When someone you love doesn't love your Lord

Seven ways to help your loved ones learn to really love the Lord.

Katie Tonn-Oliver, a free-lance writer and public speaker who lives in Angwin, California, writes from personal experience.

Life seems tougher at times. Like at the end of a long day when you've counseled with one determinedly predivorce (and hostile) couple and commiserated with three abjectly postdivorce (and hostile) singles, then have to drive home knowing that there you'll find someone whom you love who doesn't love the Lord.

What do you do when you're the shepherd of a flock and one of the sheep in your nearest fold sneaks away at every chance?

How do you cope, when you've read Paul's words in chapter 3 of his first letter to Timothy, and someone you love doesn't love the Lord?

The human inclination is to rule with a heavy hand. After all, look at 1 Timothy 3:4,5: "One that ruleth well ... his children in subjection . . . (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)." And as far as females (wives, sisters, and daughters) are concerned: "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection" (1 Tim. 2:11).

Haven't we all found ourselves using such scriptural references to justify heavy-handed statements that begin with the words "If only you would behave . . . dress . . . wear ... do ... say . . ."?

It's tough when your own house appears in utter disarray, especially when you're the pastor and your family should/ ought to/must set a good example!

What do you do when your daughter refuses to attend a Christian school? What do you do when she comes to church wearing a bright-red dress with toenails, fingernails, and lips painted to match, and a long string of pearls around her neck to go with the pearls set in her pierced ears?

What do you do when your son gets his hair "done"--cut military-close on one side and hippie-long on the other, with alternating chartreuse and purple stripes on the long side? What do you do if you see your son like that for the first time when you stand up to preach the sermon you've titled "Loving With the Love Wherewith We've Been Loved"?

What would you say to these, your children, when you got them alone with you? What will you do if your wife admits after years of marriage that she hates being a pastor's wife, wonders if God cares, wonders even more if you care, and announces that she refuses to pretend any longer?

What do all these situations have in common? They all serve to threaten you. They serve to destroy your credibility. They all rob you of esteem. And the natural human reaction is to protect yourself with one form or another of hostility.

Sometimes "Pastor Nice Guy" cloaks hostility by pretending nothing whatever is amiss, refusing to comment either way. But if you don't acknowledge how you really feel, you will inevitably bristle with so much unspoken hostility that it shows in your actions, announcing loudly but wordlessly: "You have humiliated me and I hate it!"

Handling hostility

In Escaping the Hostility Trap, Milton Layden approaches the roots, reactions, and interactions of hostility. He shows hostility in action from a diversity of interpersonal perspectives. By the time the reader reaches the end of the book, he or she is convinced that no human being who has ever lived has escaped the feelings that lead to hostile self-defensiveness--even Jesus--and that all human beings have defended themselves with hostility--except Jesus. Layden enables the reader to see how to defuse hostility in oneself and in others. In so doing, he adds a new dimension to the concept of turning the other cheek.

Meanwhile, before you buy and read Layden's book, what do you do? Hold on to these three seemingly impossible-to-believe-but-true facts: (1) everyone, even the most apparently disgusting or depraved person, is doing his or her best with what she or he has; (2) if you were that other person--having his or her identical biochemical, psychological, environmental, temperamental, sexual, emotional, genealogical, and spiritual makeup--you would behave and speak much as he or she does; (3) you, too, are doing the best you can with what you've got.

Loving those who don't love God

The following seven suggestions, based on Scripture, Ellen White's writings, and my own experience, can help you truly love those whom you would like to lead to love your Lord.

1. "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:34, 35).

The most vital clause in these verses is "as I have loved you." Until we comprehend the vastness of God's unconditional love in Christ Jesus and the depth of our own need for His gracious gift, we cannot possibly begin to love others unconditionally. You, the Christian leader and pastor, do not deserve God's love. You cannot earn God's love, yet God loves you without reservation. That is unconditional love. Whereas salvation is conditioned upon your daily acceptance of it, the love of God never dies, never changes. Absolutely nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Stop now and read again Romans 8:28-39. God loves you as you are. Can you love your loved one as he or she is?

2. "Arbitrary measures or direct denunciation may not avail in leading these youth to relinquish that which they hold dear" (Education, p. 297).

"Have a deep sense of the value of souls. ... Be wise to discern that while faithfulness and kindness will win souls, harshness never will. Arbitrary words and actions stir up the worst passions of the human heart" (Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 134).

Isaiah 61:10, 11 provides a sparkling metaphor of what it means to be clothed by the righteousness of Christ and grow in a safe environment: "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations."

In the margin next to these verses in my Bible are some phrases I've penned over the years: "no forced growth for looks or production," "all naturally grown, vine-ripened fruit in HIS season (see Ps. 1)."

If we forget that God allows us to grow organically, if you will, without poisonous pesticides (arbitrary words), we think it is our responsibility to kill the sin we observe in others. It's natural for humans to want to do this, so if you've used dogmatic and arbitrary words on another person, don't berate yourself! God doesn't!

It may be that the only way our loved ones who don't love our Lord will ever catch sight of His unconditional love will be through what they see in us.

3. "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor. 3:18).

What we behold, we become. We are what we eat, too. If our spiritual food is Jesus (see John 6), we will become more and more like Jesus. When we look at this text in 2 Corinthians as if we were turning a garment inside out, we can see another side to the metaphor. Others become what we behold in them. With the eyes of Jesus we will be able to see good qualities to affirm and admire in others. As we affirm and admire these good qualities, they will grow stronger.

4. "But thus saith the Lord, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children" (Isa. 49:25).

The promises in this verse are powerful words that offer hope. Captives of even the mighty, prey of even the terrible, may be delivered by God. The same God will contend with your accuser ("him that contendeth with thee") and save your children. Through the process of your salvation, your children will be saved.

The spiritual lesson here is so profoundly deep that we often miss it. If we read between the lines, we see that it is our responsibility simply to be. To be hold Christ. To let the Lord contend with our accusers. To trust that our children will be saved. All of this occurs within the climate of love. Love for our selves, for others, for God, because He loved us all first.

My friends tease me about what they call "Katie paraphrases" of Scripture, but this one of the verse above is too wonderful not to share: Even captives of drugs and prey of vice shall be delivered. God will take care of fighting your battles for you, if you fight the fight of faith for yourself (see 1 Tim. 6:12, 13). As your children see the peace and love and serenity of God in you, even as they con front you with manifestations of their captivity, they will learn that God loves them as they are, for you will be loving them as they are.

Now, I know my paraphrase isn't quite true to the context of the scriptural passage; however, I've chosen to read deeper meaning into the verse. But lest you think I've been untrue to scriptural principle, look again at 2 Corinthians 3:1-6, where Paul writes about "living letters"--people who are written words of God. So, as others are changed by how you behold them, they are also changed by what they can see in you.

5. "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord." "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it." "So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself (Eph. 5:22, 25, 28).

Have you ever found yourself loving someone as if your love were a reward for good behavior? Suppose you are a deep student and your wife is a flighty person.

Suppose you like to dig deeply into the Scriptures, en joy putting together your sermons, would rather write your sermon than preach it, but are married to a woman who seems to like more than anything else to talk to people, and who vies with teenagers for monopoly of the telephone. Instead of approving the way she is different from you, do you withhold your love from her until she stops talking long enough to read something really deep and worthwhile?

Or what if you are habitually prompt and your spouse is always late? Can an optimist who is married to a pessimist carry on a good conversation without becoming hostile?

Understanding that each individual functions from a particular perspective based on his or her temperament can help. Each of us views the world in which we live from a unique perspective. Consequently your version of the gospel may be incomprehensible to your wife, or your children, or some of your church members. And there may be nothing wrong with either your version of the gospel or with theirs. We are not speaking of wrongness or Tightness, just differences.

6. We must rely on God for the ability to love those who are different from, or even opposite to, us. "For God, who commanded the light to shine out- of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, not of us" (2 Cor. 4:6, 7).

God has placed His grace, the light of His love, in you--a cracked and fissured earthen vessel. The Greek here implies that these vessels are quite fragile. If we pastors, speakers, leaders, teachers, pretend to be totally together vessels, then how in the world can the glory of God shine through us? Don't we remember that it takes a lifetime for sanctification to be worked out in our lives ? Don't we realize that we can speak no message of reconciliation unless we speak of how we ourselves have been (and are being) reconciled?

In Matthew 25 we read of what distinguishes the sheep from the goats: the / sheep love people as if each one is Jesus Himself. In every person whom they contact they see Jesus, minister to Jesus, feed Jesus.

7. If you are struggling to authentically love someone who doesn't love your Lord, who doesn't even seem to love you, read through the book of Hosea again. Over and over in this living parable of God's unconditional love for people we can hear Him saying of them, backslid den as they are, "How can I let you go?" And Hosea ends with this note: "Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein" (Hosea 14:9). (And in my Bible margin I have written: "But we're all in the ways of the Lord; see Isa. 55 and 58.")

Finally, to let you know that this article is not a mere intellectual spouting of ideas, let me tell you that I have a back ground in theology, communication, and behavioral sciences, make my living as a writer/public speaker, and am married to a man who is not only my opposite in temperament, but who currently responds to our Abba, Father with "God, who?"

Learning to love has not been easy. Maintaining that love is difficult. But I believe that love will work the miracle.

I can hardly wait, literally, because the wait is the toughest of all. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, changes occur in him. But the biggest changes have occurred and do occur in me.

The question: "What do you do when someone you love doesn't love your Lord?"

The answer: "Love him, love her, love them . . . without conditional clauses."

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Katie Tonn-Oliver, a free-lance writer and public speaker who lives in Angwin, California, writes from personal experience.

October 1988

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