I was enjoying my dinner last night when a couple sat down at the table near me in a nearly empty restaurant. The conversation was animated. (OK, I eavesdropped!) She adamantly stated that Susan (not the real name) was not invited to their home with the rest of the family. Apparently Susan voted for the ‘other guy’ and the speaker took it as a personal affront. “Some things are forgivable, but not that,” she declared with great passion. “She has betrayed our family’s heritage …”
And it went on, while I grew more sad with each moment. So much for a pleasant dinner. Is that conversation I overheard an oddity, a quirk of someone with a misadjusted personality? No, it is not. Too many families are being torn apart, too many friends are not speaking, too many churches are becoming split because of our polarized political environment.
Christian, we must, for Christ’s sake, do better.
In the church in Corinth when divisions over personality and preference broke out, Paul did not treat it as something acceptable, ‘just a natural human response.’ He called on those Christians to repent, telling them that their fighting was evidence of sin and spiritual immaturity.
“Now, dear brothers and sisters, I appeal to you by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ to stop arguing among yourselves. Let there be real harmony so there won’t be divisions in the church. I plead with you to be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your arguments, dear brothers and sisters. Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.” Can Christ be divided into pieces?” (1 Corinthians 1:10-13, NLT)
He returns to the subject later in the same letter, underlining his concern, reminding them that their party spirit was wrong. “You are still controlled by your own sinful desires. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your own desires? You are acting like people who don’t belong to the Lord. When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I prefer Apollos,” aren’t you acting like those who are not Christians?” (1 Corinthians 3:3-4, NLT)
Christians can hold very different convictions and keep the unity of the Spirit. How?
First, we put our identity in Christ FIRST. Whoever you may be in life, however you choose to identify yourself, you are first a Christian, defined by knowing Him as Savior and Lord. We are members of His Body and we cannot be healthy, happy, and productive people if we cut off others with whom we disagree or if we choose to separate ourselves over differences. We will go beyond ‘tolerance’ to seek true unity of purpose in our shared identity as the ‘children of God.’
Second, we live in the same grace that we have been given by God. Sometimes people are just flat wrong and there is nothing wrong with recognizing that. Some suggest that we can each have ‘our own truth.’ That is nonsense, but we do have our own perspective, shaped by our experience, training, and information. None of us can lay claim to complete knowledge. So, we graciously accept the differences that exist, listening and learning. If someone persists in utter nonsense, we gently engage with the facts, not from superiority, not with disgust or disdain. Grace gives space for change and patiently pursues relationship as something of primary importance.
Third, we refuse to elevate secondary issues into primary ones. “There are three things that will endure—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NLT) The noise and fury of this election will subside, eventually. The urgency that we fell about climate change, economics, race relations, immigration and such matters will be temporary. I do not mean to suggest that there are not things worthy of debate, nor would I be foolish enough to think that decisions made by city councils, state legislators, or the President are inconsequential. Our health and safety in this world depends on wise, thoughtful leadership. BUT, our ultimate security, our eternal hope, rests solely on the promise of Jesus Christ. That first-line security allows us to engage in debate over secondary issues without baring our fangs and putting out our claws!
Fourth, we will need to die to self to maintain unity. I confess that sometimes when I have to listen to someone who is committed to a position that is exactly opposite of my own I find it irritating. I am tempted to just walk away with an attitude of contempt. Yes, more than once, I have thought to myself, “What complete lunacy. How could an educated and informed individual even say that out loud?” And, then checked by the Spirit, I surrender my personal comfort (dying to Self most of the time) to take a position of love that seeks ‘first to understand’ the person and to prioritize the relationship. The halo slips and, honestly, sometimes I fail, firing back with a snarky remark!
Christian we cannot descend to the level of those who live by their natural instincts or their own wisdom. We are ‘of Christ.’ We are to be filled with His loving heart. Can you even imagine Jesus writing off a family member or a friend because that person was aligned with the ‘other’ party? I cannot. Can you imagine Him refusing to stand alongside of someone because their politics?
The Church does not do her work with political power, nor can we let ourselves be deceived into thinking that any government made up of human beings will bring us into the rule of God. Because we live in a democratic republic, we rightly seek to influence the policies of our governing authorities, but we also realize that when and where resistance is required, it must be shaped by humility and with a willingness to endure persecution without complaint, for the sake of our Savior and Lord.
Here is a word from the Word, a directive for all Christians, for this time. “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6, NIV)
(Celtic worship does this song beautifully!)
In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light my strength my song
This Cornerstone this solid Ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love what depths of peace
When fears are stilled when strivings cease
My Comforter my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand
No guilt in life no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
‘Till He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand
Keith Getty | Stuart Townend © 2001 Thankyou Music (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)
CCLI License # 810055