I have been reading John Stott's Focus on Christ recently. The thrust of the book is to rally Christians around their primary identity in Christ, and to live in light of this reality in distinctly Christ-like ways. In Chapter 7 he recounts the story of the Vin family in the Soviet Union that had three generations imprisoned because of their faith in Christ, and their refusal to be silent about the gospel. A grandfather, father, mother, and son all knowingly standing in the path of genuine persecution. They did this not so we would tell stories about them, but because they had unfettered love for their Savior and the "least of these" that needed to taste grace.
It is stories like these that have brought me pause and conviction. What am I willing to do for the "least of these", how can I love those the world has despised? Will I hear these words from Christ:
I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me.’
How often do we rationalize away our responsibility, rather, blessed opportunity to serve in such gracious ways? We look at passages like this and import that God couldn't be talking about transgenders, homeless folks, or pedophiles, surely we aren't culpable for our dealings with them. We project the notion (albeit a helpful one) that the family is the first ministry, so anything that threatens the peaceful, delicate ecosystem of a house must be an exception to Jesus's expectations. The problem with clever Christians is they are so clever they can reason themselves out of obedience.
Rather than dwell on where we can draw the line in providing for the needy; whether it be outrage over welfare "handouts"or giving some food or money to a panhandler even though they may spend it on booze, we ought to pursue our neighbors with tender affection. That tender affection runs counter to our sin nature, this doesn't mean we aren't responsible, it means we need to be disciplined. The inclinations that lead us to judge the beggar for being a bum, or the transgender for being a hedonist are not righteous inclinations. Jesus is not glorified in our exaltation. He is exalted in the meek that will inherit the earth. He died for sinners, the only difference between us and the pedophile is Grace.
I'm not so foolish as to think developing this lifestyle is easy, or comes naturally just because we are Christians. Is it not written in Matthew 7:13-14;
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."
It seems that the blessings of faithfulness has softened the American Church. Have we become so foolish as to think this path has widened and our apathy and contempt towards certain sinners is now acceptable? We have grown accustomed to our creature comforts, we have assumed if the waves aren't thrashing our boat that God is pleased with our lifestyles, this is folly. We don't determine how pleasing our lives are to God by how smooth the seas are. Our works are the metric by which God judges our faithfulness to him (James 2:18).
In order to love and care for the despised of the world we have to murder the old man. Have we really counted that cost? It seems we have set the bar for this suicide too low. Are we so blind to assume that after 2000 years we are the generation that gets a suffering exemption? That the commands to give to all who ask, to love the broken and filthy can be spiritualized so it only means to think of them with sympathy? They will know we are Christians by our love, not by our clean hands that are too pious to wash the lepers feet.