God used Gifford Ramsey—with his high-pitched voice, broad shoulders, and big smile—to spur many youngsters and adults to faith. “You say you’re a Christian, then show me—I’m from Missouri, the Show Me state,” he would say. He was my youth director, football coach, and mentor. After a big defeat, I wept on my teammate’s shoulder as he walked me toward the bus. And before I could take my seat, coach Ramsey said, “You say you’re a Christian, then show me.” He firmly believed in consistency between our doctrine and life. A football game isn’t the most important thing in life for the Christian.
Doctrine is not meant to keep us in the theoretical realm. It should change not only us but also how we interact with our community. We have to relate at home with people with whom we don’t always agree. We deal with a kaleidoscope of people and their interests in our neighborhoods and places of employment. Then there are folks with whom we may have such strong disagreement that they are considered enemies. Our doctrine must affect our relationships in all of these areas. A fresh look at the gospel gives us clarity on how our interactions with others should look.
In Our Homes
A friend once lamented that after getting married, he thought he had discovered the depth of his selfishness—but then he had kids. Another friend despairingly said, “Sometimes you have to love family from afar.” Still, another said, “I am happier at work than at home.” Because we are fallen people, unique in our makeup and diverse in our interests, familial interactions can and often do pose many challenges. We have a tendency to pursue our own well-being, to exert control, to remain apathetic, or to withdraw totally from our family members. The family is the premier place for evaluating how doctrine affects our community.
Ephesians 5 and 6 offer us a beautiful model for how Christians are to interact in the home. This includes husbands’ loving their wives as Christ loves His church. It involves the husband’s sacrificing for, respecting, being gentle with, and cherishing his bride. Wives are to submit and show honor to their husbands “as to the Lord,” which displays the church’s submission to Christ. In this dynamic interaction, the man leads by service, not by forcing his wife into servitude, and the woman follows intentionally, not as one who is less honorable. Children are included in the equation as well. They are to obey their parents, for it is pleasing to the Lord, and parents likewise are not to exasperate their children. Here, the doctrine of Christ informs the doctrine of Christian family as it moves us from self-centeredness to other-centeredness.
With Our Neighbors
In Luke 10, a lawyer questions Jesus about eternal life, and Jesus replies, “What is written in the law?” (v. 26). The man replies, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart … and your neighbor as yourself” (v. 27). He answers correctly, but he seeks to justify himself because he has a more restricted view of neighbor than Jesus does.
Like the lawyer, we tend to think that our neighbors are the ones closest to us, whether in terms of neighborhood, ethnic background, socioeconomic status, generational identity, social class, etc. While it’s not inherently wrong to love those who are similar to ourselves, it’s quite sinful to withhold love from others because they are different.
To illustrate this point, Jesus tells the story of a Samaritan—a man from a group of people despised by the lawyer—who shows compassion on a man who was robbed, beaten, left for dead, and overlooked by individuals expected to provide relief. The story concludes with the lawyer’s recognition of who proved to be a neighbor and Jesus’ instruction: “Go and do likewise” (v. 37).
Jesus is the consummate neighbor who rescues people of all kinds. Having been recipients of this love, we as believers are to love our neighbors of all kinds. Sound doctrine will not let us ignore them.
With Our Enemies
Loving family and even neighbors is quite understandable, but enemies present a different challenge. Most often, these are people who have a hostile attitude toward us or who have hurt us in some way. It seems appropriate to hate them, but Jesus says to “love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you” (Matt. 5:43). It’s not easy to wish those well who wish the worst for you, but it follows the pattern of our heavenly Father who sent His Son to die for His enemies.
The only way to truly love our enemies is to start with the gospel. We were once enemies of God and hostile to Him (Eph. 2). We deserved death for our sins, but “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). This is a love beyond our natural comprehension. If we understand what God did for us when we were enemies, then it makes supernatural sense that we, too, must love our enemies. Doctrine moves us to love people in every facet of our community.