This is the second part to a post published a week before this one
This is what makes it unconditional: when you overlook whatever they might have done to you in the past, totally erasing that from your memory, thinking only of them now, and how you can contribute to their lives now, and you cultivate the attitude of always overlooking issues, no matter what. As Christians, this is the way that we should interact with other people. (Look, I am only a recent convert to this idea myself, and look how loudly I am shouting already!) As Christian leaders especially, this is the way Christ taught us to serve the people we lead, whether we are husbands, or parents, or pastors or friends. Wives are of course also called to love and care for their husbands unconditionally. However God in His wisdom has explicitly given the role of leadership in the Christian marriage to the man.
When we are concerned about people this way, when we are always willing to clear the path of previous offences and disagreements, then we keep the way open for people to relate with us, to express their needs, to be frank with us. Or to look at it another way, it is easier to be open with someone when we know that they are totally committed to us and what we care about, or what we need, or when we know that they genuinely have our best interests at heart.
If someone is always acting badly towards us, and we are always responding in genuine concern towards them, then that in itself shows that we legitimately can be leaders over them, if they will accept our leadership. The Bible says in Hebrews 7v7 that “The lesser is blessed by the greater”. By being the ones to always offer the blessing, even in return for their curses, then we are showing that we are indeed greater. If it so happens that we are mutually exchanging blessings, then we are mutually exercising leadership, or friendship. This is like when pastors gather together to encourage one another, or to pray for one another. Even subordinates can exercise Christian leadership over their bosses in this way, even while submitting to their commands. This is the way a Christian wife can gently lead a husband who is not yet a Christian, even while she fully obeys what he says. In this case he might be considered to be “the boss” of the situation, because he is the one essentially giving the orders. However, she will humbly be the actual leader in Christian terms, because she is the one who gives the example of how to behave in a Christian way. (That said, I am sure that there are some husbands who seem to exemplify Christ-like character excellently, to the point of providing excellent “Christian” leadership to their Christian wives, even though they themselves are actually yet to embrace Christ.)
Some people might reject our friendship and concern, no matter how genuinely it is offered. However, many will not. When someone knows that we have their best interests at heart, and we are thinking only of them, then it will be easier for them to accept our advice when it is offered. That is, when they know that in interacting with them we are absolutely working 100% for them and thinking 100% of them, not ourselves or our personal desires to grow our churches or ministries, then they will be more ready to consider our advice, and take it on board as necessary, or reject it if they eventually choose to do that. Unconditional concern on our part means that we offer the advice because we genuinely believe that it is truth or is beneficial to the other person. If we were to find out that we were wrong, then we will not insist on our stance for the sake of our pride or because of what we had hoped to gain. Rather, we will instantly modify our stance, apologising as necessary, to reflect the new understanding of what is actually best for this person.
If, for instance you are the pastor of a church and such a person eventually agrees to attend your church, then all it means is that they are officially putting themselves in a place of accepting your advice. It involves submitting to your leadership in interacting with other people within the church. This is of course based on their previous experience with you that every way you interact with them is for their benefit. As human beings, many of us will continue to assess what is in our best personal interests. This is what unconditional love in the church environment looks like: If someone decides that they no longer want to be in that official place of accepting your advice, and they leave your church, then you continue to be unconditionally concerned about their life, within the time constraints that you have available, and in every interaction you have with them, every thought you have about them, you cultivate a selfless attitude that cares about where they are, and overlooks whatever they might have done, any disagreements, or however difficult they might have been in your church. In short the fact that this person joined your church, and then left, makes no difference to the way you continue to care wholeheartedly and sincerely about what is definitely in their own best interests.
This talk of personal interests might make it seem as if I am endorsing a selfish attitude to faith or church, or tacitly encouraging people to leave their churches if they do not feel that they are being served adequately. It is more complicated than that. As someone who is committed to God, then sometimes God asks me to do things which are not convenient or pleasant or seemingly in my own interests. However, because these things are from God, then I can trust that ultimately obeying Him will work out for my own benefit.
It is a little like when a personal trainer might ask me to get on the treadmill and engage in some serious exercise. It might be difficult, painful, inconvenient and slightly tedious. However I can put myself through that because I know that ultimately it will be in the best interests of my own health.
And this is the same way that things might work out in church. Sometimes things we are asked to do might be extremely difficult or inconvenient. Sometimes it will not be our own particular interests that are ultimately served, but those of the wider church – the particular church that we attend, or the worldwide body of Christ. However, if we trust that our leaders are genuinely acting out of concern for us and for people generally, and not for themselves, it is easier to act in faith to do difficult things and to make sacrifices. However, if we believe that they are only acting for themselves, then who would stick around for that? I have so many examples that I have personally experienced of this.
In my experience many pastors are sincere and caring. However, many others are acting out of self-interest. These ones don’t truly care about you as a person. All they care about is expressing and validating their “leadership”. They invite you to church for the sake of increasing their church membership, and boosting the workforce that will work to further establish their ministry. If you decide to leave their church, then they lose all interest in you – that is, they stop making the effort to even pretend that they care – beyond trying to get you back to their church. I know that pastors face severe time constraints. I have also written several times of my own difficulties in learning to forgive people who have hurt me. However, all the same things should not look like this in the Kingdom of Christ. I believe that as Christians we have largely got things the wrong way around. Instead of looking to “leadership” and wanting to assert our positions of authority, let us look instead to concern for others. If it does not come naturally, unconditional concern is an attitude that we can cultivate, in prayer and in our thoughts. If we want to be leaders, let us refuse to dwell on ourselves or our leadership. Let us instead fill our hearts solely with how we can serve other people, and as a byproduct of that I believe that the world will start beating down our doors, as we all crave so desperately. However, let us start in the household of God, that is, with fellow Christians. As John 13v35 says: “By this will all people know that you are my disciples, when you love one another”.
Blue Sky image by Robert Kraft at http://www.publicdomainpictures.net