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[This article is an edited transcription of the March 2006 Tape / CD of the Month, The Balance of Truth and Love: Valuing Right Doctrine and Right Relationships by John Schoenheit.]
God bless you and welcome to this Spirit & Truth Fellowship International monthly tape / CD. This month I will be talking about having right relationships. That is having relationships that are a blessing, having relationships with people in which friendliness and friendship is there and genuine love for each other occurs.
You would think that in Christianity this would be the world’s easiest thing. Something funny happens in Christianity. How do I know this? Well, I know this because it happens in me. I am talking on this monthly tape / CD about something in which I have wrestled with in the past and to some degree still do wrestle with it. Thankfully because I am aware of it, I am working hard on myself. I still see in myself, and in others, that what I consider to be truth (right doctrine) is very important to me. It is very important to me to be right in the way that I believe about God. If you know me, then you know that I have studied very hard in the Word of God to understand it. Once I think that I understand it then I am very confident of what I understand, and that is as it should be. I am confident of what I believe. I believe very differently from many ministers. For example, when I turn on the Christian T.V. and I hear ministers who are very different than I am, they are very confident too. Well, praise the Lord! I think that is as it should be. I think if we read the Word of God and come from the assumption that God wrote the Word so we could understand it and know it and Him, then we should be confident in what we believe. That is important. It is important that you understand as I go through this teaching that I am not talking about losing confidence in what we believe. What I am talking about is something I have seen in myself and in Christianity today. That is sometimes the “truth” that I know, that I think I am sure of in God’s Word, creates in me an intolerance for other Christians and other people in general.
Now, is that not a paradox? What I have discovered here is sometimes the truth that I know, rather than being an engine that drives love in me and produces loving relationships actually drives me from relationships. In other words, because of the truth that I know, I look at other people that do not believe like I believe and I do not bring those people into my heart by truly loving them. For some reason I wrestled with this in my past and to some extent today. Is that not strange? I will say it again, sometimes the “truth” I know rather than being the engine that produces loving relationships drives me from loving relationships.
I think all of us know that we are supposed to be loving. We know we are supposed to be kind to people. Why is it when we settle upon something that we believe and say, “This is what I believe; this is the truth,” that it is so hard for us to be truly kind and compassionate and loving to others and have friends that do not believe like us? I think it has to do with how we hold our doctrine in our heart. We actually elevate our doctrine over love. We elevate our doctrine over our relationship with people. Well, guess who does not do that? How about God?
As I have been reflecting on this lately, I thought about how nobody has more truth than God. God is the truth. When He had Scripture written, every syllable was true; and yet, I know that God has worked with me when I did not believe the truth on a lot of things. I see when I talk to other ministers and other denominations, that the Lord is working through them and people are getting saved and blessed under their ministries. What is very apparent to me, and I hope to you, is that God is working in them just as He is working in me! What does that tell me? It tells me that God values the relationship more than the truth that they hold. Last week I was studying the Bible, and I saw something that changed a point of Scripture that I had believed for 35 years. This happened last week. We are changing all the time. We are getting better all the time! All of us think that we are learning more all the time; at least I hope that we are.
If what we know is holding us back from being in genuine-fulfilling friendship / relationship with people, then something is wrong with the way we are relating to our doctrine. We are putting our doctrine above the love of people. A way has to be there to do both.
Matthew 9:9 and 10
(9) As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
(10) While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples.
That is an amazing truth. Tax collectors and sinners came to eat with Jesus. Notice it does not say Jesus sent out the twelve to round up tax collectors and sinners. That is not what happened. All Jesus did was go to dinner. He went and called Matthew and had a dinner, and the tax collectors and sinners came. That tells me they were very comfortable with Jesus. They were comfortable being around him. Now, did he teach them things that were true? Certainly, Jesus did. Absolutely he did; then, why is it when I try to teach people things that are true, sometimes people run from me. What is the difference here? I think the difference has to be in what you believe in your heart about people.
For years, I kind of held the position that something was wrong with people if they did not believe the truth, or somehow they were less intelligent, or somehow they were less valuable. I am not even sure what I believed, but I know I thought they were not as good as I was. I thought they were not as valuable as I was. I was proud, and I elevated myself because I believed what was right, but I see that all over Christianity. So many Christians are out there that separate themselves from other Christians because what they believe is right. I do not see that in the life of Jesus Christ, and it breaks me.
We talk about being broken on the “Rock of Jesus Christ.” Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a point of breaking. If I do not have sinners who want to be around me, then I am not being like Christ, because Jesus Christ had sinners who wanted to be around him. This happened throughout his whole ministry.
Matthew 11:16 and 17
(16) “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
(17) “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
What is he talking about here? He is talking about people who are judging other people. People who are evaluating other people based upon what they believed and based upon their behavior. He said, “Do you know what the people of this generation are like. They are like children.” They said, “I played the flute, and you would not dance. We sang a dirge, and you would not mourn.” Let us translate that. “I taught the dead were dead, and you did not believe. I believe this, and you do not.”
We become dissatisfied with people that are not on the same page with us doctrinally. Maybe I should say, “I have been dissatisfied with people or have kept people at arms length that are not on the same page with me doctrinally.” That should not be happening.
Matthew 11:18 and 19
(18) John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’
(19) The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’ But wisdom is proved right by her actions.”
What a great verse. What is the wisdom of God? How about love your neighbor as yourself. How about to love like Christ loved? We should love as Christ loved and not criticize each other for each other’s doctrine.
Now, does that mean I do not think doctrine is important? No, I do think that doctrine is important. In fact, I see the importance of fellowshipping with like-minded believers because when I study like-mindedness in the Word of God, I see that when like-minded believers are together that great power and great effort is there.
I understand the practical reality that you need to minister with people that believe like you do. Early on in my ministry an interesting circumstance occurred. Because of a mutual friend who was in the hospital, another pastor and I ended up in his hospital bedroom at the same time. We were both there to minister to him. This man was very sick and possibly going to die. The limits of the practicality of the other minister and I ministering together very quickly became apparent because I believed Satan caused the man’s sickness and we could pray and get the man delivered. God wanted the man delivered. Furthermore, I believed if the man did slip into death that he fell asleep and awaited the return. The other minister who walked into the room at the same time I did believed that God sent the sickness for a reason and he was there to help the man ferret out the reason that God would make him sick and if the man did die, he would go home to be with the Lord, which was okay too. It became apparent in a few minutes that the two of us could not minister together.
As I teach this teaching, I do not want you to hear me saying, “Well, John Schoenheit is saying we should disband our fellowship.” That is not what I am saying. I recognize that it is important to minister with like-minded believers and I believe we have a lot of truth. Is that being honest? Absolutely it is. Why do I believe that? I believe that because I have studied the Word for years, and I understand the medium of language in which the Bible is written. I also know that if you have turned on the T.V. and listened to ministers that believe very opposite things than I do, that they believe they have the truth, and they should. Why should they? They should because if you do not have faith in what you believe then how in the world are you going to expect God to bless your ministry?
Praise God for men and women of God who stand up and have faith in what they believe! Yet, at the same time, we have to hold it lightly. Like I said, just last week, I unlearned something I thought I knew for 35 years. Well, praise God for that! An interesting tight rope is there for the minister of God and for the Christian to be taught truth and believe it; and yet, they should not hold that truth above love in relationships.
Let me show you something out of Hebrews. I want to remind you about what we just read about the religious people during the time of Christ. They said, “We piped unto you, and you did not dance. We sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” The people of Christ’s time, like me, like our ministers today, and like so many Christians, criticized others. “We did this, and you did not do that!” We criticize others when they do not conform to what we believe. That has just got to stop. It has to stop in me. It has to stop in others. I have got to be able to see people through Christ’s eyes and realize that the person is more important than the doctrine they hold. That is why Christ gives revelation across the board. He gives revelation to Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, and people with Spirit & Truth. He works with them and he blesses them. He overlooks the doctrinal problems that we all have. I am not going to stand here and say everything I believe is true. If I did not like people who did not believe like me, if I met myself five years ago, I would not like myself. Sure, I have changed, a lot.
We have got to love people from our hearts.
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
The word thoughts here, enthumesis, is better written emotions or passions, and the word attitudes is better written intentions. It is the Word of God that judges what is an emotion from what is an intention. Sometimes we do things emotionally, and sometimes we do things because we intend to do it. The Word of God judges (separates) that.
I want to point out the word judges. The Word judges is the Greek word kritikos. We get our English word critic from that word. What is intriguing about the word kritikos is that it is the only time in the New Testament that it is used. The critic, the only critic is the Word of God. I am not the critic. “Oh but Lord, I know the Word!” Maybe I do, maybe. I thought I knew the Word at the beginning of last week but learned something I did not know. I thought I knew the Word 20 years ago, but I have learned a lot that I did not know. The Word of God is the critic and I am the lover. That is the deal!
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have to love people. We have to really care about people. We have to be able to enter into relationship with people. What I am saying here, the chewy caramel of my message, is if we are going to truly be like Christ, and I would assert, if we are going to have prospering churches / home fellowships, then what has to live in them is love and friendship. That love and friendship has to live first in my heart.
Let me talk to you about what I mean about having love in my heart. Let us say that I am invited to a minister’s luncheon, and I sit down across the table from a minister of another denomination. I am very polite, and he is very polite as we make small talk. We talk about various things; we talk about the Word of God and about each other’s families. That is nice. That could on the surface seem to be the start of a loving and friendly relationship. What is really important is not what I am saying to the minister, but what I am saying to myself. If I am having this conversation with this minister or another Christian of another denomination or somebody on the street and I am being polite and kind to them, but within my own mind, my self-talk, my conversation with myself says, “Well, I can’t wait until we get through this small talk to where I can really teach this guy some truth. Man, this guy must really be messing up his congregation because if he is teaching them the stuff he is telling me he is teaching them, then they are a mess. Boy, this guy is really off the wall. I can’t believe how he can read the Bible and not understand the simple truths.”
If I am having a critical, unloving conversation about the person, that then, is the posture of my heart. It is not the small talk or friendly talk I am making on the outside that reveals the posture of the heart. It is the thoughts that are going on in the inside. I will assert that we will not truly be successful as lovers of people until that conversation changes. I do not for one-minute think that Jesus Christ walked around Judea saying, “Well, that guy doesn’t know this. Well, this guy over here is really messed up because of this. Well, that guy, what a mess.” If Jesus Christ did that, then that is all that he would do. Nobody held more truth than Jesus Christ. He was the consummate lover of people. His internal talk was about how valuable people were. That is why Scripture says in Romans chapter five that when we were his enemies, Christ died for us.
What is our internal talk about people? It is very important that we understand how to talk about people and how to change that talk. For people like me who did not talk very well about people for many years, thankfully there is help. I read a book called Practicing Right Relationship by Mary K. Sellon & Daniel P. Smith. I am going to read a couple of things from this book because I think they are very important. I also think there is a word of hope, a message of hope, in this book for people who have a hard time with relationships. Let me tell you something. If you are now where I was two or three years ago and where I still am to a certain degree, if you are finding the truth that you know instead of driving loving relationships is actually producing a situation where you are keeping people at arms length because of the truth that you know, then you and I both need to change. We need to know how to enter into truly genuinely loving relationships. We need to learn how to truly, genuinely, love and appreciate people.
This book Practicing Right Relationship talks about four areas where people such as us need to grow. One is self awareness—am I aware that in my mind I am saying nasty things about the guy across the table even though I am making small talk on the outside. The first thing I need to be is self aware. Am I aware that I am being critical which means I am a critic? Am I aware it should not be occurring? I start with self awareness. I need to be aware of what genuine love looks like.
Second, I have to be able to manage that. I need self management. What is the difference between self awareness and self management? Oh, I learned that one, big time! Do you want to know where I learned that one? I entered ministry with a foul mouth. I used vocabulary many times that was not a blessing. I used obscenity. Years after entering the ministry, I became aware from Ephesians chapter five that obscenity was not right in the eyes of God. I became aware that I should stop, but that did not mean I could just stop on a dime. Oh no, I gave myself many lectures about how I should stop using obscenity because I found a big difference existed between self awareness and self management. I had given myself a lecture in the morning about how “I was going to go through the day and not use any obscenity and break my bad habits,” but then somebody cut me off in traffic, and I lost all my presence. We need self awareness and self management.
Third, we need social awareness. How are we with people?
Last, we need relational management.
What does social awareness look like? Let us talk about love and what it feels like to be loved. Have you ever received a loving act? I am going to assert that all of us have had somebody love us at one time or another. Some of us are fortunate to have people around us who love, and they love a lot. Loving acts and kind acts are generally remembered for years and years.
It was intriguing to me how the Lord helped Tee-up (prepare) this teaching in my life through a couple of different things. I had been thinking and praying about love and friendship, and praying about how to be truly and genuinely kind and compassionate to people. I did not just want a surface compassion with an inward talk about how they did not know the Word, they did not know this, and they are that. No, I wanted a genuine compassion accompanied with a self-talk of how valuable people are, what a blessing they are, and how the Lord is working with them.
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