Jesus was once asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matthew 22)
Jesus didn’t hesitate!
He replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” —Matthew 22:36-40 NIV
Jesus basically said, “Guys, if you want to get things right, let your life be defined by two simple principles: LOVE GOD and LOVE PEOPLE. LOVE GOD and LOVE PEOPLE. LOVE GOD and LOVE PEOPLE.”
LOVE GOD AND LOVE PEOPLE.
Your love for God gets puts on display by the way you love, treat and relate to people. Our ultimate identity isn’t based on gender or race. It’s based on the fact that because of Jesus, we are sons and daughters of God!
You’ve never locked eyes with a person who doesn’t matter to the heart of God. Never! And the reason every person matters is because they are loved by God and created in the image of God.
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image…” So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. —Genesis 1:26-27 NLT
In James 2:7, James reminds this group of believers, “Guys, the moment you placed your trust in what Jesus did for you when He died for your sins, in your place; you became part of the family of God. You became a child of God. You became an heir of God and a joint heir with Jesus Christ. Ultimately, your identity isn’t defined by your race, ethnicity, social status, wealth, net worth, education, wardrobe, body art, political party, you name it!!! As a believer, your identity is formed by the fact that you are a child of God!!!”
When God looks at his children, He doesn’t say, “Oh, there’s my black child, white child, Asian child, Hispanic child. There’s my rich kid, poor kid, single kid, divorced kid, or married kid.” Or, “There’s my obedient child, disobedient child, athletic kid, clumsy kid, smart kid, dumb kid, physically challenged kid.” God just looks at us and says, “There’s my SON! There’s my DAUGHTER! Redeemed by the blood of Jesus! Purchased at the cross and victorious because of Jesus’ resurrection!”
From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ. —Colossians 3:11 MSG
We live in an age when civility has been thrown out the window! Too many of us — on every side of the aisle — have made the gospel of Jesus synonymous with our political party or affiliation, our cause, color or ethnicity or philosophy. We’ve taken our cues as to how to relate to one another from politicians, comedians, entertainers, television and radio talk show hosts… You name it! But God’s Word sets the standard for how we are to relate to one another!
The “Golden Rule” still rules! Treat everyone the way you want to be treated. Remember, mercy matters and it always trumps judgement.
Treat everyone you meet with dignity… (1 Peter 2:17 MSG)
Show proper respect to everyone… (1 Peter 2:17 NIV)
So, how do you raise the bar on civility?
- Treat every person you meet with honor. Honor up, honor down and honor all around. (Romans 12:10; Romans 13:7; 1 Peter 2:17)
- Set the example by always being courteous, gentle and kind in your attitudes, words and actions. (Ephesians 4:32; Ephesians 5:21; Philippians 4:5; Galatians 5:22; Titus 3:1-2)
- Pursue humility. Remember, that in the words of C.S. Lewis, “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” (Ephesians 4:2; Philippians 2:3; Romans 12:16; Colossians 3:12)
- Refuse to judge, label and stereotype people. As Christians, we refuse to pre-judge others based upon things like ethnicity, social status, apparent wealth, lack of wealth, education, lack of education, cultural background, political preferences, lifestyle, etc. (Matthew 7:1-5; Luke 6:37-42; James 4:11-12; Romans 2:1-3; Romans 14:1-13; Romans 12:16-18)
- Be the first to apologize and admit when you are wrong. As Christians, we resist the tendency to deny and/or double down. (Matthew 5:23-24; Luke 17:4; James 5:16, 1 Peter 4:8)
- Set the example on how to differ or disagree with people without demonizing them. (1 Corinthians 13; James 4:1-3; Proverbs 27:17)
- Don’t dominate the conversation or interrupt when someone else is talking. Christians follow the challenge of James 1:9: “Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue and let anger straggle in the rear.”
- Refuse incendiary or belittling language. This kind of language almost always derails a conversation. Christians also refuse to scream at one another. They understand the wisdom of the words of Proverbs 15:1: “A soft answer turns away wrath…”
- Form opinions carefully. When God’s Word doesn’t give clear and certain guidance on a topic, Christians remain open-minded to “better information” as it becomes available. (Proverbs 18:13)
- Show up when you say you’ll show up and do what you say you’re going to do.
Because of Jesus, you and I receive MERCY — we don’t get what we deserve, and, GRACE — we actually get what we could never deserve! The implication is, God’s mercy and grace ought to spill over into the way we treat, respond to and interact with people. Especially people different from us.
JUSTICE is getting what we deserve.
MERCY is not getting what we deserve.
GRACE is getting what we don't deserve.
Need some practical steps to walk this out? I’ve got them for you!
1. Face your own prejudice and fears.
Be honest about your own prejudice and examine your fears. Remember, perfect love drives our fear… the one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)
2. Empty your pride.
Bridge building requires humility. At some point, we have to answer the question, “What’s most important? Winning an argument or reconciling a relationship?
3. Extend your heart and hand.
Don’t just talk about it, do something! Take some risks and reach out to one another across racial and ethnic divides. Open up your heart to hear. Extend your hands in fellowship. Be a little more intentional than you’ve been in the past.
You have never stared into the face of someone – red, yellow, black, white, Caucasian, Asian, Latino, African, African-American – who is not an image bearer of the God you claim to love and worship. You have never shaken hands with someone that Christ did not die for.
YOU HAVE NEVER SHAKEN HANDS WITH SOMEONE THAT CHRIST DID NOT DIE FOR.