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Can A Christian Be Both Loving and Critical?

The songs at church this Sunday were alright. Only one minor theological blunder that I counted. The person on stage who read today’s passage managed to pronounce all the words correctly. . .

From the moment the pastor started preaching, my brain quietly fact-checked everything that came out of his mouth, from the historical background of the passage, to the “original Greek” claims he made, to whether or not I thought his message was gospel-centric enough . . .

Not exactly the posture of a humble worshipper before God, huh?

I grew up in a Bible-believing household, went to Bible college, and now work with a Christian ministry. I love history, culture, and language, so my interests happen to line up nicely with acquiring biblical knowledge. The problem? As Paul said it so simply, “knowledge puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).

Don’t get me wrong—familiarity with the Bible is a good thing. Analytical thinking is a good thing. It is important to know the difference between a solidly gospel-grounded sermon, and a motivational feel-good speech. Even the most experienced pastors will make mistakes, and it is crucial for us to cross-check anything we hear with the Bible.

After all, even the Bereans checked Paul the Apostle against Scripture (Acts 17:10-11).

But none of that calls for sitting back with arms crossed, silently grading the pastor on the quality of his sermon. Partway through the sermon that Sunday, I realized that I was being critical of the pastor to a point of hostility. I had let myself puff up with pride, and was silently pointing out every minor flaw I noticed as a means of affirming my own inflated sense of intellect, well-read-ness, and general arrogance.

Once I realized my serious attitude problem, I told my brain to shut up and stop being so critical. But that doesn’t exactly solve the problem, does it? For the rest of the day, I wrestled with how to reconcile a critical mind with Christian love. Eventually, I came up with some guidelines to help me think through the issue and hold myself accountable.

 

Does it really matter?

Sometimes I find myself nitpicking at minute details that don’t really matter. If a person mispronounced a word, for example, it probably wouldn’t cause any misunderstanding. Or if the pastor gave an illustration of God’s amazing creation, and mentioned nine planets in the solar system (instead of eight, since Pluto has lost its status)—the main point is still clear and valid. It would be silly for me to worry over such irrelevant mistakes in a worship service.

On the other hand, sometimes there are mistakes with greater consequences. For example, I was recently in a Bible study where a newcomer mishandled biblical passages to argue that the Holy Spirit was not God. This clearly contradicts the Bible’s teachings, and could potentially mislead some of the newer Christians in the group, robbing them of the comfort of God’s continued presence in their lives (John 14:16-17). Unlike mis-numbering the planets, this was a problem that needed to be addressed.

Thankfully in that case, the leaders of the Bible study politely but firmly put a stop to this newcomer’s theories, while offering to discuss it more in a private setting.

While some mistakes are minor and have little consequence to how we live our lives or relate to others, other mistakes might be more foundational and problematic. I need to learn not to dwell on minor mistakes, as well as how to act lovingly in the face of more serious problems.

 

If it matters, how do I respond in love?

When faced with errors in foundational doctrine or mistakes with the potential to damage a young Christian’s relationship with God, sometimes we need to act. But at the same time, I need to take care in how I respond to the issue. Too often I find myself stewing in imagined debates, or pointing out errors to those around me in a gossip-like manner while not actually doing anything constructive to address the problem.

If I decide that a mistake is not trivial but requires action, then I need to ask myself, am I being loving in my approach? I should always start by praying and asking God to purify my motive.

If I counter someone’s point in Bible study, or approach a pastor after the sermon, I need to do it out of a heart of love and service. I’ve found that starting with questions and clarifying the other person’s view first is one way I can do that. After all, perhaps they know something I haven’t thought of yet, or maybe I misunderstood!

If I bring up the issue with friends or family, I should talk about it in a way that seeks further understanding and truth—it should never simply be criticism for the sake of pointing out errors. “What did you think about the speaker’s interpretation of this verse?” would hopefully lead to a constructive discussion that leaves us all with greater understanding and confidence in the truth the Bible offers.

Finally, whatever I do, pride must have no place in it. I am to “do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).

Too often, I am overly confident in my own opinions and understanding. I need to learn to let go when something simply doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I also need to remind myself—and ask God to help me—to be loving in all that I do and think. I pray that He will continue to overcome my sinful pride and reveal my many mistakes and misplaced opinions. And as I continue asking myself these questions throughout the week, I will ask God to enable me to interact lovingly and humbly with people around me.

Can I Love God More Than My Spouse?

Written By Tyler Edwards, USA

Tyler Edwards is a pastor, author, and husband. He has served in full-time ministry since 2006. He currently works as the Discipleship Pastor of Carolina Forest Community Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He is passionate about introducing people to and helping them grow in the Gospel. He is also the author of Zombie Church: Breathing Life Back Into the Body of Christ.

When my wife and I were dating, I made her this promise: “You will never be first in my life. That position belongs to God. If I put you there, I am making you an idol. You can’t be first. But when we are married, you will never be third. Aside from God, you will be the most important person in this world to me. I will love you to the best of my ability with all that I have. And I will do that better because I love you second.”

My wife had never been exposed to that idea before, so it took her a little time to warm up to it. But over the years, she has come to appreciate and understand just how different my love for her is when it is fueled by the love of God.

 

What it means to love God more than

In Matthew 22, Jesus says that the greatest commandment in the law is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. The second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40). Love is not just a biblical principal. It’s the foundation of who God is, and the motivation for so much of what God does. As Christians, the challenge is how to apply love in our lives.

Is it possible to love God more than my spouse? Whether we are talking about a newly married couple in the dreamy season of young love, or a couple who has been together for decades and can’t imagine being closer to anyone than their lifelong companion—the heart of the question is this: Is it possible to love God more than the person I love most in this world?

The answer is not only, yes, it is possible. The answer is, we absolutely must. This is what it means to be a Christian. We love God first. We love God most. The Greatest Commandment in the law tells us to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and as Luke adds, all our strength (Matthew 22:37). Being a Christian means that we love God with everything we have and everything we are. We cannot do that if we love something in this world more than we love Him.

 

Does God really ask me to hate my family?

As Jesus explains in Luke 14:25-27, we follow Him at the cost of our worldly selves: “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.’”

Hate your father, your mother, your brothers and sisters, your spouse, and even your own children? How can the same Jesus, who tells us the second greatest commandment in the law is to love our neighbors as ourselves, say something like this? That doesn’t sound like my Jesus. It doesn’t even make sense in light of the character of God. Aren’t we told in the Bible that God is love (1 John 4:16)?

How do these two statements co-exist? You see, the word “hate” in Luke 14 is translated from the Greek word miseo. While miseo can be used to describe hatred, according to Kittle’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, it can also carry a meaning of preference. In other words, it means to renounce one thing in favor of another. In this context, hate doesn’t mean loathe, despise, treat as an enemy or with hatred. Hate, as Jesus uses it here, literally means “to love less than.”

Jesus doesn’t want us to despise our families, our spouses, our children. He wants us to know that following Him means choosing Him over anything and everything else. What He is saying is simple: if you want to be a Christian, to be His disciple, you must love Him more than anyone else and everyone else in your life. In fact, you must love Him more than your own life. Jesus doesn’t play second fiddle.

The biblical expectation of a Christian is this: our love for God should be so great that by comparison, our greatest love in this world should seem like hate. It should not be hate. Again, it’s a measure of comparison. The distance between how you feel towards your greatest love and your greatest enemy should be the same distance that exists between your greatest love and God, with God on the better end. The word for this is devotion.

Our world seems to think that we can believe something while not acting on it. But Jesus doesn’t play that game. We are not Christians simply because that’s what we call ourselves. According to Jesus, we are Christians only if we love Him more than everything else in our lives. We can’t simply declare it. We demonstrate it with every choice we make.

 

Loving God enables us to love our spouse

For the hopeless romantics who find the idea of “hating” our spouses harsh, even by comparison, let me say this: the man who loves God first will love his wife better than the man who loves his wife but doesn’t prioritize God.

Because we aren’t talking about a competition. We are talking about priorities. The most important thing with priorities is to get them in the right order. Loving God first is better for your spouse than if you were to love them first.

The English language has done love a disservice. We have one word which we use to describe everything, from how we feel about chocolate to how we feel about the most important people in our lives. I love tacos. I love my wife. I do not love them the same way. The Greeks had a much better idea. They had several different words for love, which allowed them to distinguish between the love of family, the love of passion, and the love of friendship.

Here’s why I would argue that loving God first is not just possible, not just essential for the Christian, but actually better for your spouse. When you love God first, you belong to Him and are given His Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit we have access to the agape love of God—His divine, supernatural, unconditional love.

When we love God first, His agape love empowers us to love our spouse. Without it, the best we can do is love our spouse when we feel like it, when they please us, or when it benefits us to do so. On our own, the best we can offer is a conditional love. It’s a love with limits. But with God, the love we show our spouse is fueled by God’s perfect love.

There have been times where I have let that focus slip. A subtle shift inevitably begins. I get annoyed more easily. Frustrated more quickly. Even a small rotation of priorities—where my focus moves closer to her and farther from God—ends up with me being less patient, less kind, and less understanding in our interactions. Whenever I hear her ask: “What is up with you?” I find the answer is the same. My primary focus was on her, not on God.

For example, my wife and I can both be very stubborn. Whenever we have a disagreement, neither of us want to be the first to admit fault and start resolving the issue. Conflict resolution can really be a challenge because of our pride and selfishness. However, when we stop, take a breath, and re-focus on God, we are much better at putting the other person first and overcoming our own selfishness.

Whenever I lose sight of my priorities in our marriage or focus on my wife more than on God, my love for my wife becomes cheap. It becomes more selfish. I love her because I get something out of it. Or I love her because of something she did. My love is not as full or rich. And my wife no longer feels the same love from me. That’s what happens when I give my wife love sustained by myself, not fueled by God.

But when we put God first, and love our spouse second, only then will we love them more. Only then will we love them better. Only then will we love them longer, because our love for them will not be built on their performance or our weaknesses, but on the depths of God’s unconditional love.

When Someone Goes Astray

Day 30 | Today’s passage: James 5:19-20 | Historical context of James

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

The first time I met my friend, she told me that she had accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior when she was six. But when I encouraged her to come to church regularly, she shifted with embarrassment and told me she was struggling with an addiction, and wanted to straighten out her life before finding God again.

We kept in touch. Three years down the road, she still struggles with the addiction as well as a series of other bad life choices. Every time we talk, she tries to convince me she’s turning her life around. But each time, I see more of the pain (both physically and emotionally) that her choices are bringing her.

Do you know anyone who has, to quote James, “wandered from the truth”? Sometimes people walk away from a doctrinal belief in God and His gospel; other times, someone might believe all the right things, but no longer live by them.
My friend, for example, confesses Jesus as her Lord and Savior—but you would never know it from the way she lives.

As James emphasizes throughout his letter, God does not desire merely our superficial confession of Him. He wants us to live out the gospel in our lives.

But that’s not all. He also wants us to watch out for our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we see a fellow Christian wandering from the truth, whether in thought or in deed, James exhorts that “someone should bring that person back” (v. 19).

To encourage us in seeking wandering souls, James reminds us that “whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (v. 20).

For sins to be “covered over” means that God will forgive the sins (Romans 4:7). There is no sin too great for Christ’s sacrifice. When we restore a brother or sister, whatever their sin may be, God’s forgiveness is more than able to save them from spiritual death. What can be greater than a renewed life in Christ? And to think that God allows us to play a part in His amazing work of restoration!

But how do we turn a wanderer back to God?

We can love. We seek to love others just as Christ loves us, which is precisely why we seek to bring them back to Him (John 15:12). Sincerely loving our brothers and sisters prevents us from falling into the sin of judgmentalism or gossip. When we love, we will seek to maintain a meaningful relationship through which perhaps God would be pleased to work.

We can pray—regularly and passionately. Ultimately, it is not our clever arguments or sincere words that change a person’s mind. Rather, it is God’s Spirit moving in the deep recesses of the heart that brings a wanderer back, and by prayer we bring our petitions directly to God, who loves the person more completely than we ever can.

We can lovingly confront a person who has turned away from God. Our love forbids us from being an observer on the sidelines, watching passively, while someone forfeits their soul. In talking with someone whose actions are contrary to God, we “do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as [we] would a fellow believer” (2 Thessalonians 3:15), lovingly and prayerfully.

God desires that we live out the gospel in our daily life, and is grieved when any one of us turns away. As brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s commit to hold one another accountable because of the love we have for God and for each other. In everything we do, may we act out of love and wholly depend on God’s grace and leading, trusting that He will continue to work in the lives of all who belong to Him.

—Christine Emmert, USA

Questions for reflection

1. Do you know anyone who has turned away from God? What are some possible signs of a person wandering away from the truth?

2. What is one step you can take to restore the brother/sister who has gone astray?

3. What is one truth from God’s word that you can take to heart in this process of restoration?


Christine is a follower of Christ, and a lover of good books and food. Life is good, she insists, and each new breath is a reminder that whatever the circumstances, God is still good. Her husband and her are trying to build a family that seeks Christ and serves as light and salt among the nations. Ezra 7:10 is her favorite verse.

Read 30-day James Devotional

Stop Trivializing Favoritism

Day 12 | Today’s passage: James 2:8-11 | Historical context of James

8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

Growing up as the middle child, I always felt that my parents favored my brothers. I wasn’t as good as they were in both my studies and swimming, and I would feel pangs of jealousy whenever my parents praised my brothers for their achievements and gave them first pick of the food and presents. I also felt the injustice of being scolded the most and forgiven the least whenever we made mistakes together.

Though I may have unfairly judged my parents then as a kid, this perception of being unfairly treated had significant negative effects on my emotional well-being—my self-esteem took a blow and I often felt inferior to my brothers and unloved. It was not until I became a Christian in my youth, that I gradually started to recover my self-esteem. I was convicted of the truth that regardless of how I performed, God loves me unconditionally.

Admittedly, I have also been a perpetrator of favoritism. In school and at my workplace, I have treated certain classmates and colleagues better because I liked their personalities more than others. During those moments, I did not consider what effects my actions had on those around me. When we are the ones being favored or the ones perpetuating it, we are likely to trivialize it.

James, however, reminds us that favoritism contravenes the royal law of Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves. He even mentions favoritism in the same breath as murder and adultery, placing them side by side as violations of not just one component, but the whole law of God (v. 10).

When I look back at my past experiences, I realize that at the heart of favoritism is a glaring lack of brotherly love toward another. Isn’t that essentially at the heart of all sin?
As Galatians 5:14 tells us, “the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (NLT)

When we show favoritism, we do not consider the feelings of the one who has been victimized and its impact on that person. Instead of loving them, we are hurting them.
This not only reduces that person’s self-worth and leaves a scar on his heart; it also denies his identity as a much-loved child of God and negatively shapes his character and future actions.

In the Bible, we read of accounts of favoritism which led to resentment and ultimately, undesirable outcomes. Sarah’s preference for Isaac and her ill-treatment of Hagar and her son Ishmael led to a break-up of Abraham’s family. Isaac’s unequal treatment of his two sons, Esau and Jacob, drove a wedge between them. And Jacob’s favoritism toward Joseph led to his older brothers resenting him and selling him off as a slave.

Are we also guilty of trivializing this sin of favoritism? Do we cast a blind eye to this hideous sin when we commit it, not realizing its detrimental consequences?

Let us examine our lives and turn to God in all humility. Let us ask Him to help us attain an understanding of His law and of this subtle sin in our personal lives, so that we may live a life of authentic faith with the genuine love of Christ for our neighbor.

—Melvin Ho, Singapore

Questions for reflection

1. In my home, workplace, church or other social circles, have I shown favoritism and trivialized the grievousness of this sin?

2. How can I love the poor or even my enemies—and treat them equally without favoritism?


While not an avid reader and writer, Melvin likes to explore questions people have about the Christian faith and Scripture, and discover the best answer to them. He realizes however, that sometimes he may be thinking too much for his own good, and needs to spend more time putting God’s Word into practice. Among his goals now are to learn godliness with contentment, love people equally without favoritism, and put their needs above his own. In his free time, he likes to run, watch Manchester United football games, and catch inspirational movies. Secretly, he hopes God can use his life as a missionary one day, fingers crossed.

Read 30-day James Devotional