But she came up to me, all sugar-sweet and smiles, and gently explained that I did not meet the standard of dress that she felt the Bible described for Believers.
I’ve thanked the Lord many times that our church is large enough and my mind was occupied enough that I simply cannot remember who she was. In the moment, I avoided her gaze and mumbled something in reply. The truth is that I’m not good at responding to criticism, no matter how loving it is given. My husband, he had a few responses when I told him of the conversation. He got me laughing with his outrageous comments but something deep in me was still sifting the words she spoke.
They haunted me. I could not get ready for church again without tears. I became angry. My husband pleaded with me and I stewed inside. I came up with some lengthy responses. I wrote pages in my journal about what the Scripture actually says about dress and coverings and what is required to be acceptable to God.
But the truth is that underneath my anger was fear. I was never a person who looked around and compared myself to others, but suddenly I realized that other people did. They looked and labeled and I cowered in fear. I hated going to church. I hated spending time in groups of people. I hated the feeling of being judged and found wanting. I wanted to scream, You don’t even know me! You don’t even know what I believe or why I believe it. How can you decide anything about me if you’ve never taken the time to sit down with me and talk to me?
It was easy to judge. To label the legalistic one and leave me the victim.
But God had a lesson for me to learn. A lesson about grace.
He wasn’t much older than my husband but he married young. Ten children lined his table at home and wisdom lined his face. Born and raised Amish, if anyone had the pedigree to embrace legalism, he did.
But never had I met such a strong, humble Believer. He loved the Word of God, clung to it, asked questions about it, willingly discussed verses and applications and the base truths.
My husband says, “Dave isn’t a very good Amishman but he’s an excellent Christian.” And that’s the honest-to-goodness truth.
One day he mentioned getting in trouble with the Amish church because there was electricity on a rented-out property. “They’ve met with me a few times,” he said, and shrugged a bit in defeat, “I guess people keep complaining.”
It was all I could do not to roll my eyes. “You’re not using it personally,” I said, “why should they care?” I felt the same sense of indignation. What was wrong with people? How could they claim to be Christians and still, obviously, cling to legalism? Why didn’t they just mind their own business?
But then Dave spoke and it was with such humbleness that I was convicted to my core.
“Oh, Tash,” he said, “I do not have to stand before God and fear because of this issue. God does not judge based on electricity. The Bible says nothing about whether or not your lights are powered with kerosene or electric. But the Bible does say a lot about pride, and that is the sin I must watch. It is easy to think, ‘these foolish legalistic people’ and let pride slip into my heart, and God will call me to account for such bitterness.
“Sometimes we must follow things that do not matter, just to keep our hearts clear of pride. Just to learn, through the hard things, to offer grace to everyone. Especially the ones whom we do not think deserve it.”
It can be easy, for some of us in the church, to offer grace to the adulterous woman who has been trapped in a sinful lifestyle since birth, but when it comes to the Pharisees with their stones, we want to label and judge and lay claim to our right to disregard them.
I’m the victim of their self-righteous sin, we tell ourselves and excuse our own behavior, the darkening of our own hearts. But God speaks even to this in the book of 1 Corinthians:
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
(I Corinthians 10:23 & 24)
Do not let yourselves be [hindrances by giving] an offense to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God [do not lead others into sin by your mode of life];
Just as I myself strive to please [to accommodate myself to the opinions, desires, and interests of others, adapting myself to] all men in everything I do, not aiming at or considering my own profit and advantage, but that of the many
in order that they may be saved.
(I Corinthians 10: 32 & 33)
It turns out, in case you missed the memo, that there are many in our churches who are not Believers. There are many who have missed the point of the gospel. There are many who have false teaching and legalistic ideals for salvation. And there are many who have accepted salvation by grace but are still trying to make themselves different from the world without realizing that simply being in Christ will mark them.
And it turns out, friends, that fighting for our “rights as Believers” is the last thing that will draw others to the loving arms of Jesus Christ. We cannot consider our own profit, our own advantage. We must consider the cause of Christ.
Like Dave, who doesn’t believe that the Amish way of life saves anyone, but humbly bows to the conscience of someone else, that he might be a light for Jesus Christ right where he lives– I, too, must embrace this humbleness. I must offer grace to the one who judges me, and do all I can to ease their consciences, so that maybe, somehow, some way, I can become a picture of Christ for them. They will know we are His disciples by our love, Scripture says.
It makes sense what Paul is saying, doesn’t it? That by adhering to the conscience of another man, even though we know that we live in liberty before Christ, we open the doors to speak into his life.
If an Amishman truly believes that a brother is sinning by allowing electricity on his property, his ears will be closed to the offender, no matter how right the offender may be. Disconnect the power to his judging (by embracing humbleness) and suddenly, there is nothing to block his ears from truth.
The application for me is clear. Not that I raise up someone else’s standard as my own, or agree with them in extra-biblical practices, but that I live in humbleness and do all I can not to offend them. And here, in this place of offering grace to all, I am free from fear.
It’s too bad that I cannot remember the woman who spoke to me for if I could, I would go to her and thank her. For through her gentle words, I was able to dig out a root of pride that had planted itself in my heart. And now I can live in true freedom.
An inspiring thought for the ones disgusted by Pharisee-ism in even the smallest degree: God can and has lovingly reached down and saved Pharisees before. Ask Paul and Nicodemus.
– Shannon Coe