Jesus was no people pleaser. He wasn’t predictable or palatable or pandering or polite. Yet, He consistently and completely carried out His mission to bring ultimate glory to His Father. Sometimes He did that through speaking. Sometimes by remaining quiet. Sometimes He delivered harsh truths to people. Yes, He taught people their worth. But, He also taught us how far we are from the holiness of the One True God.
He was born the Prince of Peace, yet He also said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” (Matt. 10:34-36) He delivers peace to His true followers. Peace is found in His perfection and will be a marker of the new Heaven and new Earth that He will one day establish. But, He warns us very clearly that there is no peace between those who follow Him and those who don’t. This has always been true, but we are seeing this come alive in full color in our times. Those who don’t believe in Christ hold believers in contempt. They find our ways unbearable. They find our beliefs intolerable.
And, this is difficult for us to take. We don’t want to be hated. We don’t want to seem unenlightened or out of touch. So, many of us have tried to find ways to manufacture peace. We’ve seen it in the leaders who have tried to sweep Hell and sin under a rug of soft-spoken reassurances. We’ve seen it in a whole faction of the church that has raised the banner of Love One Another, covering their eyes and ears with the sturdy fabric of their loud refrain: Judge not. Judge not. Judge not.
In their desperation to create peace where there is none, they elevated mankind to the highest possible place. Feelings and personal truth began to trump spiritual needs and actual Truth. And, then they walked up to the line that separates those who believe and those who don’t, and they stepped over it. They looked back at the Body of Christ, and, linking arms with the world, they said, “These are my people now.” And there they stand, pretending that this is real peace. “This is how to love people,” they shout across the line, while the Body of Christ continues tirelessly caring for orphans and widows, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, fulfilling the Great Commission, and clinging unswervingly to the perfect Truth of God’s word.
These leaders claim that loving people is the number one priority of the Christian faith. But, they’re wrong. The top priority of this faith is to love God. Jesus cleared this up when He was asked which was the greatest commandment. “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.” (Matt. 22:37) Then He goes on to say that the second greatest is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (vs. 39).
He even told the crowds who were following Him that we shouldn’t love ANYONE more than we love Him. No human being should be prioritized above Christ: “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.” (Luke 14:26) Then He throws in this truth: “And whoever does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (vs. 27) Why? Because Christianity is hard. It’s a call to forsake everything and everyone for the sake of Christ. It’s a call to remain in your position in the Body of Christ, even when it’s an all-out war against you. It’s a call to love God first, resisting the urge to set human beings up as idols on high pedestals, untouchable by the gospel because we keep insisting that people are good and the church is harsh and Jesus would just hug everyone and tell them they’re doing a great job.
Loving people isn’t the ultimate goal of Christianity. Jesus didn’t come to this earth to love people. He came here to bring glory to His Father. Missionaries don’t span this giant globe, putting themselves in danger, separating themselves from family, struggling to have a few comforts of home because they are called to love people. They do it because they are called to bring glory to Christ, and He deserves the worship of everyone in this world. So, they spread the gospel. They teach the truth that sin is deadly and brings destruction. They teach that Jesus is real and that He is the Prince of Peace. Yet, in many places all over the world, when true believers accept Christ and become infused with His peace, they are all but declaring war in their own families. Jesus said it would happen. And, it does. Every day. The gospel is offensive and invading. It doesn’t bring the world together. It separates believers from unbelievers. God’s people are set apart. The Body of Christ is one. But, the rest of the world is at enmity with God. You see, we can’t step over the line that divides the Body of Christ and this big, lost world as if we are the great middle class saviors of America, trying to create some man-made version of peace in our fellow human beings. Peace comes through faith in Christ alone. And, faith in Christ comes through the whole gospel. The love of God compels us to call out to humanity, “Jesus saves,” but the world won’t hear the truth if we elevate people above Christ. If we preach the false gospel that their feelings are all that matters. That Jesus would never say harsh things to them or that whatever they choose as their own truth is okay with God. Love people, yes. But, first love God with all your heart, soul, mind. Believe His word. Stop trying to edit Him so that He’ll seem more acceptable. And watch His spirit change the unchangeable. There is no substitute for the real, soul deep peace that He brings, even while wars rage all around.
Melissa Edgington is a pastor’s wife and mom of three who loves writing about Christianity and church life. You can find her at Your Mom Has a Blog, on Facebook, and on her podcast.