Acceptance, Agreement, and the “Friend of Sinners”

Acceptance, Agreement, and the “Friend of Sinners” May 9, 2023

In what can only be a newsflash for everyone, my marriage is not, in fact, perfect.

I think it’s really good, don’t get me wrong. But we don’t agree on everything. We agree on most of the big things, which is one reason we got married. But there are other less important things that we don’t see eye to eye on.

hands shaking
Image via Pixabay

This being the case, nonetheless, we don’t fight constantly. We don’t get divorced, or even threaten it. Our home isn’t filled with endless disagreements or conflicts or tensions.

Occasionally, yes, we discuss the areas of disagreement.

But most of the time, we’re too busy, you know, loving each other and living life and being married. The things that unite us are so much more important than the things that don’t. 

That’s what love does. Love is patient with the other, it is kind to the other, it doesn’t dishonour the other or keep a record of wrongs with the other, and instead seeks to always protect the other (1Cor 13.4-7), because “love does no harm to a neighbour,” (Rom 13.10). Fighting constantly and disagreeing endlessly and attacking others is indeed harmful, and so love seeks a different way to deal. 

I accept my wife as she is, and she accepts me. This loving acceptance includes accepting one another in our disagreements, because people who love each other can indeed accept each other without automatically endorsing everything the other believes.

It doesn’t mean we ignore our disagreements, either. We wrestle things through, and we sometimes change our mind, we sometimes compromise, and we sometimes simply agree to disagree.

Loving unity in my marriage doesn’t demand agreement on everything; loving unity exists despite our disagreements, because we agree on the most important things, and love each other enough to extend grace, patience, and peace when we aren’t on the same page on something.

Acceptance is not the same thing as agreement. We can accept another person as they are, as a human being, where they are at, without demanding agreement on everything before we accept them.

Acceptance doesn’t mean accepting every belief or every action. It means accepting the person as a person, because we recognize that no doubt we too have some beliefs and actions that probably aren’t exactly what God wants, and we tend to be patient with ourselves in those things.

We accept them because they are created by God, made in His image, and because love calls us to do exactly that.

Jesus lived this way, spending real time with “tax collectors and ‘sinners’” (Mt 9.10-13). He didn’t agree with them. But He didn’t demand conversion or repentance before He engaged with them. He didn’t turn them away because He didn’t agree with their choices.

No doubt His desire was for their transformation. But His technique was to draw them close, not push them away (e.g. Lk 15.1).

Jesus spoke truth boldly, but didn’t demand immediate agreement from everyone He engaged with. And He obviously wasn’t worried about appearing “pro-tax collector” or looking like he was soft on sin.

You know what? He was accused of being soft on sin, called a “friend of sinners” by His critics (Mt 11.19).

This did not seem to bother Him and it certainly did not deter Him. He met people where they were, loving and accepting them and drawing them close, even as He disagreed with their sin and called them to turn from it (see John 8.2-11 for a great example of this). He had no problem calling people out at times (e.g Mt 23.13-36), sometimes sternly, and always with a heart for restoration (e.g. Mt 23.37-39). He never once compromised God’s Word or endorsed sin, but also did not endlessly criticize people for it either.

No one loves the truth more than Christ, and no one knows what is right more than He does. And yet He did so much better than most of us in how He treated people on “the other side,” compromising none of His convictions, and yet finding a way to engage with and love people regardless.

Acceptance and agreement are not the same thing. We accept one another, if for no other reason than Christ accepted us (Rom 15.7).

When we withdraw our acceptance of others because of disagreement, we become hypocrites who forget the great patience, mercy, and love that Christ has extended to us. Are we not bound to extend the same patience, mercy and love to others that we ourselves have received from Him?

Disagreements are inevitable, in any relationship. And certainly we should wrestle these things out with others, as holding our silence would compromise our integrity as well. 

But our love must surpass our need to be right, our patience must surpass our desire to force another to capitulate, our mercy must mirror the mercy of Christ offered to us.

Acceptance and agreement are not the same thing, and unity does not demand agreement on every little thing. Unity is loving each other in spite of areas of disagreement, and it is a beautiful picture of love when we do so.


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