Years ago, while fostering a particularly challenging teenager, a youth pastor made a statement I wish I’d paid more attention to. He said, in essence, “Never jeopardize the gospel.” At the time, I didn’t fully understand his meaning. Unfortunately, rather than pausing to prayerfully unpack his advice, I blindly, and forcefully pressed ahead, focusing on so many issues that felt super important in that season but that I’ve now come to realize hindered my access to the kid’s heart.
If asked, I would’ve told you, emphatically, of how desperately I longed to help this youth heal. I might’ve even said that I was committed to doing whatever it took to make that happen. But that wasn’t entirely true. In reality, my pride, desire for personal comfort, and aversion to pain frequently tainted my actions and confused and distorted my perception.
As a result, I routinely pushed the teen away from myself, relationship, and true and lasting change. I fear I created barriers between Him and the God able to heal and transform as well.
A while ago, God reminded me of that situation while I wrestled with Him, in anxiety and angst, over another individual I believed He was asking me to walk beside. I had said some things that felt so necessary in the moment. And if you had asked me then, as the words built within my mind, ready to spill from my mouth, I could’ve provided numerous reasons as to why. I probably could’ve offered Scripture to back up each one as well—fully convinced of my rational.
And utterly blind to the state of my heart, which I can now see was filled with love, yes, compassion, for sure, but also fear, selfishness, and pride. Jeremiah 17:9 states, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (NIV).
Who is it our heart deceives? You and I. We might, at times, mislead others, but we’re most skilled at fooling ourselves. As a result, we often remain oblivious to our true, and often mixed, motives and are unable to discern them on our own. With Christ, we fare better in that God has given us new life, increased spiritual understanding and insight, and a God-given desire to please Him. But that doesn’t mean our actions and perceptions, our view of ourselves and others, immediately become accurate and honorable.
Prior to conversion, many of us spent a lifetime absorbing all the false ideas and perspectives of our culture. Negative behaviors and attitudes have in many ways become so ingrained within us, it will take our entire lives for God to replace those lies with truth.
In 1 Timothy, while instructing his “true son in the faith,” the apostle Paul told Timothy to encourage those in the Ephesus not to get caught up in pointless disputes, adding, “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (NIV).
That’s God’s call for me and you as well, that we would display the type of love that flows from:
A pure heart: one completely free of sin. I’m not sure if I’ve ever reached that place. But I believe, if I continue to seek God, to meditate on Scripture, and learn to more consistently yield to and rely on Him, His righteousness in me will increase, progressively overpowering the residual ugliness within me.
A good conscience. A deep and growing awareness of what does and doesn’t please God and a commitment to pursue His will and His heart.
A sincere faith. Annihilating every trace of hypocrisy within, asking God to reveal and destroy my hidden agendas while igniting a passion for the things of eternity that are truly worth living for.
We know, based on who Paul was and what he wrote in various places throughout Scripture, he wasn’t telling Timothy to forsake or downplay truth. Rather, I believe he was saying, “Make sure when you choose to fight, you fight for those things that move you and others toward increased life in Christ.”
While each component Paul mentioned is an important spiritual trait, it’s the condition of my heart that tends to trip me up most. Honestly, I’m not sure if it’s ever truly pure, completely free from selfishness, pride, and all the other self-defeating, relationship-harming sins that so grieve my father and have a tendency to inflict such pain. The more I recognize this, however, the more I remain alert to just how mixed my motives truly are, the more I’m able to prepare, through prayer, Bible reading, meditating on truth, and yielding to the power of the Holy Spirit.
The moment I forget this, or think I’ve arrived at a certain level of spiritual maturity and therefore can quickly rush ahead based on what I already know or have already read, I almost inevitably wound someone else.
This irresponsible tendency grieves God, inevitably damages others, and deeply saddens me. And while I recognize I’ll probably never experience complete victory over my sin, this side of heaven, by God’s grace, I’m determined to improve.
I want to heed the advice provided by that youth pastor so long ago to prioritize the gospel, God’s free gift of life, above everything else.
Therefore, I must:
- Seek then following Christ’s wisdom regarding when to speak, what to say, and when to remain silent.
- Learn to doubt my perspective so that I will more consistently seek Christ’s.
- Slow down and recognize that most of what feel so urgent today truly isn’t. (God is rarely, if ever, in a hurry, perhaps because He knows the outcome of that “crisis” today is much less consequential than the state of the individual’s soul.
- Regularly invite God to search and then cleanse my heart, knowing He will find gunk there, guaranteed, and that gunk, if not purged, will cause harm.
Because I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather live with effectiveness than regret.
What are some ways you prioritize the gospel in your relationships and interactions? Share your thoughts and insights with us in the comments below. And if you haven’t done so, make sure to check out the latest Faith Over Fear episode.