Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
Dale and I were recently talking about the marked differences in preference among gun owners, bikers, etc. He made the observation that those who are pro-fill-in-the-blank (revolvers vs magazine-fed, 1911 vs Glock, etc., cruisers vs sport bike, Chevy vs Ford, and so on) are often very enthusiastic about their preference and very hostile to what is the antithesis of their preference.
To use the term in its purest and least twisted sense, there is very little tolerance concerning differences of opinion among those who are passionate about the same things. With motorcycles, those who enjoy cruisers might scoff at those who prefer sport bikes. “They’re more difficult to maintain, you can’t practically go long distances, they’re more dangerous…” Sport bikers might do the same, “Cruisers aren’t as fast or agile, they’re old man bikes, you lose so much power with a belt or shaft drive, they don’t look as cool…” We could go on forever, but if you have any interests where differences of opinion abound (which is just about any hobby or interest), you know what I’m talking about.
We face the same things in the church. Culture influences our preferences in matters of opinion, and I don’t have to go into detail about those opinions or traditions. We’re aware of the range of preferences and the way we can be tempted to respond to opposing preferences. Of course, I’m not talking about doctrines that cannot and should never be altered, but of opinions and traditions that do not affect salvation.
The same responses we observe in every other aspect of our lives – passionate support or passionate opposition – can sometimes be observed in the church. We exist in the world, but we are supposed to be different from the world. Matthew 5.43ff tells us that we should love our enemies. We sometimes treat those with different preferences in the church as enemies; the level of hostility that we (and I mean me, too) can show over those preferences proves this. Do we love them anyway? Are we praying for them?
Matthew 5.46-48 points out (in principle) that if we’re only nice to those on “our side,” it means nothing. In fact, it’s wrong! Twice in this passage we are called to change and be different from everyone else. That is a salvation issue.
The word “tolerance” has become perverted over the last generation or so, but we can’t forget that it does play a role in our faith. We must not tolerate false doctrine, but we must tolerate our differences in matters of opinion. This carries over to everything we’re passionate about!
How we treat those who disagree with us will show others who we serve far more effectively than our professed beliefs will. Does our treatment of those with whom we disagree show that we are genuinely Christian, or does it serve as a perfect deterrent? This is up to us. As things slowly return to normal we can change the status quo in a very positive way – let’s make the best of it!
Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words
My wife and I were watching an NCIS episode where terrorists attempt to use fake currency to carry out an attack on the U.S. power grid. Their trail was picked up when instead of “United States” on the bills, “Untied States,” was found.
With the pandemic we’re facing, we have briefly enjoyed some unity not seen in seven decades. A lot of the partisan stuff has slowed, a lot of the animosity between political parties has simmered down, and people are beginning to treat each other like neighbors again.
With the cautiously optimistic breakthroughs in our fight against this virus, we seem to be slipping back into the “Untied States.” I think our enjoyment of the peace accompanying this unity will stick around and we’ll be as neighborly as we have been, even after quarantines have been lifted. We’re witnessing the ugliness of a government not unified and perhaps we will have gained some perspective as a result of this global trial.
That feeling of relief, calm, peace, reset, unity, and love has to be what God feels when His church is unified. It is what we experience when we put others above ourselves and treat each other like family.
We have a super cool opportunity once quarantines are lifted! I miss my family at Hebron like crazy – I’m not alone in missing my church family. We have a chance to use that momentum to love more, be more selfless, argue less, and encourage more. If we take these qualities and run with them, the church will grow like wildfire. Beyond that, the world will see the love we have and will want to be a part of it.
I’m not talking about the thing too many people do on social media, where they nitpick others and put in so much effort in the “yeah, but..” game. That is ill-mannered and usually unwelcome. It usually also concerns something amounting to far smaller than a hill of beans. Instead, I refer to something God-directed and involving sin.
A quick overview of Ephesians lays out a pretty straightforward outline. Chapters one through three lay out what a privilege it is to be a Christian. Chapters four through six speak of how privileged people behave, within the church, with the world, and their relationships, and even with the devil. The “proving wrong” section comes in the second half of the book, dealing with the world. If we isolate ourselves from the world, we cannot hope to be effective. If we allow ourselves to be influenced by the world rather than be an influence on it, we may find ourselves having fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. In Ephesians 5:6-14, Paul issues a difficult challenge for us as we live before and within the world on a daily basis. How do we reprove the unfruitful works of darkness?
KNOW THE DIFFERENCE (6). Paul starts this paragraph, saying, “Let no one deceive you.” Context shows that the “these things” that drew God’s wrath involved three broad categories of behavior and three specific actions: fornication, impurity, greed, filthiness, silly talk, and coarse jesting. Paul says, in essence, “Don’t be deceived into thinking these things are OK. To promote ignorance in these areas, all we have to do is remain silent about them and never teach about them. Paul’s concern is about Christians being an influence on the culture, and that’s still the need today. There are still a great many people in the world who think of Christians as those who avoid filthy speech and who have objective moral standards about sexual matters. The world sees enough conformation; It needs to see transformation; That requires information!
BE THE DIFFERENCE (8-10, 13-14). Paul is concerned about people functioning in the spiritual dark. He wants them to take the information (knowledge) he’s given them and let it show in their lives. He illustrates this lifestyle with the metaphor of light. Paul uses the word “light” five times in this one paragraph. Light has characteristics (8-9)–goodness, righteousness, and truth. Light is corrective (11-14)–it remedies problems that occur in its absence (blindness, fear, ignorance, etc.). Light makes visible what was invisible before. We live in a world in serious need of correction. The majority, walking in darkness, are on a collision course with spiritual death. We’re in a position to shine light on their path. Our schools, workplaces, communities, ball fields, and national institutions cry out from the darkness for guidance. Some of the best “reproving” (exposing) occurs when we are the Lord’s lights.
MAKE THE DIFFERENCE (7,11-12). This is the most uncomfortable part of this text. Beyond building our knowledge and setting an example, we must do something. We make a difference through abstinence (7,10), not partaking and having no fellowship with evil. Saying no when invited to participate in sin turns an uncomfortable spotlight on us. Being a “new man” (4:22) means a new behavior, which Paul describes in 4:25-32. The world feels judged when we avoid something we know is wrong. We also make a difference through admonition. Reproving (exposing) means to shine the light on something (we’re shining the Light of Christ onto it, 8).
When doctrinal error is espoused, do we try to engage people (“in love,” 4:15) or do we just sit in silence? When moral filth is peddled and promoted, do we just go along to get along or do we stand up, stand up for Jesus? In chapter 6, Paul tells us that we’re Christian soldiers, which implies a militancy that must exist (11). Twice more, in 6:13-14, he repeats the charge to “stand firm.” Maybe we’ve witnessed people standing firm in a way that was unnecessarily offensive and unloving. That’s wrong! But that doesn’t give us an excuse to cowardly avoid saying what needs to be said, no matter what it costs us. Nobody likes to be the bad guy, but God commands that we expose sin.
Paul follows this instruction, saying “Therefore” (15). His words are written for a purpose. The reason for exposing darkness is that God has us here to make a difference. How we do it requires wisdom, but it is “what the will of the Lord is” (17). Let’s be effective representatives of Christ in this dark world. Let’s understand the urgency of our task and make the most of our time!
Recently, in an excellent lesson about gossip, the teacher recounted an incident I, and many others, could echo from the background of our own experience either in ministry or our personal lives. A mother asked her wayward daughter why she no longer was a member of the church. Her convicting reply, “The way that you always talked about the church, why would I be?” The way this daughter heard her parents talk about the church, she concluded the church was full of hypocrisy, flaws, and inadequacy. She was simply modeling what she heard them say throughout the years.
I’m thankful for the sound counsel we received well before we had children. We were advised never to speak ill of the church in front of our children, to run down elders, deacons, preachers, and other members. Knowing Kathy, she would have done this intuitively. For me, it was extremely helpful with my impetuous nature. Even whispered words in the front seat of the car, going home from church, will inevitably be heard by the little ears in the back seat (the same is true of the dinner table and other times the family is together). We may be blowing off steam, we may not have deep vendettas against the object of our criticism and complaint, and we may soon forget what we’ve said, but impressionable ears and hearts may internalize the words and materialize the message with their deeds and lives.
The attitude, relationship, and loyalty our children have toward the church is most shaped and determined, for good or ill, by our example as parents. What will help us speak well of the Lord’s church?
- Remember who conceived of it, from nature to organization to purpose, etc. (Eph. 3:9-11).
- Remember whose it is (Mat. 16:18-19; Eph. 5:33).
- Remember our mission to bring others into it and that our home is our primary mission field (Mat. 28:19).
- Remember how Jesus feels about the church (1 Tim. 3:15; Eph. 5:25).
- Remember that the church is the location of the saved and we should do all we can to help our children make up that number (Acts 2:47; 1 Cor. 12:13).
- Remember all that the Bible says God seeks to accomplish through the church: growth (Eph. 4:16), His glory (Eph. 3:20-21), and His grace (2 Cor. 8:1), among so many other things.
We may struggle to see our family harbor grudges and hard feelings against the church. Many factors may contribute to that, but we should begin with ourselves. What are we saying about the Lord’s bride? What is our attitude toward her? I cannot imagine that anything is more impactful than that, and that is probably the thing we can most control! May our family remember that our theme song, concerning the church, is, “I love Thy kingdom, Lord!” Surely this will influence how they feel about her, too.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius counsels his daughter, Ophelia, about Hamlet’s vows of love, saying, “When the blood burns, how prodigal the soul lends the tongue vows. These blazes, daughter, giving more light than heat, extinct in both even in their promise as it is a-making, you must not take for fire” (Act 1, Scene 3). Her point is that passionate desire causes a man to profusely promise anything in order to get what he wants, but it may lack substance and trustworthiness. It appears more promising than it really is. We’ve likely all witnessed and experienced this. What good is a fire if it doesn’t produce heat?
When it comes to discussing religious matters, things can get pretty heated. Unfortunately, as the temperature rises, solid conclusions are elusive because there is much more emotion than illumination. Inasmuch as God’s Word is to be a light and lamp (Ps. 119:105), these are times where all are benefited by more light than heat. Too often, instead of proving or disproving something, we resort to personal attacks on the other person, assert a position appealing to a variety of alleged proofs or rationales without benefit of a singular Scripture, or we’ll abuse, distort, and contort a passage to say what it does not mean. As battle lines are drawn and trenches are dug, the two sides become wider and more intensely apart while the matter under discussion fades into the background.
Because the New Testament repeatedly commands unity (Eph. 4:1ff; 1 Cor. 1:10-13), we must “pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another” (Rom. 14:19). Are there tangible actions we can take to pursue more light than heat in these matters that distress our unity?
- Genuinely listen. That doesn’t mean merely hear what the other is saying, but listen open-mindedly, seeking to understand what the other person is saying. Don’t presuppose or listen with prejudice. Truly, “He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13).
- Genuinely love. Love for God should be preeminent, but such love is not in opposition to brotherly love. In fact, they are intrinsically bound together (1 Jn. 4:20-21). While love does not mean compromising truth, it will prompt us to do what love requires (cf. 1 Cor. 13:4-8)—be patient, be kind, act becomingly, don’t be provoked, etc.
- Genuinely learn. Do we really know their view or merely think we do? This requires great self-examination and disciplined introspection. If we champion a position and have argued the matter before, we may think our fellow disputant believes what he or she does not actually believe. Preconceptions eclipse thoughtful interaction. We should ever be students, making sure we’ve not missed it.
- Genuinely long. Peace and unity will sometimes be impossible, but we shouldn’t let that be because we didn’t sincerely seek it. By lovingly seeing the other person as an eternal soul for whom Christ died (as well as any and all who would be influenced by the other person), surely we will strive to gently, civilly, and earnestly discuss the matter (cf. 2 Tim. 2:24-26).
We live in divisive times. They are carnal times, full of “bitterness and wrath and clamor and slander…with all malice” (Eph. 4:31). We must remember that the “anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (Jas. 1:20). What does? God’s Word (Jas. 1:18-25)! Too often, we’ll be locked in matters of truth and error and must uphold truth. But let’s be so careful to discern when that’s the case and always speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Such will produce light rather than heat!
What is the greatest trial?
What do men so despise?
The hardest climb and dreariest mile
Is seeing through another’s eyes.
It may appear uncomplicated,
Completely cut and dry,
But our skills may be overrated,
As we try to see through the other’s eye.
We don’t know what they’re thinking
Can’t know their circumstance
Or how abruptly their heart is sinking
From our outward, presumptuous glance
Their motivation quite hidden,
About their intentions we have no clue,
Reading minds God made forbidden,
We can’t see from their point of view.
Instead, the chore is vital,
As we look on from without,
Our object is entitled,
To every benefit of the doubt.
Let’s pray for them, be their servant,
Love them with a Christ-like love,
Show a kindness warm and fervent,
Trust the All-Seeing-Eye above.
Treat them how we’d want to be treated,
Treat them strictly by The Book,
Leave their heart to the One seated,
Who can watch with a perfect look.
The challenge becomes less daunting
When we cut it down to size
And we give what we’re always wanting
A loving look from through Jesus’ eyes.
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).
A pick, a poke, a controversy,
Hit and run, a verbal grenade,
We may see it as clever, though without mercy
And own it like an accolade
But are we making people think
When what and how we say it scars?
If it causes a stir, a strife, a stink
Instead of edifying it maligns and mars?
People should be thinking anyway
And what they think should be of good report
Let’s meditate on what we say
Not load up on sarcastic, sardonic retort.
The world already knows that tactic
And uses it at the drop of scarf and hat
It brightens no story, dresses up no didactic
But stokes the fire and escalates the spat
Here’s something requiring greater skill
You won’t find it in general practice
Restraint and kindness, grace and good will
Be a rose in a field of cactus.
When entering today the public sphere
And the marketplace of varied ideas
Let the Jesus in you shine bright and clear
So they can look at you and believe He is!