LIVING AS A CHRISTIAN IN AN AGE OF DIVISION
It’s no secret that our nation is enduring a painful season of cultural division. Differences of opinion on political and social issues are placing a tremendous strain on relationships and communities. This is exacerbated by the constant harping of 24-hour news channels and the ease with which any of us can publish our views on social media before we’ve listened well to others or done much careful thinking ourselves. Not only is this division affecting the broader culture; it is also threatening friendships, families, and entire churches.
Below are some steps Christians can take to honor our Savior as we live in this climate of divisiveness.
1. Treat Christian unity as a priceless treasure.
In Ephesians 4:3, the Apostle Paul tells us to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Every effort! Within the bounds of gospel truth, no personal price should be too high to maintain unity with our brothers and sisters. We should be willing to:
- Treat others as more important than ourselves (Phil. 2:3)
- Accept those whose opinions differ from ours (Rom. 14:1)
- Restrict our own freedom out of concern for others’ needs (1 Cor. 8:9)
- Forgive the same person seventy-seven times (Matt. 18:22)
- Treat other people’s concerns as being of equal importance to our own (Phil. 2:4)
- Privately inform people when they have offended us (Matt. 18:15)
- Get to know others by inviting them to a meal (Rom. 12:13)
- Give up our cultural preferences out of love for others (1 Cor. 9:19-23)
- Fix ourselves before we try to fix anyone else (Matt. 7:3-5)
- Love and pray for those who oppose us (Matt. 5:44)
2. Find your core identity in Christ, not in anything else.
Among the twelve Apostles who followed Jesus were two men from opposite poles of the 1st Century political spectrum. Matthew (a.k.a. Levi) was a former tax collector who had collaborated with Roman colonizers in the enforcement of imperial laws. Simon the Zealot was a former member of a violent revolutionary sect committed to the overthrow of Roman occupation. Before meeting Jesus, these men would have gladly killed each other. But after meeting the Savior, they loved each other as brothers. They no longer based their personal identity on their political tribe. They were Christians now. Their identity was Christ. They probably still held widely differing views on the political issues of their day, but they set these differences aside to seek a different Kingdom together – the Kingdom of God.
3. Know when to keep your mouth shut (and your finger off the “post” icon).
A Facebook page called “The Word for the Day” ran a list of times when the Bible instructs us to remain silent. According to this list, you should:
- Remain silent when in the heat of anger (Prov. 14:17)
- Remain silent when you don’t have all the facts (Prov. 18:13)
- Remain silent when you haven’t verified the story (Deut. 17:6)
- Remain silent if your words will offend a weaker person (1 Cor. 8:11)
- Remain silent when it is time to listen (Prov. 13:1)
- Remain silent if the matter is none of your business (Prov. 14:10)
- Remain silent if your words will damage someone else’s reputation (Prov. 16:27)
- Remain silent if your words will damage a friendship (Prov. 16:28)
- Remain silent when you are feeling critical (James 3:9)
This does not mean that God has placed a gag order on the Church; that victims of abuse should be forbidden to speak out; that we must never discuss matters like race, politics, or gender; or, that we should cancel all discussion of the finer points of doctrinal conviction. But in all our conversations we should be “quick to listen and slow to speak” (James 1:19) and we should say “only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” (Eph. 4:29).
4. Allow the Holy Spirit to transform your character.
According to the Bible, the ultimate source of division among Christians is not our failure to be polite or our inability to master communication techniques. The real cause of division is that we are “gratifying the desires of the flesh” rather than “walking by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16). Our old sinful nature constantly pulls us toward sins such as: jealousy, strife, fits of anger, divisions, envy, rivalry, slander, gossip, pride, and disorder. (See Gal. 5:19-21 and 2 Cor. 12:20.) However, when the Holy Spirit molds and shapes our character the result is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (See Gal. 5:22-23.) Faith communities in which a significant number of men and women are being transformed daily by the Spirit enjoy a level of Christian unity that points the world toward Jesus. (See John 13:35.)
On my desk I have posted a slip of paper on which I’ve typed out some words of Dorothy Day. I am hoping these words will begin to sink into my heart. She wrote, “The older I get, the more I meet people, the more convinced I am that we must only work on ourselves, to grow in grace. The only thing we can do about people is to love them.”