When I was a Youth Pastor many years ago I had a family in our youth ministry that didn’t like Paula or myself. The father and mother opposed most of what we were trying to accomplish with the young people. They had an argumentive, complaining spirit and, sadly, their children reflected the same attitudes as their parents toward us.
After several attempts to discover the source of the conflict nothing was ever resolved. They simply didn’t like us – and let us know frequently. And it hurt us deeply. We never spoke against them to any one, but there was an unwillingness to receive us as friends.
After we had left that ministry and had been gone for a couple of years we returned to visit. We took our seats in the auditorium and there right in front of us sat this couple. To be honest, I hadn’t thought about them in a long time.
During the service we took a few moments to greet one another and shake hands. The man turned around and was surprised to see us, and then his wife did the same. I extended my hand, called him by his first name and said, “Hello, ______, it’s good to see you again”. He just stood there and looked at me. He didn’t smile. He didn’t extend his hand, but turned around and ignored us. He never said a word to me.
I was stunned. Obviously there was great bitterness and offense in his heart toward us. For a few minutes I sat in that service (looking at the back of his head) and was very angry. He had embarrassed me and wounded my pride. How could he even call himself a Christian? I wanted bad things to happen to him and to hurt from his lack of respect of me as a person.
But I couldn’t do that. The Spirit of God refused to let me respond in like kind to him. If I was happy when trouble came into his life I wasn’t right with the Lord and I didn’t love him. I rarely think of this event (unless it’s to illustrate a principle in a message or counseling) because I don’t want this man or woman to have problems. I love them, even if they don’t love me.
The Bible teaches that we are not to be happy about our own sin or the sins of others. Love “rejoiceth not in iniquity” (I Corinthians 13:6). When we see what sin does to a person – destruction, shame, pain, regret – there is nothing funny about it.
Often the cause of our negative words is being happy in our heart at the failures of those with whom we do not like. This tendency was at the root of the problem of the Corinthian church. They were competitive with one another. They championed their favorite preachers and criticized those they didn’t like as much. There was an atmosphere of jealousy and discontentment as they desired spiritual gifts that were more noticed than others. Their heart wasn’t to serve, but to be known and applauded.
Our corrupt sin nature is so wicked that we will seek to discover ways others have done wrong if it will make us look better. Love doesn’t trumpet the failures of people, period.
I’m about to go into areas where I can be misinterpreted, but it serves to illustrate how blind we are to this issue. I love sports and played baseball, basketball, football, and wrestled during my years in school. My children have been involved with all types of sports. So, don’t misread these statements to think I believe the scoreboard is unimportant or that it’s wrong to compete. Not at all. However, there are some unhealthy things I see and hear sometimes as a spectator.
I noticed in tight baseball games (sometimes the kids were only eight or nine) that people on one team cheered, not when their player performed well, but when another child failed. For example, an easy fly ball is hit that most would catch without any trouble and the kid drops it. One team (and the fans) goes wild – not because their player succeeded, but because another failed.
We were sitting in the stands one night at a basketball game and one of our players missed a crucial free throw at the end of the game – and the fans from the other team howled with delight. But I was watching the parents of the kid who had missed the shot. They were feeling the hurt of their son.
Now, I in no way am recommending we not cheer at these points in the game, it is a part of the contest. But I’m simply asking us to think about how easy it is to “rejoice” in failure when it benefits us or when we do not like the person.
A phrase I have never liked and do not use is “bragging rights”. Supposedly when your team wins it gives you the right to brag. (Just a thought, you had absolutely nothing to do with the victory other than wear the team’s hat and yell). Really, is there joy in making someone else feel worse that already feels badly? Usually it’s done as pay back to those that have talked smack when their team struggled and is only giving back the same medicine.
However, that isn’t love. If it’s all in fun, that’s fine, but frequently it’s not done in fun, but to pour salt in the wound. It ought to be a caution in our spirit when we think, “I can’t wait to go back to work on Monday!”, after our team’s victory.
Here’s a fact. Most people cannot handle success. It goes to our head and we begin to think we are better than we are. That’s why so few teams win consecutive championships. Years ago I wrote this down in the flyleaf of my Bible, “God will give you enough success to let you know He is with you, but He will allow enough failure in your life to let you know you need Him”.
We are not to toot our own horn or announce the problems, sins, mistakes and failures of others. Love doesn’t do either, brag or point out the faults of others. Note God’s words on this issue.
“Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips”. (Proverbs 27:2)
“It is not good to eat much honey: so for men to search their own glory is not glory”. (Proverbs 25:27) A little honey is good, but too much is not healthy for your stomach. Hearing positive reports about things you have done is encouraging, but too much of that is destructive.
“Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him”. (Proverbs 24:17-18) God is not pleased when I gloat at the problems of my enemies. (Understand he is dealing with personal relationships here and not civil law or times when we are at war).
“…he that is glad at calamities shall not be unpunished”. (Proverbs 17:5) God takes this serious and will deal with us when we rejoice at the problems of others.
David experienced this pain when he was lied about, falsely accused, and treated wrongfully. You can sense his emotion in the following Psalm. Take care to notice his response to their attacks. It was totally opposite of how they treated him.
“False witnesses did rise up; they laid to my charge things that I knew not. They rewarded me evil for good to the spoiling of my soul. But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom. I behaved myself as though he had been my friend or brother: I bowed down heavily, as one that mourneth for his mother. But in mine adversity they rejoiced, and gathered themselves together: yea, the abjects gathered themselves together against me, and I knew it not; they did tear me, and ceased not”. (Psalm 35:11-15)
Love grieves over sin and how it hurts a person. Does it hurt you when people sin or suffer, even if they have been your enemies?
King Saul of Israel was so jealous of David that he hated him and pursued him relentlessly to kill him (I Samuel (I Samuel 23:19-21). Incredibly, when David discovered that Saul had died and others thought he would rejoice over it, he grieved and took severe action against those that were glad about it (II Samuel 4:10-11).
There are a number of reasons that David was referred to as a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22), but one of them was that he behaved toward his enemies the way God did. He loved them and didn’t rejoice in their problems, no matter how they had treated Him.
God, because of His righteous and holy nature, hates sin (Psalm 10:3), but He doesn’t hate the people that sin. Neither should we. Our hearts ought to be broken over their lives because we care about them even if we cannot condone their behavior. Rather than criticizing them, we will weep for them.
Note the godly man’s response to the wicked – “Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they kept not thy law”. (Psalm 119:136) He wasn’t angry, but broken over it.
Jeremiah was a prophet called to preach against the sins of the nation, but he loved the people and wept over them – “Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people”. (Jeremiah 9:1). Even today we refer to Jeremiah as “the weeping prophet”. There’s a difference in being a preacher and a weeping preacher. And there’s a difference in being a Christian and a weeping Christian.
Again, we see where his heart was broken over the rejection of God’s Word from the people – “But ye will not hear it, my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore, and run down with tears, because the Lord’s flock is carried away captive”. (Jeremiah 13:17)
I have heard preachers that were not broken over the sins of people, but angry and delighting in the judgments on those that were breaking God’s law. D.L. Moody said, “No preacher has a right to speak about hell unless he does so with tears in his eyes”.
Jesus wept over the sins of his nation and their future judgment, “And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it”. (Luke 19:41) It is one thing to denounce sin in someone’s life, but quite another to seek to save them out of it and to care for them to the point of tears.
The difference is a lack of love. Truth is the basis of our fellowship, but it is our love and care for people that lets them know that we are true believers (John 13:35; 17:20-23). Jesus had both grace and truth in His life and ministry (John 1:17).
Years ago when one of my sons was playing baseball I picked him up from practice and I asked him how things had gone for him that day. He said, “Dad, we had some guys in the neighborhood that came up and were interfering with our practice and the coach started cussing at them”. I don’t curse or swear and had taught my children not to and so my son wanted to know what I was going to do about his coach talking like that.
I said, “Son, this is one of your early practices and we have a long season in front of us. I believe God has allowed you to be on this coach’s team so that we could minister to him as a family and love him. Let’s pray for him and show him love and try to influence him to become a Christian”. In less than three months the coach did become a believer, but it was not because of our convictions, but our compassion and care for him.
When I was in college I heard someone say, “Convictions without compassion simply make other people mad”. It we take a strong stand from the Bible, but we do not have the heart of God behind what we are communicating, it is rejected – not because of the message, but the messenger.
Love “rejoiceth not in iniquity” (I Corinthians 13:6). As long as we do so, we aren’t loving people to Christ, but pushing them away. It’s trite, but true, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”.
Do you know what it really means to love people? Do you rejoice in their problems, even if they brought them on through foolish choices? Ask God to give you His heart to grieve over those that have done you wrong. That is when you know you are learning to love.