A few years ago, I was working at a church and helped with some of the back office functions for the benevolence ministry. This was one of the more challenging jobs I’ve had and I’m so thankful for all the lessons I learned during my brief stint in that position. While working there, my eyes were opened to so many things that I wouldn’t have realized otherwise.
I went into the job with a very black and white mentality. Something was either wrong or right and I was always right (talk about a serious pride issue!). The rules were rules for a reason and they were made to be followed. If the rules weren’t followed to the letter, that meant you did something wrong and I wasn’t about to help or have compassion for you. Clearly, benevolence was the department for me.
“Err on the side of grace.”
This was something I heard a pastor say once and it was a phrase my boss would repeat often. In our department, there were always a hundred reasons not to help someone, but that’s not what we focused on. We didn’t look for reasons not to help someone–we desperately sought out reasons to help them. If we were going to make a mistake in our decisions, it was going to be on the side of grace. We would be the people who would give a person another chance even after they had blown it. We would be kind to them after they had cussed me out on the phone. We would be gracious to those who had felt nothing but harshness, shame, and condemnation from others.
But grace is messy.
In my black and white mind, many of these people didn’t deserve our help. There was a group who had made their beds and I thought they should have to lie in them, but I’m so thankful for the others around me who showed me the blessing that grace can be. They were gracious to me when I didn’t understand, kind to me when I was arguing over a decision, and patient with me when I was being stubborn. They showed me what Jesus looks like and I hope that I’ve learned enough from them so that I can show Jesus to others too.
In the Bible, Jesus had two main responses to people: grace or judgment. Grace was reserved for those who weren’t religious. Judgment was reserved for those who were religious.
But I feel like we flip Jesus’s actions on their head today—we excuse those in the church and hold those outside the church to an impossible standard.
The church as a whole has mistakenly taken grace to mean approval. If we’re gracious to the drug addict, we’re encouraging that behavior. If we are kind to the woman who’s thinking about an abortion, we’re saying that we agree with her life choice. If we love the person who hurt us, we’re saying that they can do it again. But none of that is true.
We make grace and love unnecessarily complicated.
What I love about Jesus is that he took complex things and he broke them down so they could be understood. He took complex mysteries of heaven and explained them so the “plain” or “simple” could understand them. He took the entire law and all the prophets and their many words and summed them up in this:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40 (ESV)
It doesn’t get any simpler than that—now let’s be a people who go out and do it!
How can you err on the side of grace today?
What does loving God and loving others look like in your life?
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