1 John 4:8 “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow for policy studies at Washington’s Family Research Council, used the case of ESPN commentator Chris Broussard to explain why many Christians today are ‘closet Christians’ who will not share their faith openly for fear of being attacked. Broussard, a professing Christian, has been labeled a bigot and a purveyor of hate speech for stating publicly that his friend, Jason Collins, is living in open rebellion to God after Collins publicly announced he is gay.
I agree that the company you keep will impact your views. The Bible says so in 1Corinthians 15:33 (“Evil company corrupts good habits”). But identifying with Jesus Christ makes you a bigot or hater? There is no one in world history who is viewed as having more love and compassion for people, regardless of their sexual orientation, social status or ethnicity, than Jesus Christ. That’s the essential message of the Cross.
So the question comes down to this: can a true follower of Jesus Christ be a bigot or hater? This week’s verse from 1John 4:8 gives us the answer: No. In fact, the cultural institution today that provides the greatest social charity systems (such as food and shelter for the poor, inner city youth programs, disaster relief, etc.) is the church of Jesus Christ!
John Dickson, Director of the Centre for Public Christianity and Professor of Ancient History at Macquarie University, provides an excellent historical example of the early church’s social programs that reveal how love and compassion are core elements of biblical teaching. In a letter written by the Roman Emperor Julian to the pagan priests around 360AD, Julian wrote that it was ‘disgraceful’ to see the worship of Jesus Christ growing so rapidly because of the church’s caring for the poor and needy. The church was feeding 1,500 people per day, making it the largest social welfare program in the world at the time!
Julian demanded that the priests start imitating the church’s charity or the Christians might take over by the stealth of their good deeds: “Why then do we not observe how the kindness of Christians to strangers… and the sobriety of their lifestyle has done the most to advance their cause? Each of these things, I think, ought really to be practiced by us. It is not sufficient for you alone to practice them, but so must all the priests in Galatia [in modern Turkey] without exception. Either make these men good by shaming them, persuade them to become so or fire them… For it is disgraceful when no Jew is a beggar and the impious Galileans [the name given by Julian to Christians] support our poor in addition to their own… Do not therefore let others outdo us in good deeds while we ourselves are disgraced by laziness.”
Professor Dickson explains why Christianity remains so popular throughout the world, and why the church has remained united in its charity toward all mankind, regardless of their social status, ethnicity or gender. First, the God who revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ brought a clear revelation from the Jewish Old Testament that all men were created in God’s image and therefore have infinite value. This was counter to Roman culture, where your worth was based on your social status, ethnicity or gender.
But secondly and most important, the Romans and Greeks were confused by the Christian view of God as actually loving all people. As our verse this week from 1John emphasizes, the concept of ‘agape’ love took off in the culture as people watched and then joined in with the active demonstration of God’s love.
God’s love is the Greek word ‘agape’. It is unique to Him and can only be accessed through Him because He is the source! What makes this kind of love for others so attractive that the worship of Jesus Christ continues to dominate the globe? First, it is the only love that is totally unselfish – it keeps on giving based on the needs of the one loved, without expecting anything in return or considering the cost involved.
It is also the only love that doesn’t require a relationship with the love being loved. It be exercised immediately because of four key elements: 1) it’s a choice of the will, with no dependence on feelings, 2) its a love of action, not an emotion or a reaction or a response, 3) it doesn’t care if the person is indifferent or rejecting to the love, and 4) it doesn’t consider how loveable the person is.
No, anyone confessing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior cannot be a bigot or hater because the opposite to 1Corinthians 15:33 applies when you dedicate your life to obeying Christ: “Good company transforms evil habits.”