Love vs. Forgiveness--the Christian Mission

The two “greatest” commandments from God, in short are:

Love God with all your heart
Love your neighbor as yourself

Jesus taught, “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments”  Matthew 22:36-40

Not unrelated, is the Gospel, the revelation of how God made it possible for mankind to be reconciled to Him, through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Those who are “saved” and are followers of Jesus Christ (Christians) owe a debt to God for this reconciliation and salvation that provides for eternal life in Heaven.

Surprisingly, there is some controversy regarding the “obligation” of Christians to “evangelize” or “preach the gospel”.  The Apostle James wrote: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” James 1:27

Of course, the most often quoted justification for Christians to evangelize is generally known as the “Great Commission”, written in Matthew 28:16-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” This commandment was given by Christ as his last instruction to the “eleven” disciples just before his ascension. Many Christians assume this to be an instruction that is “inherited” by all Christians today.

On the other hand, it is well known and understood that the “Body of Christ” has many parts and not all Christians have the “gift” of evangelism.  So perhaps the most practical instruction is from Saint Francis to “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”  (There is some dispute as to whether Francis actually said these words exactly. Some claim that his words were “convert the world by obedience to the Holy Rule rather by example than by word.”)

Living your life in a way that honors God and is an example to others is consistent with the first commandment as well as St. Francis’s advice. And, proclaiming the Gospel to others, by deed and words is consistent with the second commandment.  How could a Christian in good conscience withhold such glorious information from their “neighbor” who they are commanded to love?

Next comes the reality of the ugly side of living in a world that prefers to ignore or even rebel against this “glorious” information.

For those who choose to actively proclaim the Gospel in deeds and words one must be reminded of the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples that he had “sent out” to preach…”And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them”  Mark 6:11.

After a time, you will have to decide to continue your efforts with a certain group or in a certain place, or to leave and move on.  Part of that decision will be related to your response to rejection and/or disparaging remarks made about you or what you are “teaching”.  

I find that in the minds of many, the concepts of forgiveness and love are misunderstood. The “new age” of humanism tends to teach that forgiveness is a requirement of being a loving and “good” person. After all, it is written that we are to “forgive as God forgives us”. 
In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask that God “forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors”.

So, walking away and shaking the dust off our feet seems a bit harsh and unforgiving. Is it counter to the command to “Love thy Neighbor”?

As is written in Luke 17:3-4, God does not promise forgiveness to those of us who are stubborn, self-righteous and who and refuse to repent. God requires repentance and so must we. Love is unconditional---Forgiveness is NOT.

So, you have given “your all” to a group, doing your best to teach them, influence them, and guide them in the hope that some, if not all will benefit from your “Preaching of the Gospel”.  And, they have ignored and perhaps rejected you and your message. Often, it is time to move on.

Don’t be discouraged.

There are two parables taught by Jesus that are important to remember. Both are written in the Gospel of Mark :

Parable of the Sower
Parable of Growing Seed

Mark 4:1-20 is the Parable of the Sower---a story illustrating that the “seed” of the Gospel when “planted” can fail to grow because the “soil” is not fertile. In other words, sometimes our efforts will not produce the desired results.

Mark 4:26-29 is the Parable of the Growing Seed---a story illustrating that God alone is in charge of making the seed grow into a mature plant, ready for harvest.

The lesson here is that many of us will be called to sow the seed of the Gospel everywhere, but what happens afterward is according to God’s will and action, and many times it will be another who is called to “water and nurture” the plant, with even another called to “harvest”.

The Christian Mission is to be obedient and honor our debt and show our gratitude that we owe to God for his Love and Grace. This requires us to keep planting and seeking his guidance through prayer to carry out his will on earth as Ambassadors for Christ.

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