My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
—James 1:19-20 (NIV)
In today’s world, disagreements are inevitable. We live in times where people are more connected with each other than ever before. Decades ago, we needed only be concerned about family, neighbors, co-workers, and whomever else we might come into physical contact with on any given day. Now it’s the globe. And in a world of roughly 7.8 billion people, it’s difficult to make it through the day without encountering someone holding an opinion that is at odds with our own deeply held beliefs or practices. Not only does this present more opportunities for differences of opinion, but with that often comes anger, offense, and sharp disagreement. And if we’re not careful, things can spiral out of control quickly; leaving us with broken relationships, bitterness, and a negative witness to those on the outside looking in.
Why am I bringing this up?
Throughout the past couple years, I have witnessed what seems to be a growing number of heated and sometimes vicious confrontations within the family of believers. With few exceptions, these conflicts have taken place within the public arena. In John 13:35, Jesus tells us that the world will know that we are His disciples by the love that we have toward one another. So, what must the world think when they see us so fiercely attacking each other? Galatians 5:13-15 tells us, in no uncertain terms:
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ However, if you continually bite and devour one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.”
So today, I’d like to review a few areas that I’ve seen (and experienced) to be the most common scenarios of contention within Christian circles. Then I’d like to look at what God has to say about how we should handle ourselves when (not if) conflicts arise.
When others tell us we’re wrong theologically
Let’s face it, no one likes to be told they’re wrong. Maybe we’ve reached our conclusions through hours, days, weeks, months, or even years of study. Or maybe we simply have long held beliefs passed down to us that we feel are being attacked. Sometimes we may even feel so strongly about our ideologies, dogma aside, if someone disagrees with us we are convinced they are committing heresy on some level. It’s even possible we’re not wrong at all and the person pointing the finger is the one who is mistaken. Perhaps we are wrong and our pride won’t allow us to admit it. Whatever the situation, being told you are wrong can be an uncomfortable, embarrassing, and potentially confrontational experience.
When others criticize our viewpoint and/or opinion
This is perhaps the most common issue I see today. Everyone has an opinion; and very often we think our opinion is the only right one. But many times, opinions are based less on fact and more on hearsay, assumption, and bias. This in itself is frustrating, but when one refuses to join in and agree with those who are clearly responding in ignorance or worse, the criticism and hatred extended in return can be vitriolic and overwhelming. And isn’t it even more unbearable when those doing the attacking claim to worship the same God they are denying by their own words and actions? Perhaps we ourselves have been that person.
When others falsely accuse in order to malign us and/or further their own agenda
This tactic has become very successful in today’s world; however, it’s not a new concept, but a very old one. In fact, we can see many occasions in the gospels where the religious leaders used this very same method to not only defame Jesus, but also in a futile attempt to make Him to question his own validity. In our world, we call this type of behavior Gaslighting. While gaslighting is typically employed within personal relationships to manipulate and control a spouse or other family members, our modern world has adapted this method to be used en masse against any person or persons who would dare oppose the status quo and agenda of one political, religious, or moral view over and above another. So prevalent is this behavior that we are even seeing more and more of it within Christendom itself.
So, how are we as Christians to conduct ourselves in these situations? It’s not easy. But it’s simpler than you might think.
Years ago, I had the honor of attending Driving School. The thing I remember most about this class is this bit of information: No one ever has the legally designated “right of way.” Meaning, it is everyone’s responsibility to do everything within their power to avoid a collision–and sometimes, that includes yielding our right of way to an offending party. In contrast, most people tend to be inordinately focused on their personal rights; many to the point of exclusion when it comes to the rights of others. But, in the kingdom of God, things are very different.
In Matthew 22:37-40, when an expert in the law questioned Jesus about which commandment in the Law was the greatest, Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
And 1 Peter 2:22-23 tells us that Jesus “committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. When he was maligned, he did not answer back; when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but committed himself to God who judges justly.”
It’s clear that our Lord didn’t consider being right something to contend over. He is the only human being ever to walk this earth that was completely right and just in everything He said, did, thought, and felt. Any accusation brought against Him for anything at all would be unjust, unfair, and undeserved. And though some may have thought He had the right to push back against those who dared to bring accusations against Him, He instead committed all judgment to His Father against his accusers and their accusations.
His self-appointed judges did not add to or retract from who Jesus was or what He came to do, principally because He did not give in to them. He did not take the bait, as it were, and allow them to provoke Him to unrighteous anger. He was perfect in all His ways, and He set an example for us in that we should also commit ourselves to God as the one judges rightly between the affairs of men and women.
Ecclesiastes 7:9 tells us, “Do not let yourself be quickly provoked, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” Proverbs 19:11 says further, “A person’s wisdom has made him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” And Paul adds to this in Ephesians 4:30-31, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. You must put away all bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and slanderous talk—indeed all malice.“
When all is said and done, and we are tempted to strike back against those who would provoke us–or maybe even to be the provocateur–we should first ask ourselves this question: Is it really so important to be right?
The scriptures are clear, we are expected to do our best to live peaceably with all people (Romans 12:18). At times, confrontation may be necessary, but as brothers and sisters in Christ we are called to obey the admonition that says, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace” Ephesians 4:2-3 (NLT). Since this is our calling, we like Jesus can choose to lay down our right to be right. And in the face of provocation, commit ourselves instead to God our Father, as the One who judges justly on our behalf.
Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.
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