Some Christians have a reputation for being unkind, judgemental, and condemnatory. In their efforts to express and defend their faith, they come across as mean, contrary to Jesus Christ’s example. While some non-Christians unfairly stereotype all believers as mean and dislike anyone challenging their beliefs and values, it’s also true that sometimes Christians aren’t as nice as they should be. So why is this?
Sometimes Christians fall short of loving people they disagree with, which makes them seem mean. Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love God and the second greatest is to love others. Yet, sometimes in the heated emotion of debate and disagreement, Christians don’t speak or act as they should.
Are Christians bad at loving other people? What are some practical ways that Christians can love others without agreeing with them on moral and theological issues? How did Jesus love people with whom he disagreed? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Are Christians bad at loving other people?
Sometimes it’s difficult for people to love others with whom they have significant disagreements. This tension is a human problem, one that isn’t unique to Christians. Furthermore, Christians are sometimes even on the receiving end as non-Christians come across as mean to them when they refer to them as stupid, hateful, or bigoted.
Cordial disagreement is rare across all worldviews, not just in Christianity. Clashes over beliefs, values, priorities, individual lifestyles, and social policies are not only common in discourse about religion, but in politics, education, and in other areas, too.
However, even though Christians can sometimes correctly say, “non-Christians are mean to us too,” followers of Jesus must still obey the teachings of Christ about loving others. The derogatory names and stereotypes that non-Christians level against Christians must not condition a believer’s obedience to the second greatest commandment.
Five New Testament verses about loving other people
Jesus taught his followers to love others, which other New Testament writers like the Apostle Paul emphasized in their teaching. Below are five examples. It’s also important to note that loving others doesn’t mean outright toleration of all their beliefs and choices. See Jesus’ example below to learn more.
|Matthew 22:39||And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.|
|Romans 13:8||Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.|
|John 13:34||A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another.|
|Galatians 5:14||The entire law is fulfilled in a single decree: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”|
|James 2:8||If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.|
Jesus’ example of loving disagreement
Jesus’ love for other people is the greatest example that Christians have. His love for others was pure, clear, and perfect. However, contrary to the perspective of some non-Christians, Jesus’ love for others didn’t mean that he condoned their beliefs and behaviors. He didn’t define love as unconditional toleration and acceptance of every word, desire, or deed of an unbeliever.
The woman caught in adultery
The Gospel of John includes a well-known story about some religious leaders who brought Jesus a woman who was guilty of adultery. The religious leaders took the woman to Jesus and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such a woman. So what do You say?” (John 8:5)
The religious leaders didn’t care about the woman; she was merely a pawn in their game to trap Jesus. John explains that “they said this to test Him, in order to have a basis for accusing Him. But Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with His finger.” (John 8:6)
Jesus’ reaction to this scene is instructive for Christians today. First, he responds to the religious leaders. Second, he speaks to the woman. Believers need to understand both conversations to apply the passage.
Jesus’ response to the religious leaders
Jesus replied, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her. And again He bent down and wrote on the ground” (John 8:8). Jesus condemned their judgemental and hypocritical attitude toward the woman.
The Bible teaches that all people sin (Rom. 3:23), including religious leaders. Even if adultery wasn’t their particular offense, they, like her, fell short of God’s moral standard. John reported that “when they heard this, they began to go away one by one, beginning with the older ones, until only Jesus was left, with the woman standing there” (John 8:9).
Jesus’ response to the adulterous woman
John writes that “Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?'” She answered, “No one, Lord.” Jesus replied, “Then neither do I condemn you. Now go and sin no more” (John 8:10-11). So even non-Christians agree that Jesus isn’t being “mean” in this passage. he saved a woman from being stoned to death, and with his words, he made accusers flee in shame.
Jesus aggressively confronted the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, but he gently gave correction to the woman. To be clear, both needed redirection. Jesus didn’t condemn the religious leaders for intolerance but for hypocrisy. He obviously didn’t tolerate or approve of the woman’s behavior but told her to go and “sin” no more. The word “sin” implies that her actions fell short of God’s moral standards.
Note: John writes that Jesus was writing in the sand in this passage. Many people are interested to know what he wrote. Please see What Did Jesus Write in the Sand? to learn more.
Five practical ways Christians can love others without agreeing with them
- Don’t engage with non-Christians in a perpetual state of argumentativeness, anger, irritability, annoyance, impatience, despair, or pride
- Provide for the physical needs of non-Christians if necessary, such as clothes, food, shelter, and healthcare
- Don’t keep a record of the wrong things they have said or done to you, but be quick to forgive
- Find aspects of their personality, values, and talents to complement and enjoy
- Talk about Christ in a winsome way and how he has helped you overcome sin in your life
Charles Spurgeon once said, “Love is power. The Holy Spirit, for the most part, works by our affection. Love men to Christ; faith accomplishes much, but love is the actual instrument by which faith works out its desires in the Name of the Lord of love.”
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