Here’s the thing: you can be right all the time and still be a horrible human being.
When Jesus followers use the word “believe,” we mean an action, not a set of abstract truths to which we consent. Therefore, “Believe and you will be saved” does not mean “Agree to this information and your soul will know life.”
People ask me, all the time, “Why are Christians so awful?” Christians and people who are not Christians alike ask. That’s not a fun question to hear. It’s even less fun because a lot of people who label themselves as Christians do atrocious things and claim Jesus as their inspiration or justification or moral covering. I’ve already tried to weigh in with what I think being a Jesus follower really means. I expected a bit of backlash for that one, but got none, which probably means either people didn’t read it or they just quietly cut me off.
Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” He said, “They shall know you are my followers by your love for one another.” He also said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and, just to make sure he’d covered the range, “Love your enemy.”
Then there were all the times he said, “Make sure you’re right.”
No one will know we are Jesus followers who have God’s love by our winning arguments. Absolutely no one will know we follow Jesus when we behave like buttheads in our arguments.
Being right, biblically, is not as important as being loving.
I’m going to say that again: Being right is not as important as being loving.
Some will immediately jump on their high horses (meaning they must be good high jumpers) and shout “Truth! Truth! You can’t compromise truth!”
I’m not talking here about truth. I’m talking about our seemingly unquenchable need to prove ourselves right.
Three things remain, Paul writes. Remain after what? See how it begs that question? Three things endure, last, still matter after everything else has passed. What are those three things? Faith, hope, and love.
Of these, faith might be the one related to knowing and expressing the truth, but most of us realize that living by faith or practicing faith requires action and obedience, not mere assent to information nor the ability to debate that I have the right information. Both “belief” and “faith,” in biblical language, are actions. But by no stretch of the imagination (at least not mine) can I render “‘faith remains’ means dying on this hill of my own rightness.”
The greatest of these is love.
Of course, no one here does what I’m describing. You aren’t feeling convicted because while we all know “they” do this, we certainly don’t.
So let me tell you what I do: I think less of people when they argue too much and I judge people who won’t stop arguing. Sometimes, in my mind, I call them names. Sometimes, those names move from my mind to my vocal cords.
You know why I do this?
Because I’m right.
So let me dig in further: when I say this, I don’t mean “If you disagree with people, love requires deciding that they are right and you are wrong.” That isn’t love. Neither does love require staying silent in every discussion.
However, neither does speaking the truth substitute for love. I know (too) many people who believe that if they just speak the truth, God will open people’s minds, convict their hearts, and therefore the only thing that matters is “speaking the truth in love.” If every time I speak the truth it’s guaranteed to help people, then speaking the truth in love simply means speaking the truth, which is, de facto, loving.
What’s the strongest way I can say “That is wrong?”
I suspect this view explains how we get people equating “I prove I’m right” with “I’m being faithful to Jesus.” I see people label this “Standing for the Truth” or “Refusing to Compromise.”
I’m not even wading into whether we turn out to be wrong when we think we’re right. That, as they say, is another kettle of fish. I’m saying that we’re better off staying silent than speaking the truth without being loving. When people seek to start arguments with me on social media, most often I simply don’t respond because I see no fruit coming from the argument. If I can’t figure out a way to respond in love, I try to shut up. I will tell you, doing this hurts my ego, wondering if they think they’re right and have silenced me with their brilliance (when I happen to think they’re dead wrong). But I’m not seeking to preserve my ego; that would require different priorities than Jesus calls me to.
To drive this home: You can “win” an argument and push people further away from Jesus. You can be right and demonstrate the opposite of God’s love for them. You can do that in Jesus’ name.
Getting back to me for a moment: I have strayed too far from staying centered on love. When I witness someone arguing, and I disagree with their view, do I think “how can I love that person?”
If that seems extreme, I have this sermon I’d recommend on loving your enemy.
The answer may simply be “Shhhh.”
It may be praying for someone whose views oppose mine so strongly that I would label him or her an enemy.
It may be disagreeing respectfully.
Can you really be right all the time and still be a horrible human being? If we define “being right” as “having an accurate understanding of a specific truth,” then yes, absolutely. Knowing the truth and living the truth turn out to be widely, sometimes wildly different things. “Living the truth” means being changed by the truth we live. If you can’t see yourself changing (or have someone you trust see that change for you, if you’re a harsh self-critic), growing in grace, humility, love, generosity, kindness…then it’s possible your “truth” may be merely the hammer you wield.
I know that sounds harsh. I just see too many people swinging hammers and feeling self-righteous about the assault.
I want people to ask me, “Why are Christians so loving?”