“Act Like You Like One Another”

Neal Pollard

Someone tasked with taking a picture of a couple or small group will coach them to stand closer together, maybe adding, “Act like you like one another.” They will typically chuckle and comply. How many moms have exhorted their squabbling children with a similar phrase?

A quick perusal of social media, with its all-too-often divisive rhetoric and pejorative comments, must frequently draw the same desire from the God of heaven. Whenever He sees His children at each other’s throats, complete with nasty put-downs, sarcasm, and venomous invectives, can we envision Him pleased? Regardless of whether one is motivated by defending the faith or some dearly-cherished viewpoint, he or she does not have to drown responses in hateful, provocative words. But, it happens many times over on a daily basis. For those of us who have non-Christian or new-Christian friends with privy to such comments from professed, mature Christians, we have to wonder if, contemptuously, they chide, “Act like you like one another.” More than that, Scripture convicts us on such a count.

  • “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Pet. 1:22; cf. 4:8).
  •  “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing” (1 Pet. 3:8-9).
  • “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (Col. 3:12-14).
  • “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor” (Rom. 12:9-10).
  • “But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way” (Jas. 3:8-10).
  • “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one 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, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21).
  • “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

The noble pursuit of defending the faith and protecting the purity of doctrine can get lost or totally nullified when the most casual observer of our words cannot find the love or detect the genuine concern in the midst of the biting, devouring, caustic quips and one-liners. How we need to pause and be introspective. “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes” (Prov. 21:2a; cf. 16:2). I can easily rationalize and convince myself of my own unrighteousness, as easily as the adulterer, the one in religious error, the drunkard, and the like can do with their iniquity. Why not, as we sift through the complicated maze of “interpersonal dynamics,” deal with each other patiently, giving the benefit of the doubt wherever possible, letting lovingkindness lead the way? We are not compromising divine truth, relinquishing a scriptural position, or shying away from sharing God’s Word when we make the effort to act like we like one another. We are submitting to the ethical blueprint commanded in Scripture (see above). “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:4).

squabbling-brothers

A Strategy The World Never Sees Coming (Poem)

Neal Pollard

How I treat you says much about me
My demeanor and my disposition
It’s my calling card but your memory
Of who I am and my primary mission.

For I treat you as I would treat Jesus
As if He were standing before me
That He came not for ease but to ease us
He was driven by the needs He would see.

If we all were an advocate for each other
More concerned with the good of our neighbor
Moved deeply by each sister and brother
A faithful worker in that needed labor

The world preaches, “Me, mine, and my!”
“For me you must give, serve, and do!”
The world is dead, but we must die
To self and the self-centered view.

Imagine a world where everyone tried
To defer to the people around them
Just walk in love, by the Savior’s side
When they look at you, they will see Him!

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Are We Trampling Upon Romans 14:19?

Neal Pollard

Paul’s words in Romans 14:19 seem to have fallen upon hard times, often among those who are in a position of greater trust and influence. In that particular verse, the apostle is drawing a conclusion about his instructions to Christians, saying, “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” We are living at a time where not only is peace not pursued, but strife and division are what are being chased.  We can expect the godless world to be inflammatory, provocative, and disrespectful. We should not expect the precious children of God to interact with each other in this way. Especially through this written medium, here in the information age, we often feel free to make statements we should reasonably expect will upset and divide one another and other onlookers. We may feign shock when the inevitable, virtual fist-fight breaks out, but a few moments of deliberation about the matter would have easily anticipated (and, prayerfully, avoided) it. These words of Paul’s are to presumably mature Christians, sensitive to one who may be “weak” (1) but one who is certainly a “brother” (10). Often, we fixate on the subject matter—“eating meat” or “observing a day”—and on which brother (strong or weak) we are. Those are the illustrations. Beneath the issues, there are timeless principles we must strive to follow.

  • None of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself (7).  This is the principle of INFLUENCE.
  • We will all stand before the judgment seat of God (10,12). This is the principle of ACCOUNTABILITY.
  • Do not destroy… him for whom Christ died (15b). This is the principle of BROTHERLY LOVE.
  • The kingdom of God is…righteousness and joy and peace in the Holy Spirit (17). This is the principle of SPIRITUALITY.
  • He who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men (18). This is the principle of RIGHTEOUSNESS.
  • Do not tear down the work of God (20). This is the principle of WISDOM.

There are further observations we could make from this context, but these are enough to give us pause to consider (a) what we choose to say which might inflame the sensitivities of others and (b) how we interact with each other in discussing any matter.  What do we hope to gain that we would risk something so precious and valuable to God as a brother or sister in Christ? Do we wish to bring out the best or worst in others.  Let us take care not to slaughter kindness, consideration, gentleness, and brotherly love on the altar of things “which give rise to speculation rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith” (1 Tim. 1:4) or “worldly and empty chatter” (1 Tim. 6:20).

kindness-boys-on-path

A SWEET OLD PERSON

Neal Pollard

Today, I talked with some godly, sweet, and loving elderly people.  They are people I respect and admire.  They are full of rich memories, have vast experience, and profound wisdom.  You are drawn to them.  The people I’m referring to are neither superhuman nor necessarily those whose lives have been easier. Their sweetness is a product of their good attitudes.  Not every elderly person I talk to are those I’d consider godly, sweet, or loving.  They are bitter, rude, mean-spirited, selfish, and even, at times, belligerent. While dementia might transform the occasional person’s personality, there is a simpler explanation for how some old people get to be unpleasant. They were that way when they were younger.

Life is about the sum total of the choices we make, the way we bend our will, and our reaction to the adversities of our lives.  We are building character, one day at a time, one reaction at a time.  As I think about it, I know some godly, sweet, and loving children, teens, young adults, and middle-agers. I also know too many who are none of these things. If they live long enough, they’ll grow into more hardened, exaggerated forms of themselves.  Gossips can become worse gossips in the golden years because they may have more time and have had more practice. Grouches seem to grow worse with time and opportunity.  The impure of heart, after years of harboring filth, allow it to spill over far more often in words and deeds (how many of us have encountered a “dirty old man”—a more elderly form of the “dirty young man”).  Worriers in youth make fretful worriers in the twilight time of life. So many traits of character and attitude in the old have been in the making in the young.

In Psalm 119:9, David asks, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” Solomon saw among the youths a young man lacking sense (Prov. 7:7). He also counseled one to remember his creator in days of youth (Ecc. 12:1). God can be our confidence from our youth (Psa. 71:5). These and so many other admonitions aimed at those in days of youth will also protect and preserve those who reach old age.  What can I do to make sure I am a sweet old person?

  • Be intentional.  Take steps to be sweet.  It’s not many people’s natural mode of operational.  Spending much time with God and learning to imitate Him helps with this.
  • Be introspective. Take time and effort to examine yourself. Are you ill-tempered, impatient, easily irritated, easily put out, and the like?  Warning!  You’re well on your way to being a crotchety curmudgeonly coot!
  • Be interested. Selfishness is behind those traits that lead one to be unpleasant in the winter of life. Be genuinely, actively interested in the welfare, needs, and interests of others.  Taking the focus off self will aim you toward sweetness.

We could probably think of more suggestions, but here’s a good start.  Surely, we’d all like to be sweet old people when the day comes.  But, don’t wait! Start now!

“Let Them Alone”

Neal Pollard

It is a commendable mixture of righteous indignation, conviction, and affection for the Lord and His church to want to answer all the critics, rebut all the troublemakers, defend all the reputations, and fight all the false teaching out there.  Knowing how best to deal with the pot-stirrers or the novel-doctrine-peddlers can cause quite the consternation.  Do we answer every allegation and oppose every little quibble?  Are there times where the best answer is to simply ignore “one who sows discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:19) or those who attempt to “preach any other gospel” (Gal. 1:9)?  That requires great wisdom and judgment as to the specific situations which arise, but it is clear that the Bible has given disciples the counsel to just let some things lie.

A NEGATIVE EXAMPLE: The Pharisees Of Matthew 15.  These religious leaders elevated human traditions (1-2,6,9), made their own rules they bound others to follow or else (3-6), had heart problems (7-9), and spoke defiling words (11).  They intimidated the disciples, who were concerned that Jesus offended the Pharisees (12). Jesus pointed ahead to the judgment that would determine the nature of their work (13), but counseled His followers to “let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (14).  So often, those who strive and divide, as well as those swayed by them, experience the fruit of their work in this life.  Others, unheeding of cautions and pleadings to the contrary, find out in the end (cf. 1 Tim. 5:24-25).  While the Pharisees ultimately nailed Jesus to the cross, His view of their divisive tactics was to simply “let them alone.”

A POSITIVE EXAMPLE: Peter And John In Acts 5.  Gamaliel, a respected teacher of the Law and member of the Sanhedrin Council, weighed in on the work of Peter and John, two faithful gospel preachers. He looked at past movements of those claiming to be someone, Theudas and Judas, and compared them to these followers of Christ. His advice, “stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God” (Acts 5:38b-40).  While we have no indication that Gamaliel’s advice is inspired, as Caiaphas did (John 11:49ff), it is hard to find fault with his logic.  In the case of the apostles in Acts five, their plan and action was of God. In the case of the other two “leaders,” it was of men.  Time typically tells.  Inspect the fruit.  Listen to the words.  Watch the attitudes.  Discern the actions demanded and urged. Examine it all in the light of carefully studied Scripture.

Apathy and indifference can lull us to sleep.  The antagonistic or the agents of unscriptural change can both serve to wake us up, get us to reexamine our stand, get into our Bibles, and work to ensure our message and our methods are “by the book.”  But do we have to accept every challenge and dare?  Jesus once drew in the dirt in the face of those who demanded an answer from Him.  There are some times when the best answer is silence.  As for those who make demands of us? Sometimes, we’re best to just “let them alone.”

“MY BROTHER SHOT ME!”

Neal Pollard

My sons have had some notable incidents involving guns, particularly the air-soft variety.  While these all are thankfully memories from the past, they continued a less than proud tradition from their father.  I have stories involving my BB gun, easter eggs set on a fence, and a custom van parked in the next yard, “old west shootouts” involving BB guns and all our neighborhood buddies (including the loss of at least one permanent tooth), and one other BB gun story that stands out in my mind more than any other.  It was shortly after the easter eggs incident, and my brother and I were playing cowboys and Indians on a warm Spring Sunday afternoon.  It had been a tough week for Brent, not yet school-aged. Just a few days before he was climbing on a stair rail, lost his grip, and fell head first onto the concrete.  He had recuperated enough from that to be outside with me.

Our shoutout rules were typical.  If you got shot, you had to fall down and play dead for 10 seconds. Then, you got back up and resumed action. Brent had a cool toy flintlock pistol. I had my trusty BB gun in hand. As I recall, Brent came running around the house right into my ambush.  I cried out, “Bang, bang, bang!” He fell to the ground and got up crying.  He was bleeding under his eye and had a frightening gash.  We both had great imaginations, but not that great!

Our parents heard the commotion and Brent told them, “Neal shot me!”  That was sufficient investigation, given that the concussion and the easter egg incident were both fresh on their minds.  Dad took my Daisy and in an incredible show of strength ended its functional use with a single application to his knee.  A spanking quickly followed.  Meanwhile, Mom had done triage on Brent enough to ascertain one additional fact.  I had only pretended to shoot him (the Daisy was not loaded) and Brent fell on the sight of that pistol and produced that gash.  Dad felt terrible and apologized to me before taking Brent to get stitches.  Of course, with my checkered past with my low-powered air gun, I was not very incensed.

Since I have “grown up,” I have drawn my own conclusions without having all the facts.  I have done this with my sons, and I have done it with my wife.  I have done this at times with my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I was sure I had all the facts and I reacted.  More than once, I’ve felt the regret of being hasty and premature.

When that brother or sister seems cold, distant, or unfriendly, they may simply be having a terrible day or dealing with an incredibly heavy burden.  When it seems that son or daughter has misbehaved, take the time to ascertain all the facts before reacting.  When  in a spousal spat, stave off assumptions, perceptions, and prejudices that may lead you to a hasty, false conclusion.

How many have fallen prey to “friendly fire” from loved ones? Be careful not to accidentally shoot first and ask questions later.  If you do, have the humility to admit your mistake and make it right!  If we can, we should avoid a “shoot out.” If we must, then we must fight fair!

HOW DO WE TREAT ONE ANOTHER?

Neal Pollard

As we live in a culture of disrespect, Christians have an added responsibility to give thought to how we speak to one another.  Civility, courtesy, and manners were once staple subjects taught in every home, but those days are increasingly relegated to the yearbooks of nostalgia.  Yet, it shouldn’t be so with God’s people.  Especially if we, as we claim in our songs, sermons, and speech, love one another, that will be reflected in speaking kind words even when we feel impatience, disagreement, or aggravation toward another. This is difficult, but it is a mark of our bearing the fruit of the Spirit.

In the last several chapters of Romans, Paul reinforces this idea of loving, kind treatment of one another.  He urges the church to “be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (12:10), “give preference to one another” (12:10), “be of the same mind toward one another” (12:16), “love one another” (13:8), “let us not judge one another” (14:13), “build up one another” (14:19), “be of the same mind with one another” (15:5), “accept one another” (15:7), “able to admonish one another” (15:14, but notice that this comes from those who are “full of goodness”), and “greet one another with a holy kiss” (16:16).

So how do we lift that off the page and put it into practice?  Think about any and every interaction we have with other members of the Lord’s body.  Give forethought to how you answer them and speak to them.  Apply this to our leaders, our peers, and those who are led by our example. Do your words and attitudes help create the kind of atmosphere Paul repeatedly calls for, or do they undermine it and make it difficult.  It is so easy to allow pride, selfishness, lack of self-discernment, or the like to erode the kindness from our demeanor.  But now more than ever, we need to bear this distinctive mark in a world who has seemingly lost sight of it.  When we treat each other the way Paul encourages, we will not only build each other up but we will draw the world to the Lord.  It is the mark of true discipleship (John 13:34-35).  In our busy, hectic, stressful lives, may we redouble our efforts to be ever be edifiers and never be nullifiers!

Warming Up The Cold Shoulder

Neal Pollard

Occasionally, a Christian who has fallen away and is approached by a concerned elder, preacher, or other Christian will respond by saying the people at church were cold, unfriendly, or unwelcoming.  They complain that they get the “cold shoulder” from the folks in the congregation. Could most of us try harder to reach out to each other, as well as our visitors?  Undoubtedly!  Of course, all of us know that this is a pretty flimsy excuse for forsaking the One who suffered and agonized for each of us in order to make heaven a possibility for us or the One who provides us with such abundant blessings throughout every day.

However, the Bible does seem to show us a pretty clear case of a new Christian who dealt with the collective cold shoulder of the very first congregation of the Lord’s church.  In fact, he also knew that those from his former religion were trying to kill him.  Suffice it to say, he faced some enormous pressures and adversities as the result of his obeying the gospel of Christ.  As he lived out the rest of his life, he suffered a lot just for teaching and preaching Christ, like being stoned, shipwrecked, scourged, slandered, and scrutinized.  People questioned and doubted him.  He did jail time.  But in his early days while still a new convert, he felt the effects of the cold shoulder.  The Bible says, “And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26).   Imagine trying to place membership at a local church and having people avoid you, doubt your conversion, and rebuff your attempts to fellowship them.  That would be devastating.  Would you continue worshipping at a place like that?  Saul did.  How did he warm up the cold shoulder?

First, he had help (Acts 9:27).  Thank God for people like Barnabas, whom the Bible calls “the son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36).  He intervened.  He took the new Christian under his wings and brought him more into the fellowship of God’s people.  God always needs and makes use of willing Barnabases who will help those on the outside looking in to “come inside” more fully.

Second, he spent time with the leadership (Acts 9:27b).  Barnabas takes Saul to the apostles.  So far as we know, churches at this time were not yet organized with elders.  The apostles were the first leaders in that first church.  Saul got to know them, and they got to know him.  Luke, in Acts 9:28, simply says Saul “was with them.”  God’s leaders are a crucial part of integrating those feeling the chill of the cold shoulder.

Finally, he proved his worth as a Christian (Acts 9:28-29).  He was active.  He reached out.  He was involved.  For Saul, that meant speaking boldly in Jesus’ name and defending His word.  There is absolutely no proof that Saul ever lamented or complained about how the Jerusalem Christians were treating him.  He just got busy.  What was the effect of that?  The first time Saul has a need, “when the brethren found out, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him out toTarsus” (Acts 9:30).  They reached out to him.

Ever think you see a spot of frost or icicle on the shoulder of a brother or sister in Christ?  Consider several things.  First, you may be “reading” him or her wrong.  Second, they may be carrying some huge burdens that effect both their countenance and their demeanor.  Further, even if you are right and are experiencing a Frigidaire moment from the faithful, remember the warmth of God’s love.  It’s His church, part of His eternal plan, to which you have been added.  He will never give you the cold shoulder.  Then, remember Saul.  Even if you don’t have a Barnabas, reach out to your elders.  No matter what, remember that you serve the Lord and for that reason must keep your shoulder warm!