A number of years ago, a friend who had quit attending church asked me privately, “Why is it that so many Christians make such lousy human beings?” In other words, why are so many of us judgmental, defensive, unapproachable and touchy?
A large part of the reason is a faulty, compartmentalized understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were passionate about holiness and purity in their relationship with God. They memorized books of Scripture, fasted twice a week, gave generously, evangelized, prayed three times a day, attended worship without fail and kept Sabbath.
The problem was that in their zeal to love God, they were not equally zealous to love people. This put them on a collision course with Jesus.
- A Pharisee in Jesus’ day would say, “First, complete your worship to God, and then be reconciled to your brother. God is more important than humans.” Jesus said, “Leave your gift at the altar. Go first and get right with your brother or sister” (Matt. 5:23-24).
- A Pharisee would say, “Obey the commandments and do not murder people.” Jesus said that even angry and dismissive words toward another person are equivalent to murder. We may think calling someone idiot or stupid doesn’t matter. Jesus argues it is a hell-deserving crime (Matt. 5:21-22).
- A Pharisee might say: “It is important to forgive.” Jesus says forgiveness is so indispensable that if we don’t forgive, our heavenly Father will not forgive our sins (Matt. 6:14-15).
- A Pharisee would say, “Be holy by separating from sinners.” Jesus, quoting Hosea 6:6 said, “Discipleship is about being merciful and kind to people, especially our enemies. That is the heart of what it means to follow me” (Matt. 8:13).
- A Pharisee might say, “You will be evaluated at the final judgment on your faith evidenced by acts of holiness before God.” Jesus says, “You will be evaluated at the final judgment on your faith evidenced by your love for the people the world discards” (Matt. 25:31-46).
- Jesus summarized the entire Bible as an unbreakable union of loving God and loving people (Matt. 22:37-40). This was a difficult teaching in the first century, and it remains a difficult teaching today.
It is critically important that we equip our people both in loving God and in loving people. That is the purpose behind The Emotionally Healthy (EH) Relationships Course, which teaches eight core relationship skills that equip us to love others in a mature way.
Pete Scazzero is the founder of New Life Fellowship Church in Queens, New York, and the author of two best-selling books: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and The Emotionally Healthy Church. This story was originally posted on Scazzero’s blog at EmotionallyHealthy.org.