Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?—James 4:1
Life together is difficult. I doubt many people will argue with that. We mount wars against each other when we should be blessed peacemakers. If we stop for a moment we can probably all think of an example of this in our own experience. The odd thing is that we keep looking for a serene existence all the while being led by our own desires to trample the perfect commands of God and grind the peace we desire beneath our heels.
When these passions are warring within us, how will we ever experience love among the brethren? Division and fighting and prideful-snobbary among believers is not a new problem. Even the disciples spent time bickering about who was the greatest. Seriously? God Incarnate is sitting next to you and you’re really going to argue the pros and cons of who’s the best? Silly Apostles, I’m sure we would never do something like that.
Our Bibles are crammed full of exhortations to humble ourselves, to treat others as better than ourselves, to be peacemakers, to encourage each other, to be impartial in our treatment of others, and to marvel at the beautiful diversity within Christ’s body. Instead of actually doing these things we are skeptics. We assume that because a man has tattoos he is immature and speak to him with condescension. We look down our noses and past our confessions and catechisms all lined up to sneer at our neighbor’s praise band. When we meet those with a more charismatic bent we roll our eyes and say, “Is all that drama really necessary?” and then go back to living like the Holy Spirit only exists to occupy that third space in our helpful diagram of the Trinity. Meanwhile the ones we’ve stereotyped have drawn their own caricatures of us—around and around we go.
There is only one way to the Father in heaven, and that is through Christ, but we will still meet with Christians who don’t look or sound like us. They won’t all come to the Savior with the same collection of experiences and having learned from the same teachers. Mark relates what Jesus said on the topic:
Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.”
But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”—Mark 9:38-41
We aren’t picking teams for kickball here. It’s not your side or my side or their side; the side we are on is the side of Christ. The people who love Christ and do His work in the world are our friends not our enemies. Though they may have different strategies and methods than we do, they work in the name of the same Savior.
But wait! I know minds are screaming a loud objection, “But some people are WRONG! Are we supposed to just let it slide? There is objective truth you know.” Yes, that’s true. There is unchanging truth and some people are wrong, and sometimes the error is in us.
Jesus prayed for His followers:
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.“—John 17:20-21
He desires unity among believers, but He does not demand uniformity. He never told us to churn out factory-molded Christians to be cogs in a monotonous system. If we tried this I suspect we would still manufacture ways to differentiate ourselves. Perhaps we would take to stamping “Made in the USA” on baptism certificates and then talk slightingly of those who are “Made in China”. I wouldn’t put it past us.
It might do us some good to give up our persistent desire to control all outcomes and conform every follower of Christ into our own image, and try instead to observe the multi-faceted way the Lord works through many kinds of people. God’s workers in the world don’t all need my stamp of approval. I can disagree with people about the most effective methods of ministry or the best form of corporate worship or the morality of naval piercings and shopping at Target, without declaring the one who is unlike me to be my enemy.
This doesn’t mean we must abandon all wisdom and cease seeking biblical guidance for the small questions in life as well as the great ones. Sometimes our differences will cause some practical separation among us as we go about our work, but it does not follow that we must hold each other in contempt. We see this happen in the disagreement which arose between Paul and Barnabas as they discussed making a second missionary journey. Barnabas wanted to bring Mark but Paul disagreed that this was wise since Mark had abandoned the first mission to the very same places. This was a dispute over wisdom and strategy not over core doctrines of the faith. We are told in Acts that their disagreement was “sharp”.
Their solution, surprisingly, was not to make derogatory comments about each other. They simply chose to work separately. They each made a missionary journey taking along whom they thought wisest. They didn’t mount a competition with each other and try to strike division among the rest of the church. They just pursued their callings as wisely as they knew how. As far as we can tell, they did so peacefully and with respect for each other though they took different tracks. Later on in his ministry, we can see that Paul still valued Mark as a ministry partner (2 Timothy 4:11), and their earlier disagreement didn’t define their opinions of each other for a lifetime. Disagreements about lesser matters weren’t allowed to derail the ministry of the kingdom of Christ.
God’s Word encourages us to think well of each other; to dwell on the things which are praiseworthy instead of camping on blemishes, to rejoice in things of good report instead of spreading division and strife (Philippians 4:8). We are not called to personally manage the entirety of Christ’s kingdom, nor are we called to build up our own little kingdoms of followers inside Christ’s borders. We are called to show love to our brethren in the Faith and to work heartily in the name of Christ, for His glory, and for the kingdom which will have no end.
This article was originally published in the August 2016 issue of Every Thought Captive magazine. Subscribe Here.