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But when you have more of Jesus and less of your religion, respect for others is always the outcome. Paul's first letter to Timothy carries this theme. Respect bubbles up from Paul's heart for seniors, older men, older women, younger men, younger women, singles, widows, children and the needy—groups that historically have not always known or experienced respect (1 Tim. 5:1-3).
Christ made it clear that respect for others is a priority for the Christian. When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus stated, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Mark 12:30). Then He gave us the second most important rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (v. 31).
Christ's message was emphatic: If a rule doesn't jive with one of these two commandments, then hang the rule. Those who love rules more than they love people will never understand the true message of Christ.
Modern-day legalists act just like the Pharisees in the days of Christ. They are so caught up in the traditions and rigid rules of their own kingdoms they fail to see that mercy and grace are just as important as discipline and sacrifice (Hos. 6:6).
Love, not legalism, must reign. Then when a Spirit-filled connection is formed, even between people with different traditions or theologies, respect flows from the heart and changes attitudes and behaviors.
The Witness of the Past
Historical accounts prove that the spreading of the gospel brought new respect for those who previously were not respected. Wherever the gospel of Jesus Christ has taken root in a society and the Word of God has been taught and honored, respect for all men and women has grown along with it.
In Hawaii, it was once taboo for a woman to eat with a man. Women were expected to prepare and serve the meals and wait for the men to finish. Whatever was left was all that a woman was allowed to eat.
The place of women in Hawaiian society was lower than that of many pets. However, it all changed when the gospel came to the islands and Christ-centered men began to see women in a new way.
A new attitude of respect resulted in women being treated as though women and men are equally valuable to God and society. Instead of being used to put women down or keep them down, the applied truth of Scripture liberated women from religious rules made up by men solely for the purposes of men.
Oh, that this same gospel would be spread so that all exploitation of any human could be eradicated from the earth! Oh, that this same gospel would infect all Christians with respect for and honor toward others!
Liberated to Love
Considering its legalistic stance, I thought the church I grew up in would hold on to its old ways of thinking until the church took its last offering. But I was surprised to discover that the men could grow and change.
When my homosexual brother came back home with AIDS, I saw this formerly separatist church show love beyond expectation. My brother's illness came at a time when the houses of people with AIDS were being burned and men who professed Christ held up signs, "God Hates Fags." But none of that mattered to the deacons of our church.
They told my father that they had always loved our family, including my brother, and would continue to do so through the worst of this ordeal. They gathered together, laid hands on my brother and prayed for his healing.
Medical bills that were not covered by insurance were never a burden to my parents. Church leaders paid all the bills. Every day, until Jerry died in the bed of his childhood, someone was there to minister to him and the rest of the family.
At my brother's funeral, the church was packed with those who cared more about loving than judging, and it was that loving that had brought him back to Christ. I will see my brother in heaven because they chose to respect him rather than reject him.
Sadly, the liberation to love and respect others has not overtaken many Christians. I often wonder if people ever read the New Testament to see the way Jesus reached out to the "least of these" and touched and changed their lives.
Jesus had a way of walking right into the midst of the rejected and the untouchables and drawing them to Him. He still does it today when we give first place to the law of love and allow His truth to pour out from our hearts and our hands. When we commit ourselves to having more Jesus and less of our ruthless religion, we feel His love and respectfully share it with those who are of no less importance to Him than we are.
Stephen Arterburn is the founder of the Women of Faith conferences and New Life Ministries. This article is based on his book, More Jesus, Less Religion, from WaterBrook Press.
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