Lately, I’ve been around a lot of dogs. Our dog Mollie is currently battling an ear infection. As a way for Javan and Nolan to earn a few bucks and learn about money management, they’ve been regularly babysitting the Walkers’ black Lab Monki. Last weekend, I found myself in the unexpected, slightly stressful predicament of intervening in a dogfight between a Bull Mastiff and Poodle (my money would have been on the Mastiff). Over the past few days, I’ve seen Cathy Josenhans’s Golden Retriever Libby more than once.
I’m a dog person. However, I can recognize why other people are not. Dogs can be high maintenance, destructive, expensive, dangerous, and smelly. I’ve experienced many of the negatives of dog ownership: the grief of a dog’s death, the shame and disappointment of having to get rid of one that was too aggressive toward kids, and the occasional thoughts of how much easier life would be if we didn’t have this mutt in the house.
The Bible’s portrayal of dogs isn’t always flattering. In “The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery”, we read:
“(The phrase) ‘a dog’s life’ in a biblical context shocks the reader with visions of squalor, dismal poverty, and the life of a pariah at the bottom of the social scale. Dogs are repeatedly depicted in terms of their disgusting and inadequate diets. Of all the domesticated animals there is a particular revulsion for the dog…It is not surprising that dogs are more than once juxtaposed with swine in the Bible, for both are ritually unclean animals whose repulsive behavior even for animals strikes humans as foolish or even bizarre.”
In the Old Testament, one of the most ruthless curses one could call down is that someone be eaten by dogs (see especially 1 and 2 Kings). In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul warns his Christian audience concerning false teachers: “Watch out for the dogs!” (Philippians 3:2). Point, cat people.
However, in spite of all the arguments above, I am still a dog person. That’s because I’ve experienced the joys that dogs can bring. My first dog, Kirby, made us laugh (he was part Beagle, part Dauchshund, and really liked food; if you put it all together, his belly practically dragged the ground). Roscoe the Boxer was there for 12 years of my life, which included some incredibly monumental moments. I shared many naps with my dog Dixie, and I was there when we picked out Oscar and took him home. Mollie is the most affectionate dog I’ve ever been around.
Christians can often be more like dogs than we like to admit. If you’ve spent any length of time in a church, you know that we Christians can sometimes be high maintenance, destructive, dangerous, expensive, and yes: smelly. Like dogs, we have the power to make each other grieve, disappoint each other, and make life harder than it has to be for each other.
At the same time, if you’ve spent any length of time in a church, you should know that Christians can be sources and examples of God’s grace. Like dogs, we have the power to bring each other great joy, peace, comfort, and encouragement when we need it most.
Here’s the difference, though: while Christians don’t have to be a dog people, we do have to be fellow believer people.
What I mean is this: we can’t just decide to not love our brothers and sisters in Christ, the way we decide that we’re just not into dogs, or cats, or pets in general. It’s not a sin to not love dogs. It’s not a sin to not love cats. But it is a sin to not love our fellow believers. Don’t take my word for it:
“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:20-21)
Even after we believe in Jesus, we can still be quite mangy. While we’re justified by faith – graciously declared by God to be in right standing with Him – we’re still in the process of being sanctified by the Holy Spirit. We’ve been given righteous status, but we’re still learning to live a righteous life. While our sins are forgiven, they aren’t yet totally absent from our words, deeds, thoughts, feelings, and motivations. Until we die and stand in Christ’s presence, we’re still prone to chew up slippers, pull on the leash, or have an accident on the carpet (hopefully that last one is just a metaphor). In short, this side of heaven, we Christians aren’t always easy to love.
Nevertheless, we are called to love each other. You may find it hard to love the person sitting across the Sanctuary on Sunday morning. That person may have a LONG way to go in their maturity in Christ; they may have recently nipped at your hand. You may never “like” them the way you like your best friend. But if that person is a fellow believer in Jesus, you’re commanded by God to love them.
I was never a cat person until I met Olivia. Being around the cats her family owned taught me that they weren’t all that bad. On top of that, when I realized that someone I loved loved cats, I figured that (at some basic level) I should learn to love them too.
When we look at our fellow believers, we’re seeing someone our Father loves; someone for whom Christ died; someone indwelt by the Holy Spirit. And if we love God, we ought to love each other – even when we act like dogs.