Sadly, many in the church (including me) often think and live as if that is actually what Jesus said. Facebook rhetoric abounds in our interactions. You know, where we commit “drive by criticisms,” post snarky memes, and plaster derogatory labels on others—and all for the sake of good (at least, in our minds). This attitude can even pop up in otherwise well meaning statements, like the title of this blog post: “I love Jesus, but I hate the church.” Our Christianity can be characterized by judgmentalism and despising.
But that’s not in line with Jesus’ words in John 13:35. He said the world would know us as His disciples “if [we] have love for one another.” This love Jesus refers to is a love for the church—not buildings with steeples, but the body of believers that He purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28).
Yes, the visible church is filled with hypocrites, and no one likes a hypocrite. There are plenty of people playing church. Until Jesus comes back, this will always be the case. The tares will grow up among the wheat (Matt. 13:24-30).
But Jesus isn’t talking about condoning those who pretend to be something they’re not. He also isn’t referring to a benevolent disposition for the general population. No, this trait that will send shockwaves through the world is a fond affection for the church—precisely because it is filled with Christians. Not that we love no one else but believers; on the contrary! Rather, our love starts with our spiritual family members and works its way out from there. In short, the world will know we belong to the family of God if we act like the family of God.
How should we act as the family of God? One way to discern how our love should look is to see how it shouldn’t look. Toward that end, Paul says in Romans 14:3, “Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.”
The two responses prohibited here are despising and judging. We must neither despise nor judge our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Despising includes thinking little of and disdaining others. It involves the attitude Jesus addresses in Luke 18:9—feeling superior because of your good works and therefore looking down on others. Similarly, judging, while not always bad, is dangerous when it is synonymous with condemning (Rom. 2:1). There are plenty of condemnable things in this world, but a forgiven child of God is not one of them.
In contrast with despising and judging, Romans 14:3 hints at how we should treat our fellow brothers and sisters. God has received them as His own, Paul says. It should be clear, then, that we should also receive them. Even when they aren’t living up to our—or, what really matters, God’s—standards. Even when they are a burden. Even when they slip and fall, or demonstrate immaturity in their words, actions, or beliefs.
God has received us in all our brokenness and sin. This overwhelming love should be demonstrated in how we open up our arms, our homes, and our hearts to other members of the church. “Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received you, to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7).
We see an example of this love played out by the church in Galatia. Paul writes to them, “You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first. And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus . . . . For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes and given them to me” (Gal. 4:13-15).
We don’t know all the details of the situation, but either Paul’s infirmity (possibly poor eyesight) directly led him to stay at Galatia, or Paul’s preaching in Galatia was accompanied by the hindrance of his infirmity. Whatever the case, Paul commends the Galatians for not despising or rejecting him—using almost identical language to Romans 14:3.
The Galatians could have viewed Paul’s coming as a burden. His trial, his physical infirmity, put a strain on their resources. And yet they refused to despise or reject him—indeed, they welcomed him as if he were an angel of God, or even Jesus Christ Himself! And if it had been possible, they would have given Paul their own eyes to alleviate his distress. That is the kind of love we are to show one another.
Yes, the church is a messed up place. It is literally teeming with sinners. Functionally speaking, there isn’t an untarnished individual in the entire bunch. But positionally speaking, every genuine believer is in right standing with God, accepted and welcomed by Him because of Christ. Christians are referred to as saints, whether they fully behave like saints or not. And because Christ does not judge or despise them, neither should we. We should receive them just as God in Christ has welcomed and received us.