The Separation of Church and Hate | Winsome Love

One of the most remarkable persons during the last century was Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi was an Indian Lawyer, Anti-colonial nationalist, and political ethicist who utilized non-violent forms of protest to campaign for India’s independence from Britain. Gandhi was a practicing Hindu who also widely read and open minded about seeking truth. Among others, he had a deep friendship with the Methodist missionary, E. Stanley Jones. It is said that Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount of “turning the other cheek” influenced Gandhi- and in turn- influenced the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights Movement.

There is a story told by Rev. Pattison that Mahatma Gandhi decided to visit one of the Christian churches in Calcutta. As Gandhi approached the sanctuary doors, he was stopped by the ushers of the church. He was told he was not welcome and that he would not be permitted to attend this particular church as it was for High-caste Indians and whites only. The caste system would be similar to segregation in America. Because of this rejection, Gandhi turned his back on Christianity. Gandhi found Jesus to be one of the greatest teachers of mankind. Dr. J.H. Holmes, a Swarthmore professor who conversed with Gandhi on several occaisons, quotes Gandhi: “I believe in the teachings of Christ, but you on the other side of the world do not, I read your Bible faithfully and see little in Christendom that those who profess faith pretend to see.” Dr. Holmes went on to quote Gandhi saying Gandhi saw Christians seeking wealth at the expense of others and that they are the most warlike people rather than the image of Christ Gandhi read of in the Gospels and especially the Sermon on the Mount.[1]

In short: Gandhi liked Christ, it was the Christians he had a problem with.

This is one of the great struggles of the church and for Christians. We are, by nature, hypocrites. We profess belief in Jesus who boiled down faith to “Loving God and Loving Your Neighbor As Yourself.” Even as we proclaim an ethic of love, it is the unloving words of Christians that undermine our witness. We become disgusted with certain people or groups- believing them to be “less than” ourselves. We cannot hate someone and hope to reach that person.

We live in a world where outrage is the all the rage. Our social media feeds are filled with outrage towards people different than us. We can feel disgust towards people who think or belief differently than we do. Christians are complicit in the outrage culture when we behave badly rather than lovingly communicating the Good News of the Gospel Message.[2] There is a disconnect when we are unable to discern how our hypocrisy can destroy our witness. We can claim to know the love of Christ, but we fail to show that love. When we do this, we show that we have not been truly gripped by grace and our constant need for it.[3] Our words and actions push people away from faith in Jesus.

The opportunity for the Church is to live out what Dr. Ed Stetzer calls “winsome love.” Winsome love is a kind of love that draws people into the Gospel story in order to experience the love of God. Winsome love seeks win some rather than repulsing people away from Christ.

The second chapter of Acts is the Pentecost story where the Holy Spirit, the presence of God that we experience, gave birth to the church. When the Spirit descended upon the Disciples, they preached and performed miracles though the Holy Spirit. On that first Pentecost three thousand new believers put their faith in Jesus. Luke, the author of Acts, provides a summary statement of the early church at the end of chapter two. Luke tells us that the early church was known for several things.

  • They were learning the Jesus way by their devotion to the Disciple’s teaching
  • They shared meals together- study and eating led to fellowship
  • Sold possessions to care for anyone with a need
  • Met daily for worship
  • They were known for having glad and sincere hearts.

Then Luke adds:

“…enjoying the favor of all the people.”

The early church wasn’t argumentative. They weren’t wearing the garb of their favorite politician. They weren’t engaged in a culture war. They weren’t walking around with frowns on their faces. They were known for the love they had for God, for one another, and for others. This is an image of winsome love- a love that draws people in. Here is the proof, as Luke adds:

“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. [4]

Winsome love, the humble and sacrificial love of Jesus, draws people in rather than pushing them away.

Years ago, The Beatles had a song called, All You Need is Love. I hear that today- that all we need to do in the church is love- which is true- yet we also need to know what love means. IN the English language, we have one word for love. I can love my wife and I can love ice cream. In the Greek, there are at least four words for love that give us specific picture of what love looks like. When Jesus teaches us to love our neighbors and enemies- it is AGAPE- sacrificial love where one lays down their life for someone else.

Now, let’s be clear. Loving our neighbor does not mean we have to compromise convictions and it doesn’t mean we are wish-washy on our beliefs. Sometimes, loving someone means practicing tough love where we have to call out a choice or a behavior out of love with the intention on reconciliation or restoration (as Dan said last week.) Winsome love does not mean we become pushovers, either. Winsome love doesn’t speak to whether we disagree; rather it shapes the ways in which we disagree.”[5] Rather than trying to win arguments, proving our points, or practicing shutdown tactics, winsome love seeks to maintain the relationship. As Christians, and in life, wining an argument often means we lose the relationship. It has been said that no one has put their faith in Jesus because they lost an argument.

In order to practice this kind of winsome love, the love that Jesus offered, we must approach all our relationships with humility. Humility is in short supply. In Ancient Roman culture, humility was not seen as a virtue among men. Even today, I see humility taught in some places, yet the loudest and most braggadocious person is the one who gets the attention. Christians should live like Jesus- whose love led him to humble himself. Paul writes

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

Paul says we should have the same mindset as Jesus- that we humble ourselves around others. We serve others to the point of laying our lives down for them. That is winsome love! That is when our life reflects the love of Christ for the world. We can disagree with someone and still lay our lives down for them.

Humility is not losing! It is not weak. It is not cowardice. Our culture teaches us that those who are humble are doormats, always getting stepped on. Biblically, we see that when we humble ourselves to listening and understanding the culture, worldview, and background of those we engage with it opens doors to share the gospel of love. Winsome love done in humility shows we are more interested in a winning relationship than we are in winning the argument.

Friends, we must not allow ourselves to become complicit in this age of outrage. We must learn to live in winsome love in our speech and our actions. When we do that, Christ will draw people to himself through our lives and examples of love.

With the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg earlier this year, the naming of a new Supreme Court Justice has been the source of outrage. Perhaps this same Supreme Court can show us an example of how Christians can live out winsome love for our neighbors.

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, stories of her career began circulating and one that caught my eye was the stories of Ginsburg and the late Antonin Scalia. Ginsburg and Scalia were on opposite ends of idealogical spectrum when it came to Constitutional Law. These two legal giants were often on the opposite end of some major court cases.

They were best friends outside of the courtroom.

They both loved the opera and would attend together. Their families spent New Year’s Eve together for years. When news of Ginsburg’s husband’s death was announced in court, Scalia openly wept. Scalia and Ginsburg once rode an elephant together in India. Ginsburg called Scalia “her best buddy” in an interview. Scalia was once asked if his friendship with Ginsburg ever help him in the courtroom. Scalia said that “some things are more important than winning the argument.”

Here are two people who were able to put aside their differences on what they believed in order to be friends- sometimes confounding others with their friendship. In an age of outrage, they stand as an example of how we can exhibit winsome love to our neighbors.

Friends, we have a choice to make and it is becoming more and more imperative that we make it today. We can either choose to go to the way of the world and silo ourselves off in echo chambers of people just like ourselves that creates greater division between us and those different than us. Or we can choose the way of Jesus: who eats with sinners, whose disciples included a Jewish traitor and an Anti-Roman terrorist. We can choose the way of Jesus who showed people grace and called them to sin no more. We can choose the way of Jesus where we lay down our lives for others because Jesus has already laid down his life for us- while we were still sinners. We can choose the way of Jesus- who loved the world even as the world crucified him.

We have a choice to make today. Will people see what they see everywhere else by our words and actions- or will we choose the way of Jesus as we humbly love our neighbors and our enemies?


[2] Ed Stetzer, Christians in the Age of Outrage, 198.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Ac 2:42–47.

[5] Stetzer, 211

About Steve LaMotte

Husband of Andrea and father of four amazing children. Pastor at Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford, Delaware.
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