For some inexplicable reason my parents allowed me, as a juvenile, to stay in a room with my friend Boog. We were at camp meeting and the walls were paper thin. As night progressed Boog and I told stories and made jokes that were, to us, progressively funny. Our laughter became almost uncontrolled. Until an old gentleman in the next room took great exception to our raucous frivolity. “I’ll have you quiet!” He yelled. “And I will be talking to the camp president.”
Game, set, match. Our fun was over. The old man was going to have our hides! I went into a fitful sleep, only to wake in the morning with a sense of impending doom. The day dragged on. Eventually, the dreaded moment came. There stood President Sones staring down at me. All seventy pounds of skinny kid looking up into the mustached face of a man well over six feet.
“I heard you had a situation in the room last night,” he said.
“Uh, yes,” I muttered. “We’re sorry.”
“It won’t happen again?” It was more like a question than a reprimand. “Well, okay then.”
No yelling. No berating. Just a word spoken kindly. I think his eyes were twinkling. It was one of those moments in life that surprise. I was surprised by the tone of love. And my belief that a big man could be a genuine Christian was strengthened.
How different from the moment, a few short years later, standing outside the church and hearing the board members arguing with fierce anger in their voices. Another friend, Sonny, was standing there and observed, “They don’t believe in sanctification. They’re allowed to get mad.” I just wanted to get away.
Or contrast the acceptance I felt from Bro. Sones with the attitude of a man professing two works of grace and well-connected in his congregation, who, when confronted with the possibility of a black family coming to their church responded with red face and neck veins bulging that they were never to darken their sanctuary door!
There is a tone of love. It is attractive even when it must give a reproof. It is genuine even in a time of disagreement. And it is what is greatly needed in today’s world.
Violence like that which broke out recently in Charlottesville, VA is not to be unexpected when the virtue of love is ignored. In fact, real love is demeaned. The players in the disgraceful clash between the factions that fought in the streets, ultimately leaving three human beings dead and others injured, were known for their hateful rhetoric. It is no help when political leaders add fuel to the fire by lacing their speeches with vulgarities, or when news commentators read their stories while their voices are dripping with disdain for their opponents.
It is a long way from love when groups place a higher value on people who share their particular shade of brown than on those whose pigment may be darker or lighter. What a poor way to make a judgment of another’s worth! But the nations are full of people with selfish love. A person is judged as unwelcome because of color or because of poverty or because of how they believe. In a day when the world’s favorite Bible phrase is “judge not,” judging others over politics, religion, race, culture, and any other difference from the mainstream is rampant.
The Christian message is starkly different. It states that there is one race, the human race. “And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). Jesus broke down the prejudice barrier when he spoke to the woman at the well (John 4). He broke down the barrier of racism when He spoke to the woman. She wondered why He, a Jew, would talk to her, for she knew that the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans. He broke down the religious barrier when he dismissed the Samaritan belief of worshipping on a certain mountain as well as the Jewish emphasis on Jerusalem. “God is a spirit, and they that worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” He broke down the sexism barrier when He actually spoke to her with respect. He broke down the moral barrier when He offered this sinful woman living water.
The message of Christ carries with it the tone of love. That is different from saying that the Christian message compromises with everything. We speak the truth in love. “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him” (Lev. 19:17). It is the loving thing to point out that which another is doing will lead him to ruin. But the words must carry the tone of love. Truth without love can be very harsh. Also, love without truth can accommodate sin and lead to hell. The Christian speaks the truth in love.
I received undeserved love on more occasions than as a boy at camp. Years later I betrayed the friendship and trust of a man I highly respected. He was president of an institution where I was a guest. I broke one of the rules upon which he had put a lot of stress. Later, I heard that he had found out. With nervous fingers I dialed his number. He spoke firmly. He spoke truly. He spoke directly. But as when confronted by the camp president, I was met with surprise. He spoke with the tone of love. Again, I was drawn toward Christ by a man exhibiting a Christian spirit in an unpleasant circumstance.
Because of the cross of Christ, because He died for us, because He rose from the dead to justify us, we can safely bring every fault to Him. We can confess every sin, admit every time we’ve shown unjust prejudice, be open about every failure. He will listen, and He will forgive. On the cross “the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared” (Titus 3:4). When we repentantly open up to the Lord Jesus Christ, He will answer in kindness.
“Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!
Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span at Calvary!”
-William R. Newell