Courtesy Mary R. Vogt at MorgueFile.com
More and more, I hear how we are to relate to culture. Some would say, "many in our culture believe we are irrelevant. And we need to be more relevant to attract a new generation." The problem I have with this is that often the motive is to get people to like us. Not necessarily to provide a call to repentance through faith in Christ.
But don't we want people to be attracted to us, so that it becomes easier to communicate the message?The reason people may not listen to us has little to do with liking us. It may have more to do with respecting us. Between the two, I would prefer respect rather than being liked. Being liked is fickle. When people like you, they may listen to you, but they don't take you very seriously. In fact, once you say something they don't like, they won't like you anymore.
However, even if someone doesn't like you, if they respect you they will have to grapple with what you say. True, it is better to be respected and liked. In that way, people will have to grapple with what you say from a perspective of a respected relationship. Another way to put it, is that they admire you and identify with you, so that your words have impact on them—even if they may initially disagree.
The message of Christ isn't just about making friends, but making peace. The goal of the Gospel is reconciliation between God and men (thus causing reconciliation between men). It is about transformational power. The gospel of Christ brings salvation to a doomed world. Therefore, friendly relations is a means to share the gospel message and a fruit of the gospel message believed. But it is not the goal of the gospel message. The goal is reconciliation.
In other words, when friendliness becomes the goal, the way to achieve this friendliness is being friendly. Avoid problems or situations that upset the status quo, or cause others to hate you. Be agreeable for the sake of avoiding conflict. (Go along to get along.) In this manner, the bulk of the work is on keeping the appearance of peace. The practice of tolerance is for the purpose of ignoring differences; not to use our differences to work towards a common goal nor to become right with God and each other. Rather, the motive is simply avoidance for pleasantness.
But when reconciliation is the goal, the process can seem messy at times—maybe even hostile. This is because reconciliation requires more than cordiality. It requires honesty, confrontation, self-sacrifice, endurance, patience, and great wisdom. Reconciliation requires real work, and an understanding of the role of differences—from non-consequential to outright dangerous. It requires the fruits of the Spirit and willingness not to be comfortable for a greater goal.
Jesus didn't want to suffer and die. But he wanted reconciliation bad enough to endure it. Christians are to do no less. That is our cross to bear. Avoiding the cross isn't an option.