opinions about having a purse dog. Image source.

For category #2, whoa, slow down. If I am being misunderstood, and people think I'm insulting/judging them, then I need to stop and reevaluate what I'm doing.

I absolutely need to care what people think.

And so many Christians (including me) are guilty of not realizing this distinction.

The bible warns us that Christians can expect to be persecuted. I've heard people wonder what will happen if they mention the bible in conversation- will all their friends abandon them? In my experience, that totally hasn't happened. I just try to be honest all the time about who I am and what I believe. Nothing to hide, nothing to be embarrassed about. Haha, I guess I don't care what people think.

But when you talk about God, and then someone doesn't react so nice, what do you conclude about it? "Eh, shake it off, the bible said we'd be persecuted. How noble of me to be doing this, putting my reputation at stake for the sake of the gospel!"

No.

Were they "offended" by the bible, or because you weren't listening to them?

So often I have heard pastors say that people nowadays are so "politically correct" and so easily offended, but you just have to tell them what the bible says anyway, and don't worry about it, because "the gospel is inherently offensive."

NO!

So we can just go around saying whatever rude things we want, and then claim that hey, it's in the bible, if anyone has a problem with it, they can take it up with God.

It is NOT OKAY to offend people just for the sake of offending people. Yes, I know that Jesus offended people by what he said. (You may remember that he ended up getting killed for this?) But he didn't go around telling everyone "you're a sinner" and saying whatever popped into his head.

And I know I'm exaggerating with that example. But I'm writing this because I've often been guilty of it, in more subtle forms. So many times, while talking with friends, I just wanted to steer the conversation so that I could say my bit about Jesus, regardless of whether the other person was interested, and then later I could tell my friends "I shared the gospel!"

We can't treat people like this. As if all they need is for me to spew out information about Jesus. Yes, as a Christian I believe people need the gospel. But the gospel is not an arrangement of words that comes out of my mouth. The gospel is God's love and mercy which rescues people and calls them to begin a new life following Jesus.

And any words I say, in an attempt to explain Christianity, will only be effective if the other person feels the reality of that love and the depth of their need for God and a longing for the awesome life that Jesus promised.

It does matter what people think. God loves people, and I want to somehow communicate that love. If people are feeling insulted or judged by Christians, then we're doing it wrong. I pray that Christians would be known for treating everyone with love and respect. I pray that we would just be honest and not scared of people persecuting us, and that we would be ready to listen and even have our ideas challenged (and maybe even admit that we were wrong about some things!).

And yes, I have biblical support for this: Ephesians 6:12 "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." People are not the enemy. We are fighting against sin and satan and evil in general. No, people are not the enemy- we love people.

And if someone misunderstands because of my actions, I need to find out why. Is it because I came across like I was judging them and not listening to what they think? People have actual reasons that they believe what they believe- I need to listen and do my best to understand.

Christians, go tell the world about God's love and how he's changed your life. Seriously, Jesus is the best. Go tell everybody you can. But above all, demonstrate God's love by loving people. By friendship, respect, and honesty. There's no trick. I don't care how many times you "shared the gospel" if you did it by monologuing at someone who didn't ask for it.

If we really believe this stuff, if we really believe that "God so loved the world", then we will strive to really demonstrate that- to be a friend, to help others, to listen and understand.

And I never again want to hear "the gospel is inherently offensive" used as an excuse for not caring about people. It does matter what people think. Because if we get this wrong, they might think God does not love people, and Jesus does not change lives.

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