When I quit smoking, it was because of God. I was playing guitar for a seventh grade girls Sunday School class (no, I am not a musician; EVERYONE played guitar in the early 70s). Along about then, God clearly convinced me that I should not go in there smelling like an old ash tray. So that week I just threw it all away: cigarettes, case and lighter. And because it was all God, I was able to go cold turkey, and was never ever tempted again. That was wonderful, but that’s not my point today. The whole thing was quick, it was clear, and it was totally effective. And that’s because no one else messed it up.
No one had judged me for smoking. No one looked down on me. My good friend who taught the class (who was also Principal of the Christian school) obviously did not feel that my nasty habit precluded my participation in her class of impressionable girls. And any non-smoker can attest to the fact that one needed only to be in my vicinity to know that I smoked! I was living proof of the wisdom of Romans 14: 3 and following:
Accept other believers who are weak in faith. Don’t argue with them
about what they think is right or wrong. God has accepted them. They
are responsible to the Lord, so let him judge whether they are right or
wrong. And with the Lord’s help, they will do what is right and receive
In spite of having grown up in church, I was a new believer. And I was accepted and loved, faults and all, which is exactly the way it’s supposed to be.
We are responsible to judge those within the church. We are supposed to be able to discern sin (1Cor.5:12). But more important than anything else, we are told to love. Our motivation makes all the difference in the world. Are we coming from a critical spirit, or from a desire to heal and uplift? We are told that it is a very good thing to be one who turns a fellow believer from sin, and that many blessings follow. That can only happen with love. And if any of us cannot approach that sinner without anger and condemnation, then we are definitely not the one to approach him at all.
Paul tells us not to judge the world, that God will judge them, that unless they change they are judged already. But of course the whole import of evangelism is to do our part in effecting that very change! And although we need to be able to see what is wrong, there too the most winning approach is surely love. My dear little friend Sherly Giglio put it best: “We have to love them where they are, don’t we, Norma!” And she was so right. Without love our message is not received, cannot be received. Without love, we are building walls, not bridges. “I really love you, but …” is not acceptable. The Word does not overreach in telling us so much about the absolute necessity of sincere love for those we would reach for Jesus, both saved and unsaved. If you pray for anything, pray for love.
If, all those years ago, I had been met with disapproval and distance, I don’t know where I would be today. Surely saved, because when God calls we answer. But not then, and not there. And who knows, I might have missed many years of fruitful service to my Lord and Savior, all because someone messed it up.