“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did.”
– C.S. Lewis
“Jesus Action Figure Heals the Sick”
“Dick Cheney is a Robot”
“Disney Murdered Lindsay Lohan’s Twin”
“Elvis is Alive”
“Cher Removed Ribs to Slim Down”
These are examples of tabloid headlines. A tabloid is a smaller publication than a newspaper, and it usually contains sensational, bizarre, and even laughable news. However, these sell. If we only look at celebrity gossip, we would discover these types of headlines bring in annually $3 billion. It is a lucrative business that can destroy people’s lives or bring them their 15 minutes of fame.
Did you know there is another type of tabloid? It is one that is published word of mouth in the church. We see something, we assume something, and then we can’t help but spin a story better than J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, or J.R.R. Tolkien.
How many of us have had a story spun about us for something found on social media? or a prayer request given based on an assumption? How many of us have seen or overheard something, and then spread a tabloid headline?
Is the church supposed to be this way?
The Mark of the Church
In today’s world, it seems like you cannot go on social media without finding someone claiming the mark of the beast is coming (Revelation 13:16-17). Written is some obscure article mentioning microchips in vaccines or some weird mathematical gymnastic routine leading to 666, and the tabloid article sells to Christians faster than weed in Colorado.
But, there is a different mark we do not talk about. It appears as nice clichés on Christian art passed by unnoticed in the church. It is engraved as “mottos” under a church name. In some form or another, it can be boiled down into two phrases – Love God. Love Others.
Loving God and loving others are the two commandments Christ gave as the greatest (Matthew 22:36-40). In fact, Jesus tells the disciples (and for all Christians) the world will know we are his disciples by our love for one another (John 13:34-35).
Is our creating tabloid headlines about each other loving?
The Paparazzi and the Pharisees
The ones who go after celebrities, attempting to photograph them, and sell their stories are called paparazzi. Their mission is to discover and dig up these stories and sell them to whoever will listen. Usually, these stories do not portray people in a good light. Tabloids contain stories of scandals, so we at home can say, “Wow, I am glad my life isn’t like that.” Tabloids, also, contain stories to cause us to say, “Wow, I wish I was like that.”
The paparazzi can be compared to the pharisees. They knew everything about everyone. The pharisees know everything. They handled themselves with great care. Before someone could ever accuse them, they were quick to accuse others (John 8:1-11). Sinners had to be exposed, and the pharisees were there to catch the story. But, sometimes the story published was about how good the pharisees were (Luke 18:9-14). Jesus even pointed out how the Pharisees behaved in order to create this good exterior (Matthew 23:1-36). However, this wasn’t a tabloid story Jesus was giving. Instead, Jesus condemned them for their behavior.
The pharisees were like the paparazzi. They were quick to find those scandalous stories, and promote the good stories of themselves. Their goal was simple – “Look at how awful those people are, and look at how good I am.” Quite similar. The problem for the pharisees was Jesus. He kept interrupting their tabloid business and control over the people.
Are the paparazzi and the pharisees marked by love? No. To even consider a tabloid heading to be loving is laughable. Therefore, is it loving for us to create stories of people in the church in order to create a sensational headline? Or are we just like the pharisees? We want to know everything, judge everyone by our standards, and make sure we look good. It doesn’t seem that black and white to us. Instead, we mask our tabloid-triggered mind by our concerns and our prayer requests.
An Abused Verse
I Thessalonians 5:22 states, “Stay away from every kind of evil.” It can be rendered in many different ways – “Flee from all appearances of evil, “Do not associate yourself with any appearance of evil,” etc.
We have all heard this verse. We have probably been told we have done something which crosses this verse. But, has this verse been abused in how we judge the actions of others?
I Thessalonians 5:12-28 gives us the context. There is not much in declaring what is “every kind of evil.” However, we do see a common thread of doctrine in this passage. One kind of evil would be those who preach a gospel contrary to the message of Christ (Galatians 1:6-10). We, also, see that we need to treat people with goodness and not evil (I Thessalonians 5:15). Since this letter is first written to a church, Paul is stating we need to be kind to our brothers and sisters first, and then to the world (Ephesians 4:32; Philippians 2:1-15).
But, there is a “kind of evil” we like to focus on more than the ones mentioned in the passage. It is usually marked by something which makes us uncomfortable. It is what we would call evil by our preferences. Now, I am not saying we exchange what God says is evil and call it good. But, we need to be careful how far we take I Thessalonians 5:22.
We may look at a married couple, who belong to our church, enjoying a glass of wine together. Our minds may quickly jump to this passage telling this couple to stop and stay away from all kinds of evil. However, does God’s word say it is evil to drink? It says do not be drunk (Ephesians 5:18). Proverbs, in many places, tells us to be careful when around those who are drunk and being led astray by them (Proverbs 20:1; Proverbs 23:20). But, don’t we jump to the conclusion that any type of drinking is a sin, and therefore must be avoided at all cost? Is that biblical thinking? What about the Christian in our church who has a tattoo? Don’t we secretly tell our kids to stay away from him, because we want them to avoid all kinds of evil? There are many more examples of this. But, is this biblical thinking to deem anything we are uncomfortable with as evil when Scripture is actually silent about it or gives general principles?
We have abused one verse while ignoring one very key passage: Romans 14. Here, Paul states very clearly that Christians will live their lives differently. They will read Scripture and apply it to their lives in the ways the Holy Spirit guides them. Then, Paul reminds us with the law of liberty comes the law of love. We need to love each other and prefer each other with how we live our Christian walk. We do not want to cause a stumbling block or an obstacle for someone in their faith.
“Yes, this is why that Christian should stop what they are doing. They are making me uncomfortable.” We are quick to say something similar, aren’t we? We want every Christian around us to love us by conforming to how we live the Christian life. Is that loving? In an age of technology and social media, it is difficult to avoid seeing the private lives of those in our churches. We see something, we make an assumption, and then we create the headline. Is that living in the law of love? The law of bondage extinguishes the holy flame of freedom. The law of love creates an environment of discussion and understanding in order to love each other. The law of love follows a basic principle of Matthew 18:15-20 – talking to each other rather than about each other.
The Law of Love in Action
So, how should the law of love look in our churches? Good thing there is a passage on that – I Corinthians 13.
Paul tells us the church needs to be marked by love and his statement echoes that of Christ’s in John 13:34-35.
Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love does not look for a scandal or something wrong. It does not assume the worst about our brother or sister Instead, it sees the best and believes the truth. Love does not have a suspicious mind. Love seeks to understand, and love is willing to agree to disagree when it comes to the law of freedom. Love does not unite over things we are against. Love unites over our savior: Jesus Christ.
Creating tabloid headlines does not live out the law of love. In fact, its very contrary to what the church is to be marked by. Tabloid headlines divide the church. It creates an image we have to uphold in order to be seen as a good Christian; instead of letting Christ be our good.
Have You Heard?
The Christmas before my wife and I married, I spent the holiday with my future in-laws. It was a wonderful time together. My mother in-law bought my wife (then fiancée) and I matching pajamas. She smiled so big when we opened that gift. She asked us to try them on. We did, and it brought joy to her. She took a picture and posted it on Facebook as a celebration to the memories we made. However, when I returned to my home church, I heard a tabloid headline. “He and his fiancée are wearing matching pajamas. Therefore, they must have slept together before being married!” I’m serious about this. It got so bad, I removed the picture from my profile.
You may laugh at this situation, but it happens to a lot of people in the church. We see something, we assume something, and we create that sensational story. Is that being loving? Is that living out the law of love? Where in I Corinthians 13 are we to be suspicious of other believers? Where does it say we get to be the judge, jury, and executioner of how one Christian lives for Jesus differently than another? James 4:11-12 states when we judge others we place ourselves back into a law of works rather than the law of freedom and love. Essentially, we put each other back into the bondage of slavery to laws (Galatians 5:1-15). As a result, we bite and devour one another like piranhas as we criticize each other by our standards and not God’s (Galatians 5:13-15).
What is our goal as Christians? To make others live their life like us or like Christ? What does creating tabloid headlines about each other say to the world? Is it loving to see a church filled with more gossip than a Jr. High girls’ slumber party? What does creating tabloid headlines do to each other in the church? Does it create unity? Does it drive people away from the church?
How can we be loving each other when all we are doing is assuming the worst of each other?