Jesus’ ministry was predicated upon accepting people. He erased the artificial boundaries of culture and status, looked beyond people’s sin, and accepted them. He touched lepers, ate with sinners, visited the homes of tax collectors, and washed the feet of the betrayer. Through countless loving acts, Jesus made a clear statement: “I will never withhold my love from you; regardless of the circumstance, I will always love you.”
The apostle Paul told the church at Rome to “accept one another just as Christ has accepted you” (Romans 15:7). Paul, too, had been touched deeply by God’s acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15–16).
Two fundamental aspects of human nature underscore the importance of accepting others.
• All humans are similar: Because we are all created in the image of God, every person has intrinsic value.
• All humans are unique: Because God created each of us, every person is “one of a kind.” These truths also provide practical insights into how we are to accept others. When we truly accept others, our attitude will be:
1. I willingly accept you because you are a human being.
We are to accept people because of their intrinsic value; there is immeasurable value in who a person is, separate and apart from what they do. It is the difference between valuing a human being versus a human doer. We are to accept people because:
• Everyone is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). There is something Godlike in every human.
• Jesus died for all men (2 Corinthians 5:15). We all have value because we have been purchased at a high price (1 Peter 1:18–19).
• Every human is of inestimable value. In Matthew 16:26, Jesus asked, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” A human soul is more valuable than all that is in the world.
2. I acknowledge, affirm and delight in the fact that you are unique.
God created every person unique. Scientists tell us that no two snowflakes are identical.
If God makes the effort to make snowflakes unique, rest assured, he doesn’t clone humans.
In accepting others, we are essentially agreeing with God that he has created all things well; we are affirming our belief that God’s creation is good. If we refuse to accept others, we are essentially challenging the Creator and his handiwork: “God, you made a mistake.”
3. I willingly receive you and love you even though you are different from me.
We seldom struggle with accepting those who are like us. But it’s often a challenge to accept people who are different from us – those who look, talk, or behave differently, follow contrasting customs, or embrace different spiritual convictions.
Most of us have a rather limited view of life. For instance, I was born in America, raised in the South, reared in a Christian family, attended a conservative church, and for forty years have ministered in a similar environment. While I don’t begrudge my heritage, I must realize that
it has created a narrow lens through which I view the world, and it has shaped my view of life. My challenge is to accept each of the other seven billion people on the face of the earth even though they aren’t cut from the same fabric.
4. I will not neglect ministering any and all of the One Anothers to you.
A reluctance to accept people may cause us to discriminate against some and favor others. This prejudice may even cause us to withhold giving the One Anothers to some people while giving them freely to others. Or, we may selectively choose which of the One Anothers we’ll give to someone; for instance, we may be willing to greet someone but not honor him.
But when we freely accept all people, favoritism gives way to unconditional love, which says,
“I will be kind to you, despite your behavior. I will greet you although you are different from me. I will not refuse to affirm your worth, even though I disagree with your lifestyle.” In essence, “I will forgive, encourage, comfort, prefer [insert all thirty-six of the One Anothers] you because of who you are, regardless of what you have done or what you will do.” This is the same consistency of love that we enjoy from God (Romans 8:38?39).
This attitude is essential to consistently minister the One Anothers. Without it, we become pickers and choosers, deciding who is worthy of receiving love and who isn’t. True acceptance will lead us to minister all of the One Anothers to all people.
5. Even as I get to know you on a deep level, I will not stop accepting you.
While we are often challenged to accept people whom we do not know well, we might also find it difficult to accept people whom we do know well – our family and friends. For instance, we may be reluctant to accept a young person with hair dyed purple who just walked into our church, but be just as reluctant to accept our spouse who just walked into church ten minutes late. Sometimes, it’s actually more difficult to accept someone we know well, because the closer we get to a person and the more time we spend together, the more clearly we see flaws, inconsistencies, weaknesses, and even sins.
6. I accept you for who you are; I won’t try to change you.
Many relationships are strained because we feel “called of God” to be change agents in the lives of others.
“I’m called to be heavenly sandpaper in your life.”
“Your mother didn’t do a very good job raising you – I’m taking over.”
“My main job as your parent is to perfect your character and personality.”
Constantly nitpicking at someone’s weaknesses, idiosyncrasies, and faults will strain a relationship and create an adversarial tone.
Of course, there are areas of everyone’s life that need work, but are we willing to truly love and accept people despite those imperfections? Furthermore, will our deep and abiding love give us grace to “cover over” those areas? First Peter 4:8 presents a powerful challenge: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
We all struggle with “covering over” simple, minor flaws that we see in other people, much less their sins. Interestingly, those areas which we have unsuccessfully tried to alter through confrontation and manipulation often begin to miraculously, more quickly change when we accept them just the way they are.
The truth is, our greatest calling is to love and accept people just as they are and trust God to make needed changes. As we learn to accept others, we’ll become more open-minded and consistent and less prejudicial, intolerant, narrow-minded, and discriminatory.
Don McMinn, Ph. D., is a pastor at Stonebriar Community Church and his newest small group resource, Love One Another: 20 Practical Lessons, explores the One Anothers of the New Testament. www.loveoneanotherbook.com.