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Someone gave me this refrigerator magnet. You can also get it on a bumper sticker or a T-shirt. I don’t think I would display it quite as publically as that, but I do identify with what is expressed.
In the last two decades, I and the denomination I am privileged to lead have made some sweeping changes in our beliefs and practices. Our church had been bound up in legalism, and we needed to embrace the gospel of grace. I realized that not everyone could accept these changes, and that some would even strongly resent them.
What I did not expect was the level of hate that was directed at me personally. People who claimed to be Christians did not extend much Christianity. Some actually wrote to me to tell me that they were praying for me to die quickly. Others went as far as to let me know they wanted to be involved in my execution. It gave me a deeper understanding of Jesus’ statement that there would be some who would want to kill you, thinking they were offering a service to God (John 16:2).
I tried not to let this outpouring of hate affect me, but of course it did. How could it not? Words hurt, especially if they come from those who have been friends and colleagues.
However, as the years have gone by, the angry words and hate mail do not affect me like they did at first. It is not that I have grown tougher skin, or have become calloused and indifferent to the personal attacks. But I see that people who vent their anger on me are struggling with their own feelings of inadequacy, guilt and worry. This is the effect that legalism has on us. The strict keeping of the law becomes a security blanket, although it is an inadequate one, rooted as it is in fear.
When we are confronted with the real security of the gospel of grace, some joyfully cast away the old blanket, but others hold on to it desperately and wrap themselves in it even more tightly. They regard anyone who wants to take it away as an enemy. That is why the Pharisees and other religious leaders of Jesus’ time saw him as a threat to their security and desperately wanted him to be destroyed.
Jesus did not hate the Pharisees. He loved them and wanted to help them, recognizing they were their own worst enemy. It is the same today, although now the threats and hatred come from those who claim to be followers of Jesus. Sadly, they have given the idea of being a “Follower of Jesus” a bad name, as my magnet warns.
The Bible tells us that “there is no fear in love.” On the contrary, “perfect love casts out fear” says 1 John 4:18. But, it seems that perfect fear casts out love! When I remember this, personal attacks just don’t bother me so much. I can love those who hate me, because Jesus loves them, even though they are not fully aware of the dynamics of his love. It helps me cut them some slack.
I’m Joseph Tkach, Speaking of LIFE.