Don't Throw Stones, But Abide In Love
In my previous post was a call to come back to God. It touched a few key points: we all sin and need Jesus. We all need to humble ourselves before God. And God pursues us. These are important things to note as we move forward.
In today’s world, I’ve found it’s become alarmingly easy to get into other people’s business. And easier to share someone else’s business with others. There are various social media platforms that are meant to connect strangers based on common interests or keep people who are already acquainted connected. They open doors for ministry. You can bring support to strangers who are just flipping through random images, tweets, or posts. It’s great to know you can share a positive thought and let it resonate in the minds of a hundred or thousand people who are following your posts. However, it’s also made it easier for people to follow others with ulterior motives other than constructive connections or sharing a positive message.
We live in a world where people are regularly watching each other. I personally know how frustrating and difficult it can be as a Christian. We’re not perfect. With eyes always on us, it feels like an impossible task to not look and feel like a hypocrite. If you say or do the wrong thing, if you falter or deviate, it has a ripple effect. And if there’s one thing I’ve noticed, the world can be very unforgiving. It’s feels like they highlight and archive your worst moments and bury your brightest and best moments. When you try to live a transparent life, people love to watch you, share and advertise your stumbles, but offer very little in regards to constructive input when you’re doing what’s right.
So, in a world that’s becoming more and more critical, where our moves are watched, our words are transcribed and shared across the web, and sometimes even our thoughts don’t feel private anymore, it’s incredibly important, essential even, that we be gentle, loving, and forgiving of both ourselves and others.
Point one: Love one another and abide in love.
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:9-12 ESV)
Now, I really like the word “abide” when applied to love. Here are the definitions of abide from Dictionary.com:
verb, abode or abided, abiding.
1. to remain; continue; stay: Abide with me.
2. to have one's abode; dwell; reside: to abide in a small Scottish village.
3. to continue in a particular condition, attitude, relationship, etc.; last.
4. to put up with; tolerate; stand: I can't abide dishonesty!
5. to endure, sustain, or withstand without yielding or submitting: to abide a vigorous onslaught.
6. to wait for; await: to abide the coming of the Lord.
7. to accept without opposition or question: to abide the verdict of the judges.
8. to pay the price or penalty of; suffer for.
In a critical world, it’s very important that we consciously and intentionally stay in God’s love. God’s love is a home that travels with you wherever you go. It’s a place you can rest in like a cozy bed with warm blankets during the tiring, hectic day. It’s fortress when you feel under attack. It’s place of comfort and peace you can invite others into. When you’re having a conversation, can almost imagine yourself sitting on a comfortable couch together talking over tea, no matter where you are. God’s love is with you always. Abide in it. Move in. Take all of the baggage you’ve been carrying and sit it down. You have a place of rest and peace in Christ.
Furthermore, Christ wants us to have joy. No matter how critical the world can be. No matter what we see others do or do ourselves, we have to remember we abide in Christ’s love and forgiveness. Be joyful about that. Make peace with yourself. You’re developing. God’s growing you. Be joyful. When you abide in God’s love and are full of joy, you will be more loving and forgiving of others.
I don’t think it’s possible to truly love others if you’re not abiding in love. We get love from God, family, friends, significant others, and sometimes acts of love from strangers. It’s incredibly challenging for a person who is not experiencing love to give love to others. How can you give people something that’s foreign to you? It’s like someone asking you to make Chinese food when you don’t know the style, dishes, or ingredients. How can you bring joy to others when joy is a foreign concept to you? So, it is very important that we sit still and abide in God’s love.
One more thought on this, accept God’s love without opposition or question. Sometimes we can be too humble to the point where it’s not humility but self-loathing. Sometimes we just can’t set aside the things we’ve said or done. Listen, when you confess your sins to God, ask for forgiveness, and wholeheartedly repent, that’s a wrap. You don’t have to keep questioning whether or not God forgave you or should forgive you. God loves you. God forgives you. God is still working in and improving you. It’s so important you accept His love and not question or doubt it. Once you’ve accepted God’s love without opposition or question, an important next step is accepting God’s love of others without opposition or question.
Which brings me to point two: Don’t throw stones.
Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:2-11 ESV)
Now, in this passage, we are talking about literal stones. These guys are literally about to pelt this woman with stones to cause permanent physical harm. I’ll be using stones as an analogy for hurtful words.
One of the toughest things for a person to do when he or she has drifted from God or sinned, but is trying to walk back in alignment with Him, is to dodge stones while returning or repenting. Imagine that. You’ve drifted off course and want to get back on path so you can rejoin your family. Only, they all have frowns on their faces and they’re throwing stones at you because you’re covered in mud, filth, and maybe smell. Not a very warm welcome. No one who loves God is proud of sin. We don’t return to God waving at everyone going, “Hey everybody, guess what I’ve been up to?” Of course, not. We feel shame, guilt. Now, once we’re forgiven by God, we like to move on and get rolling on other things. What we don’t want is to keep getting hit by stones over things we previously did. And, because we’re still growing, be hit by stones for things God’s still growing us out of.
Now, I won’t pretend I’ve not thrown plenty of stones in my time. I’m a very accurate shot. The only justification I give myself is that I typically don’t throw stones unless someone’s thrown stones at me, repetitively. However, that’s a rarity these days. I know that vengeance is the Lord’s. We’re told not to return evil for evil. I will warn you that your words have consequences. But that’s as far as I’m willing to go, most of the time.
When we abide in love, truly loving others and not in opposition to God’s love of ourselves or others, we don’t go into attack mode when others sin. We read the situations. We don’t condone sin. We don’t encourage sin. We don’t enable sin. However, our response to sin should be appropriate to the sin and circumstances of the person sinning. Sometimes people just need help. Sometimes people need support. Sometimes people just need to be patiently redirected.
We never really get a back story on this woman who had been caught in adultery. We don’t know if she was married and was with another man. We don’t know if she was single but with a married man. The man wasn’t implicated in any wrong doing. What we see are the scribes and Pharisees looking to test Jesus and punish this woman. Jesus coolly humbles the crowd by reminding them of their sin. After they’ve all left, He tells her to sin no more.
So, instead of going on the attack, what do we do?
First, make sure you know what you’re talking about. One of the worst things you can do is start accusing someone of something they’re not actually doing or have zero intention of doing or never did. Are you an eyewitness to sin or did you hear about it? Did the person sin or are you making the assumption this person is going to sin? Is it actually a sin?
Second, if it’s clearly a sin that has occurred or will occur, go to God about it. Pray. God knows what’s going on in each and every one of our lives. He knows who should approach, when that person should approach, and how that person should approach the situation. To appropriately address an issue, we must seek out God’s perfect wisdom. Lean not on your own understanding. You may find that God will resolve the matter without any need for human intervention.
Third, having taken the time to pray, address the person in question, and only the person in question, directly and honestly. Don’t gossip. Don’t shine a spotlight on someone else’s dirt. Don’t cut corners. Don’t go on the offense and put the person on the defense. We love this person. We abide in love. Sin is an illness. We are nurses and counselors. Our goal is not to beat up the patient. Our goal is to treat the patient. Some correction may be required for some sins. However, we don’t want to push a person away. We want a person to confide and explain why the sin is taking place. We want to get into the roots and psychology of why sin has, is, or will occur for this person so that it can be prevented and stopped.
Fourth, offer support. How can I help you not sin? Call me if you feel the need to sin. Let’s talk about. Let’s go over scripture together. Then, pray with the person. Pray for forgiveness. Pray for strength in overcoming strongholds. Pray for repentance. And if that person is comfortable with it, introduce him or her to someone who has successfully overcome that sin. That way, the person knows it can be overcome and gets sound advice from someone who can legitimately empathize with what they’re going through.
Fifth, check in on that person to see how things are developing and glorify God.
Now, this is mostly applied to Christians. However, it can also be applied to non-Christians who are mature enough to consider self-growth and may have an open mind to the word of God. Whether Christian or not, we love being loved. We love having support. We hate having our mistakes thrown in our faces. No one likes being stoned. It hurts. Whether we have thick skin or not, a great deal of us prefer gentleness to harshness.
With hopes, we as Christians can learn to be better social massage therapists. Offering a light touch, putting pressure in the tense spots only to relieve tightness and pain, and leaving the person feeling restored and refreshed afterwards.
Point three: Put down your bag of stones.
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:1-7 NIV)
With everything else said, this verse is the icing on the cake. Abiding in God’s love, we have love and can give love. And a major part of love in relationships, and with people, is not being irritable or resentful. Verse five says “it keeps no record of wrongs”. When we know people, we accumulate positive and negative knowledge and experiences. It’s very important that we try our best not to hold on to that negative knowledge or relive those negative experiences.
Sometimes, in perspective, we can remember the negative to appreciate how much a person has grown or will grow. However, we could make the mistake of taking this argument here, this error there, and collect this big bag of hurt we can reach into when we disagree with someone. We don’t want anyone else to haul around bad history to use against us at their will. Honestly, it’s a burden to ourselves to hold on to such things.
The easiest and best way to not throw stones is the not pick them up and accumulate them. Put down your bag of stones. Be quick to forgive. Be quick to move on. And remember what Jesus said in Matthew 6:14-15 (ESV), “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
With that said, remember, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1 NIV) Try your very best to not throw stones.