While it is true that each of us possesses unique abilities within the Lord’s body (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12), that fact bears closer scrutiny. God can use each of us, with our unique personalities, backgrounds, and experiences, to reach so many among the lost and to help so many among the saved. Yet, it is easy to lose sight of how we contribute to the health and growth of the congregation we are a part of.
For example, the following should not be considered talents useful to the Lord’s cause:
- Being gossips and busybodies (2 Th. 3:11; 1 Tim. 5:13).
- Causing strife and being jealous (Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 3:3).
- Judging your brother (Rom. 14:10; Jas. 4:11).
- Returning evil for evil and insult for insult (1 Pet. 3:9).
- Being an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way (Rom. 14:13).
- Speaking deceit (1 Pet. 3:10).
- Giving the devil an opportunity (Eph. 4:27).
- Keeping your leaders from doing their work with joy and not with grief (Heb. 13:17).
Certainly this is not an exhaustive list of ways we may misuse the stewardship of our speech and actions as members of the body of Christ. It can be so tempting, when we look at the church’s imperfections and people’s inevitable shortcomings. We have new Christians. All Christians have weaknesses. Those who lead and conduct the church’s work could inevitably do it better.
What does the Lord want each of us to do as individual members of the Lord’s church? He calls for living in harmony in the Lord (Phil. 4:2). He wants us fitted, built, and held together (Eph. 2:21-22; 4:16). He wants us “being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Phil. 2:2). Practically speaking, this means getting behind the work of the local church, contributing to it and building it up. It means asking how we can help and throwing our energy into that. It means constructively helping when a work is lagging or in need of direction. It means lovingly, respectfully interacting with the other members of the body.
Comedian Steve Harvey compared his rise to success with pulling a wagon uphill. He said that many people may hop on that wagon and contribute something, He said they all need to be doing something to help you get that wagon up the hill. He warned against those who get on the wagon and have no value (via OWN, 9/12/14). Perhaps you’ve found yourself pushing toward a spiritual objective, only to feel the resistance of someone working against you. This is frustrating! However, never find yourself opposing good, needed works through misuses of your resources in ways like those in the bulleted list above. In the worst case scenario, we may even find that in doing so we “may even be found fighting against God” (Acts 5:39). Let’s do all we can to help build up the body of Christ, prayerfully studying what that does and does not mean!
There was a time when it was possible to engage in respectful, loving dialogue with brothers and sisters we disagreed with or had a problem with. Even if we felt passionately, we could discuss it civilly and retain or even strengthen our relationship with our “disputant.” We should be thankful that there are still many who are open to such a biblical methodology. However, there are some who seem intent only on winning the day, seizing some perceived moral or doctrinal high ground, or championing what appears to be a self-serving cause. Some of these same individuals are rife with rancorous rhetoric, baiting or calling out those they seem to see as enemies or the guilty. When we are called out, are we scripturally obligated to answer them or defend ourselves? Or, as the late Wendell Winkler put it, are we simply giving them a platform to spread their extreme views?
For the minority of brethren whose minds are made up, no matter what, or who seem eager to tangle, the question is whether or not it is necessary or helpful to answer their accusations. I realize there were circumstances like 2 Corinthians where Paul, who was innocent, wrote by inspiration to defend himself. But I also remember when the Lord stood before Herod, Pilate and the Jews and “answered…nothing” (Mat. 27:12; Mark 15:3,5; Luke 23:9; Isa. 53:7). While none of us are nearly so good as our Lord, He is the example we are to strive to follow (1 Pet. 2:21). Before answering an accuser, it is wise to determine the following:
- What is my motivation for answering? Is it to save face for myself? Is it to somehow punish or put my accusers in their place? Is it to prove I’m right and they are wrong? Pride, anger, and hurt feelings are not proper motivations for answering an accuser.
- What do I hope to accomplish by answering? Will I change their minds or those to whom they pander? Are they actually desirous of an answer? Will I rescue my reputation or harm it by going to their level?
- What are the ethics of my accusers? Is this a hobby or obsession of theirs (i.e., do they have a pattern and history of doing this with others)? Do they have the facts straight? Do they assert things as facts that are quantifiably wrong? If so, will they deal honestly with the answers I give them or twist them to suit their own agenda?
Here is the judgment call we have to make. Solomon gives divergent advice in Proverbs 26 when he says, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes” (4-5). Sometimes you do, and sometimes you don’t. Perhaps the Lord has placed that ball in our court, trusting us to use our judgment. If my Lord’s name and cause is threatened, I will be ready to jump to His defense. If someone tries to do that with my name, I should be more careful and if this is a means to allow the common sense observer to look at both of our works and discern each of our characters, may I have the patience and maturity to see it as an opportunity to fulfill Matthew 5:38-48. We don’t have to attend every fight people goad us to join.