We’ve addressed the challenges of being a Christian loner in APJ 109 and APJ 212. A lot of helpful counsel can be found in that pair of episodes: APJs 109 and 212. A listener named Brian heard them, and he writes in to us with a question that complements what has been addressed previously in those two episodes. Brian writes this: “Hello, Pastor John. What would you say is the difference between being a loner who is a Christian and a loner who fails to ‘love the brothers’ as John puts it in 1 John 3:14? Is that the same thing? Is being a loner the same thing as being an unloving person? How would you work through this, Pastor John?”
Well, as often, let’s start with a definition. We can’t talk about what we don’t know what we’re talking about. So, here’s my definition — I’m just going to choose one — of loner. A loner is a person who is quite comfortable being alone. He’s comfortable reading a book in the evening with nobody else in the apartment. He’s comfortable spending time on his woodworking in the garage with nobody else around. She’s comfortable working in the kitchen, or on her handiwork, or hiking in the mountains without any friends around.
That’s what I mean by loner. Whether because of genetics, or upbringing, or experiences later in life, a person now finds himself or herself to be quite comfortable being alone. So, the question is, Does being a loner mean that you are a person lacking in love for other people?
Our Innate Personalities
For a long time, I’ve been fascinated by the fact that human beings are by nature so different from one another, and what they’re prone to do, what their bent is, is so various because of their innate personality. I’ve been fascinated with what moral significance this has since it seems to be so rooted in our personality and doesn’t seem to change, essentially, when we become Christians.
Let me give an illustration from the Bible of what I mean and how this fascinates me. In Romans 12:6–8, Paul gives some instructions about using your spiritual gifts, and it’s an unusual list. Let me just give you the three unusual ones that provoke me, and fascinate me, and set me to pondering about being a loner. He says, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: . . . if service, in our serving; . . . the one who contributes, in generosity; . . . the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:6, 8).
Service, giving, mercy. Now, what’s surprising about calling those spiritual gifts is that all Christians are supposed to serve, all Christians are supposed to give, and all Christians are supposed to be merciful. So what is Paul saying? I take Paul to mean that even though these three traits should characterize every Christian, nevertheless, some people are inclined to them in an unusual way. It’s just what they’re like; that’s what they do — it’s just part of them. Service — they’re just given to it. And the same with giving and mercy.
So, here’s the inference that I draw: there are real differences between human beings, including Christians, in how naturally, or how readily, dispositionally, we are given to, or not given to, behaviors that are real Christian duties for everybody.
“You could be more of a loner, or you could be more sociable, and in either case not necessarily be sinning.”
This fact that we are less given to certain good things is not necessarily sinful. It doesn’t mean we’re sinful — that we’re committing sin when we don’t do those good things to the same degree, or with the same intensity, with which other people do them. You could be more of a loner, or you could be more gregarious, or more sociable, and in either case not necessarily be sinning. That’s what I infer.
Truth from Various Angles
When I ask myself why God designed the world that way, there’s an interesting part of the answer in the way Jesus spoke about himself and John the Baptist. Here’s what he said:
To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.” (Luke 7:31–32)
Then he explains in Luke 7:33–35,
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon.” The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.
So, here’s the point: this is an unbelieving generation, and God has exposed their hardheartedness by showing them that whether a person like John or a person like Jesus speaks to them, they still won’t believe.
John is one kind of person — a real loner, not a party person at all, likes the wilderness — and he spoke the truth, and you didn’t like it. You didn’t like the way he said it. Then Jesus comes along, and he’s very different from John. He comes eating and drinking, he’s sociable, gregarious, attending parties, and you don’t like the way he speaks about it either, which in God’s wisdom shows you can’t blame your unbelief on the speaker.
God’s wisdom is seen in sending all kinds of different people into your life in order to show that your rejection of them is really owing to your rejection of the message, not the messenger, because he has sent so many different kinds of personalities to you. You won’t have the message no matter what kind of personality brings it.
So, I’m inferring that one of the reasons God has designed the world with loners and gregarious types, among many others, is to make sure the world hears the truth from different vessels, different voices, different forms, different personalities to make clear what the real issue is.
Loving and Unloving Loners
So, my answer to the question of whether being a loner means being unloving is this: not necessarily. And I would say exactly the same thing about being a mingler or a gregarious or sociable person. Is that person loving? Not necessarily. People can need people for self-centered reasons, and people can love solitude for self-centered reasons.
So, the question then finally is, What makes the difference between a loner who is self-centered and a loner who is loving? I would just say two things.
Resisting Fear and Indifference
The loving loner seeks to purge himself of every form of fear of other people and every form of indifference to the good of other people. Everywhere he sees the motive of fear, he seeks to put it to death by the Spirit (Romans 8:13). Everywhere he sees indifference in his heart toward the good of other people, he seeks to put it to death by the Spirit, trusting God’s promises. He trusts the promise that God will take care of him — God will help him. He doesn’t need to be governed by any sinful motives like fear of man or indifference to people’s good.
“The loving loner seeks with all his might to make his loner personality a means of love.”
One of the ways that we detect and put to death sinful dimensions of our personality like that is by regularly stretching our comfort zone and acting contrary to our natural bent. Now, I don’t mean that we cease to be who we are or that we constantly live against the grain of being a loner or being gregarious, but I do mean that we test ourselves from time to time as to whether we are merely justifying a sinful behavior by a natural inclination. That’s the first test of how we know we’re a loving loner or a selfish loner.
Leveraging Aloneness for Love
Here’s the second thing: What distinguishes a self-centered loner from a loving loner is that the loving loner recognizes his natural inclinations, and instead of trying to totally be a person that he’s not, he seeks with all his might — and by means of all prayer, and faith, and creativity — to make his loner personality a means of love.
If he likes being in the garage doing woodworking all by himself, then let him dream and pray and work toward ways of turning his lonely woodworking into a ministry for the good of others. If she likes rummaging through historical archives in the library all by herself, let her dream of turning her lonely research into a ministry for the good of others. In other words, you don’t have to be paralyzed by the hopelessness of becoming a non-loner in order to be loving. You just have to really care about turning your loner bent into love.