I don’t always like the Bible because in the Bible God often challenges me to do things that are uncomfortable to me.
In 1 Peter 1:22 God challenges me to have a love for my brothers and sisters that is “sincere.” Actually, the Greek word translated here as “sincere” is the word anupokriton. An is a prefix meaning “not.” Hupokriton is the word hypocrite. What Peter is telling me here is to love others without hypocrisy. In the ancient Greek world, a hypocrite was actually an actor who disguised his or her true self behind costumes and makeup. Peter is calling me not to do that. He is calling me to relate to others in a way in which I do not hide my true self from others behind a painted-on smile, pretending that everything is fine and that I am a wonderful Christian person.
After Robin Williams committed suicide Kellen Criswell wrote about the problem of depression and about how depression is often exacerbated in the church because of the pressure we feel to pretend to each other that we are doing well and being “good Christians” who don’t have any problems.
“Why is our suffering so often secret? Why do believers in Christ who know the eternal and unequivocal forgiveness of God in Christ, and the universal brokenness of humanity choose to sit alone in our pain in the recesses of the heart and mind?
“I believe a core reason we are unaware of the emotional pain people are going through is that we lack a culture of gospel safety in our churches. By gospel safety I mean the security that results in transparency between people when they are convinced that each of them utterly need and have been granted God’s grace for their brokenness.
“If I really believe and feel the depth of my need for God’s grace, and know that I have it through faith in the gospel, I will be able to hear you be transparent about your need for grace without my spiritual gag reflex going off. I will be able to listen to you be honest about your darkest temptations, grossest sins, or most painful manifestations of brokenness without viewing or treating you as someone with a rose-off spiritual condition than my own. If you really believe and feel the depth of your own need for grace and that faith in the gospel has supplied all the grace you need, you will be secure enough to hear me be transparent about the same things with you. This is gospel safety.” (From CalvaryChapel.com)
Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend add,
“The truth is, though, that all of us have crummy stuff within us. It is part of the fallen nature, the ‘sickness’ of sin, as Jesus put it (Mark 2:17). If we are ever going to get well, we have to have the safety to look inside, confess what we find there, grieve it, repent of it, and ‘put off [our] old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of [our] minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). We have to be made new from the inside out, and that begins with facing how ugly things are inside.
“We all need a place where we can say, ‘You won’t believe how sick I am! Let me tell you about this thought I had today.’ We need to make this kind of confession normal. Then we can begin to clean up our insides.” (How People Grow, p. 306-307)
This is what Peter is calling me to, and I don’t like it because it is uncomfortable to me. He is calling me to love others in the family of Christ without hypocrisy, without pretending. He is calling for me to do my part in making the church such a place where people can be genuine with each other and where we will extend grace to each other despite our struggles and failures. I don’t like what this would require from me, but I like where it could end up, so help me, Lord, to shed my pretending.
I have often found myself challenged by the apostle John’s comment in 1 John 4:18 that “perfect love casts out all fear.” Fearlessness in relationships has certainly not been my experience very often, so I need to grapple with where my fearfulness comes from and what can be done about it so that I might love others more freely and more fully.
I am discovering some answers to these questions in Larry Crabb’s book, Fully Alive: A Biblical Vision of Gender that Frees Men and Women to Live Beyond Stereotypes. In this book (as in many of his other books), Crabb addresses the matter of “relational sin.” He points out, “When we are controlled by fear, we relate in order to protect ourselves from pain and to advance our experience of personal well-being” (p. 129).
That sentence is accurate to the experience of my life: When I am afraid in relationships, I relate with others in a self-protective manner. There is no “perfect love” when focus is caught up in self-protection. He provides further perspective on my self-protective tendency a few pages later: “Relational sin in men, evidenced in words designed to display adequacy, win respect, or create feelings of significance, never pours life into another. Relational sin sucks life out of others” (p. 137).
He hits the nail on the head. My greatest fear is that others will view me as inadequate or incompetent or worthless. When I am afraid or insecure in a relationship I end up spending much of my energy trying to win respect or convince the other person of my adequacy. My focus, without consciously realizing it, is on proving my worth. So long as I am occupied with persuading others of my adequacy, my heart is not attuned to loving the other person freely or fully (or anything close to that).
Crabb offers an example of a man he knows who is learning to love more perfectly. He summarizes his description of Wayne with this sentence: “Wayne fights by moving toward his wife to hear her cry, to remember God’s undeserved grace, and to look into her soul until she is visible to him” (p. 139-140). What I hear Larry Crabb suggesting here is that if want to move from fear toward more perfect love, I need to step away from my fearful tendency to try to prove my adequacy. I need to set that aside to do something different. I need to step toward the other person, listening to that person, remembering God’s grace (that He loves me not on the basis of my attempted adequacy, and that He loves that other person as well), and looking to see that person’s soul (not just their disapproval of me or whatever it might be, but their soul). As often as I work at this, I will find myself moving away from fear-activated relating to more perfect love. God help me.