“I thought y’all were supposed to be the godly people.”
Richard's eyes darted around in a way that frankly, scared me as he spoke.
With only an hour or so to catch up, a few friends and I were at a table outside waiting for our lunch. A stranger had stumbled up, taken a prolonged stare at the counseling book on our table, said (aloud) to himself, “RICHARD! Here’s your chance,” and pulled out the fourth chair.
Richard was menacing. As he sat down (uninvited) to join us, my female friend and I pulled our chairs back to keep him squarely in front of us. I scanned his jacket pockets and kept my eyes on his hands. After a few minutes of trying to reason with Richard, which he declined, my friends and I gathered our things, said goodbye and went inside to finish our lunch date.
Does that sound horrible? That we didn’t do more for Richard? That three Christian counselors left a person who was clearly in need?
If you think yes, then I know at least Richard would agree with you.
What We Expect From Christians
Richard wanted our time and attention. In fact, he demanded it. When he didn’t receive it exactly how he wanted it, he scoffed at our Christianity. He implied that setting a boundary and being unwilling to be railroaded by an individual in need were two things that made us unlike God. Richard wanted help, but only on his terms.
Richard expected that we as Christians should be boundary-less shape-shifters, indulging his every whim in the name of “help.” We see this everywhere. If a Christian dares be anything but docile, accepting and obliging, meeting the felt needs of whatever any individual prefers, that Christian is deemed to misrepresent the very faith he claims.
Is that what the Bible teaches a Christian should be like? Is that what Jesus was like?
What God Asks of Christians
As Christians, we should absolutely be ready to give deeply of ourselves. But since the only power that allows us to serve one another from faith is the very Spirit of God within us, we need to look to God’s Word to understand His character in order to know how He intends us to love one another.
When we learn about God through Jesus, the exact imprint of His nature (Heb 1:3), and how he communicated with and treated people, we see that He is not at all the accommodating pleaser we sometimes expect Christians to be.
When Christians encounter needs that challenge us, what will it look like to offer our help and love others well?
1. The authority will come from God.
In his earthly ministry, Jesus was deeply committed to doing the work of God through the authority of God. He called it his very food (Jn 4:34), saying he could do nothing but what he saw the Father do (Jn 5:19) and could say nothing but what the Father had given him to say (Jn 12:49).
Jesus was able to act perfectly in line with the Father’s will because he was fully divine. We can't match this feat, and that’s okay because Christ’s power is perfect even in our weakness (2 Cor 2:19). But when we speak graciously to others through the wisdom and truth of his Word, we serve by the authority of our ever-present help, rather than our own, and are therefore more likely to love others well (Ps 46:10).
2. The communication will have the characteristics of how Jesus’ communicated.
While we each have distinct personalities and styles of relating to others, patterning how we speak after the way Jesus did will aid us in being more helpful to one another. Stuart Scott notes that Jesus’ communication was always:
- Holy. Everything Jesus said was true and righteous. We won’t be able to hit that mark because we’re sinners. But we can guard against deceit in our speech and endeavor by faith to speak from kindness, tenderheartedness and forgiveness.
- Well-purposed. Our motivation for speaking should be unselfish—intending to serve God’s glory and others' good.
- Clear. The way we say things must be straightforward and appropriate. We must prayerfully and thoughtfully consider our speech to use as few words as necessary and communicate to the heart of the matter.
- Well-timed. We need to communicate as soon as possible and at a good time. Practically, we should not procrastinate in addressing an issue, but should choose an occasion when enough time is available for a discussion and that time works for everyone involved.**
3. The main character will be Jesus.
If we love and help one another by faith, the power that enables us to do so will be the Holy Spirit’s. The Holy Spirit’s work always glorifies Jesus and Jesus always glorifies God (Jn 16:4; 17:1). We are not the heroes . . . ever. Helping another person is not about the other person and it’s not about your need to help other people. It’s about Jesus.
We need to love others like Jesus, not strive to be Jesus. If we realize that we are not the saviors for those in need, our fleshly pride will not cause us to sin nearly as much in our attempts to love them. Instead we will appreciate and honor Jesus’ lordship over what those we seek to love really need.
So what about Richard?
After offering help in a variety of ways, we walked away from Richard because he did not want what we could give him. He demanded to be psychoanalyzed on the spot. When we would not comply, he chose to decline the help we did offer.
Part of loving Richard—and all people—well is holding to the gracious wisdom of Christ over and against what people might think they need. Sometimes boundaries are the most loving thing Christians can give, if those boundaries are in line with the wisdom of Jesus. And since I’m not Jesus, the tension I feel when a sufferer crosses my path should propel me to go to Jesus in prayer, pleading for him to help that sufferer in the ways I could not.
Dorsey Swindall is a biblical counselor with One-Eighty Counseling and Education in Louisville, Kentucky. She and her husband have two children.
**Scott, Stuart. Communication and Conflict Resolution: A Biblical Perspective. pp. 6-12.