As a second generation Filipino-American I am very aware of my “otherness”—whether it’s at church on Sunday which includes a 30-minute worship set with a beautiful LED screen displaying the lyrics so we can sing along, a distant departure from my Catholic upbringing where we were accompanied by a pianist and the sheet music was on display via an overhead projector; at work in an SBC ministry where I’m not familiar with the Christian celebrity pastors and authors my colleagues grew up knowing, those who seemed to have a significant impact on their faith journey; or personally, within the family I married into—the kind of family I saw on TV which I longed to be a part of: lots of kids, a big suburban house with a pool, and regularly scheduled family vacations—every aspect of which juxtaposed my upbringing in San Francisco as an only child of immigrant parents.
Being an “Other”
At times being an “other” can be fun. I’ve always loved hearing peoples’ stories and learning about different cultures, so naturally there are endless opportunities for personally growing and also educating others when given the chance. However, being an “other” can also be exhausting and discouraging when I’m expected to assimilate to an existing cultural norm, one which may have been in place so long that the people comfortable in it may not even realize there may be other ways of living, loving, worshiping, and being.
In the church, there are times I’ve been tempted to throw in the towel, and I find myself literally crying out:
“Lord, these are not my people!”
“This is too hard.”
“GET ME OUT OF HERE!”
The Household of Faith
But lately when I’ve sought solace from God’s Word hoping I’ll hear, “You’re right, let Me take you out of your distress,” the Holy Spirit leads me to this instead:
Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.
– Galatians 6:9-10, emphasis mine
I’ll be honest: it’s much easier for me to love others who don’t identify as Christian because we don’t even try to pretend that we hold the same values or have the same motivation for why we live our lives the way we do. There’s a mutual respect of one another’s boundaries which allows us to continue to engage and be friends. But the “especially for those who belong to the household of faith” part of the verse above? That’s what gets me.
Lord, this feels impossible. How can people in the same “family” be so different? Why do we even have to deal with this (tension) since everything will be fine once we get to heaven anyway?
It would be easier to exercise the Christian version of cancel culture, which would either be me choosing to step away, or coming to a mutual agreement with the other party that “it would be best if we went our separate ways.” But from past experience, when I’ve resorted to that kind of solution a little too quickly, it has resulted in broken relationships and hearts.
God’s Word is clear that loving one another is imperative and that we are to do so, in order that we can be witnesses to the world of God’s love:
I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
– John 13:34-35
We have the “what” and the “why,” but what about the “how”? The application seems vague these days when there are so many competing voices telling us what we should and shouldn’t be doing.
I am often tempted to stop at the verse above and accept that I should love others “because God said so,” close my Bible, and move on. But in my opinion, this is precisely the reason why there’s so much discord in the church today: We agree with the call but what are we actually doing in terms of walking out our faith? We speak eloquently with knowledge, facts, finances, faith, and hope, but it’s all just noise if we don’t actually love our neighbor (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
How Do We Love?
So what does love look like?
God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.
– 1 John 4:7-11
What is incredibly remarkable about God’s sacrificial love is that Jesus died for us while we were still enemies of God (Romans 5:10); that kind of love and grace doesn’t make sense. It transcends the worldly justice we are accustomed to and are hungry for as human beings. Knowing we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and understanding the cost of Christ’s sacrifice is the only way we can truly love others; it must be the love that we first receive (1 John 4:19).
Here are some questions to consider:
- If Jesus gave up His life for us while we were ALL sinners and enemies of His (Romans 5:10), can we not even die to our own preferences when it comes to loving those in the family who may look, think, act, speak, and worship differently than us?
- When we’re in a theological argument (or discussion, as some like to call it) with our brother or sister, are we willing to put the argument aside and see him or her as a broken and beloved child of God just as we are?
- Are we able to consider that cultural norms may be different for others and that there’s not a “right” or “wrong” way to do something?
- Are we willing to give up our personal comfort and take a risk in accommodating a fellow brother in a way that will make him feel welcomed, seen, accepted, and loved, if we prioritized his needs over our own?
As Paul exhorts the divided Christian community at Philippi, I, too, leave you with this:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others.
Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.
– Philippians 2:3-5
Remember: we were all “others” to God at one point—sinners and enemies whom He loved and sacrificed His only Son for anyway. May that bring us to humble repentance, consideration, and love for one another.
Lord, reveal how we can love You and love others by Your grace and for Your glory this week. Amen.