If Christians are supposed to be loving, kind, and compassionate – why do so many have a reputation for being terrible people? Here are some reasons why, where it comes from, and how to fix it.
This message is from my Twitch channel’s Devos & Chill series where, on Thursdays, I give a short message before we get into the gaming. Please join us!
If you’ve been following along in these studies, then you know my favourite thing to do is deep dive into one or two important words and really mine out where they come from and what they mean. We’ve already talked about the whole background of the book: who the Philippians and Paul and Timothy were – and I almost went into a 6 week explanation of the other words in the first two verses – but I remembered that other people are listening, and perhaps want to get through this book of the bible before they die of old age.
So, today we’re moving ahead and looking at Philippians 1:3-11. Let me give it a read:
“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
There is so much happening in this passage that I could spend another year in it, but what I want to look at today is the emotional side of this section. This whole letter, the whole of Philippians, reads as a love-letter. All the way through you see words like, “my beloved”, “affection”, “I yearn for you”… he calls them “my joy and crown”. Paul and this church were, in a real sense, in love with one another.
Now, our modern society has a hard time separating love from sex, so I think it’s important to clarify that this isn’t a sexual thing. And I know that’s weird to say, but consider what is happening in the world right now when it comes to friendships. It wasn’t that long ago that men and women who were good friends, nothing sexual, would walk down the street holding hands. Men too! If you look at old pictures from the 19th century, you’ll see manly men dressed up in all kinds of military uniforms and formal wear, arm in arm, and holding hands. In fact, if you’ve read books from that era you get a real sense that male friendships were so strong a bond, that it was a challenge to the man’s relationship with his wife!
These days, every time we read about any kind of intimate friendship, we immediately want to sexualize it. And that has done such a disservice to everyone. Now, homophobic men and women who don’t want to be considered gay, actually avoid having close relationships with people of the same gender – and end up being very lonely people. Or on the other side, when someone feels a real bond to another, a true affection, they have been conditioned to assume that it must be sexual – and they not only get themselves confused, but end up messing up the friendship. It’s a mess.
Which is why I felt I needed to clarify that Paul’s relationship with the Philippian church had nothing to do with sexual attraction or any other hanky-panky – this was a man who was deeply in love with a group of people who deeply loved him back. And, what is beautiful, is that they weren’t afraid to express that love to one another.
But, what I really want you to notice here is something that came up in yesterday’s Minecraft stream. During yesterday’s stream I mentioned that I was a Baptist pastor for a long time, and FutureQueen pointed out how weird it is that someone like me – presumably a nice, friendly person – would call themselves a “Baptist”, because Baptists have a reputation for being not the nicest of people.
I also mentioned that most of the abuse in my life has come from the hands of people who called themselves Christians, and were leaders in the church.
So, the immediate question then is, “Why am I still a Christian? Why am I still a pastor? Why do I still listen to Christian leaders? Why do I still want to go to church? Why do I still believe people should be part of a Christian community?”
You all know that the reason I’m on Twitch isn’t to play games and get popular – it’s to build an open, encouraging, and meaningful online family, through gaming, real talk, and God’s truth. My mission here is to build an online family, to introduce people to what following Jesus really looks like, what love really looks like, and to invite people to be a part of it.
But one of the barriers to this goal, one that every church, pastor, and anyone who calls themselves a Christian faces, is that overwhelmingly, we are seen as negative, judgemental, unkind, and uncompassionate people. When someone is in crisis, the last place they’ll call is a church. If someone is hurting, scared, or in need, the idea of sharing that with your average Christian, let alone pastor, actually brings more dread than comfort.
Why? Well, partly because that reputation is deserved. Some Christians really do live as holier-than-thou, judgemental, jerks who just want to poop on everything fun and that they don’t agree with. That’s true.
Another reason is because western churches and Christians have spent so much time trying to get people into their buildings, that they’ve forgotten to go out into the world to show compassion and generosity to hurting people. They sit in their stained-glass rooms and send out flyers, hoping that people will come and fill up their old and empty churches, and give some tithes, so that it doesn’t close. That’s not what Jesus wants.
The third reason is a practical one. Jesus teaches us in scripture that when a Christian does good things, they’re not supposed to tell anyone. If we give someone in need some money, do it in secret, don’t pop it on Instagram. If we commit our lives to serving the outcasts of society, don’t advertise it. Which means that people don’t know that most of the work done among the most hurting and needy people in our society is done by Christians. We just don’t toot our horns.
And the fourth reason is spiritual. Satan works really hard to convince people to stay away from churches, pastors, and Christians, because he knows that there are a lot of them out there that are brimming over with the love of God, and the moment you connect with one, your life will be utterly changed. He hates that, he wants you miserable and weak, so the game-plan is to divide and conquer. If the idea of talking to a Christian is off the table, then you’re no longer a problem for him.
But, look at the passage again! Listen to the feeling words. Remember Paul’s story. He hated Christians, persecuted them, even killed them. And now, because of Jesus, he’s become a Christian missionary – who, as he writes this letter, is a man under house arrest, preparing to come before Caesar, who could just as easily have him killed as release him. And he’s writing to a church that is under attack from all sides – false teachers, pagan government, the trade unions taking away their jobs, their families kicking them out…
But – despite all that hardship – their love is stronger than ever.
He says, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you… I hold you in my heart… I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus…” meaning, every time these people, his church family, comes to mind, Paul is so glad Jesus brought them together, so glad they are friends and partners, that every day he wants to be with them.
That word, “affection”, is an interesting word. It’s literally the word for “spleen”, or “bowels” or “viscera”. It’s a word to describe his deepest parts. His feelings for these brothers and sisters in Christ was so strong that he could feel it in his guts. Have you felt that? Loving someone so much that you could physically feel it? Wanting to hug them so hard, that you squished together like play-dough? Longing to be with them so much that the separation made your body actually ache?
But – where does this affection come from? Is it because they were nice to him? Is it because they sent financial support? It is because they listened to his sermons? No. The foundation of their love is the change that God has made in their hearts, and their common connection to Jesus, that has turned them into a church family.
Look again at what motivates all this love. They are “partners in the gospel… God is doing a good work in them… they are all partakers of the grace of God…” and look at verse 8, “I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus…”
That’s our key-verse today. Paul’s affection for the Philippians was so strong that it went past his human emotions… it was a spiritual connection created by their relationship with Jesus. One that that went beyond the physical realm – and would last into eternity.
That’s why I’m still a Christian. That’s why I love the church. That’s why I so strongly believe that everyone needs to be part of a Church family. It’s because I know what that love feels like. Sure, I’ve met some bad people who called themselves Christians – but the most wonderful, generous, gentle, kind, people in my life are Christians.
And their love goes beyond what normal, non-believers feel. You see, I can be a pretty miserable person to be friends with. I’m pretty much always under attack, miserable, in crisis, or a physical or emotional wreck. That just comes with the job of being a pastor. Being friends with me comes at a high cost.
But – because their love for me, and my love for them, goes beyond human emotion, and is built on the love that Jesus showed us, the grace He gave us, the forgiveness He offers us – they stick with me. They love me with a power beyond their ability – and I love them too.
That’s one of the greatest gifts of becoming a Christian – discovering what real love feels like, what real family feels like, and the place that is found – is with people that are following Jesus.