by Julie Zine Coleman @JulieZColeman
Years ago, my teenage son fell asleep at the wheel and sideswiped our neighbor’s parked car. Not huge damage, but an inconvenience to be sure. Since it was the middle of the night, he left a note. I saw my neighbors outside the next morning and walked over to apologize and assure them my son would come over after work to get the insurance details straight. Another neighbor was there, actually far angrier than the neighbor with the damaged car. Incensed at my son’s blunder, he blamed my lack of parenting skills for the incident. “When my boys are teenagers,” he stormed, “I will never allow them to be so careless and cause this kind of trouble.”
Good luck with that one. Obviously, he had not yet experienced the challenge of raising teenagers. Everyone is an expert on parenting… until they actually become parents. It is so easy to judge when you have never walked in someone else’s shoes.
Passing judgment without regard to your limited understanding of someone’s situation has become pretty common these days. On social media, a culture has developed in which judgment on others has become the norm—even within the Church. It’s so easy to leave a snide or angry comment, then move on. But words like that are not from the Lord.
Jesus called us to unity. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:5 NASB). When debate over issues accelerates into mud-slinging, we can inflict serious damage, on more than the other person. God intends to reveal himself to the world through the way his Church interacts. When we judge and condemn our brothers and sisters in Christ, our effectiveness as God-reflectors is seriously compromised.
It’s one thing to disagree with a doctrinal position. It’s another to assassinate character.
Is there a godly way to disagree within the body of Christ? Yes. But it involves a purposeful mindset.
1. Keep in mind how much you have in common with the one with whom you disagree. You were equally guilty and saved by the unmerited favor of God (Romans 2:4). You are both adopted children of the King with the Holy Spirit residing in you as a guarantee of your shared inheritance.
2. The Holy Spirit is at work in both of you to perfect what was started on the day of your salvation. Neither one has reached that perfection yet! (Philippians 1:6) But we can trust that the He will continue His work in us. Paul recognized this when he wrote the Philippians: “…If in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you” (Philippians 3:15 NASB). It is not up to us to convict people–state your position but then trust the Holy Spirit to lead them to His truth.
3. Just as you hope they will do for you, choose to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Jesus told His disciples, “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you…” (Matthew 7:12 NASB). You don’t want to be written off because of incorrectly assumed bad intentions or motivation. So extend that courtesy to them first.
Understand, like my angry neighbor, you have not walked in their shoes. We all carry baggage from the events in our lives. This person’s position or actions may well have been influenced by trauma or negative experiences you have never experienced. As Hillel, a rabbi who lived several decades before Jesus, wisely said, “Judge not your fellow man until you yourself come into his place.”
4. Stick to the issue at hand and resist the mud-slinging. We are on the same team! Our spiritual gifts were given to build up others in the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:7).When we go for the jugular, we don’t build up, but tear down. It is easy in the heat of the moment to forget the all-important goal of contributing to our brother’s growth.
5. Recognize the possibility you are (gasp!) in error. I’m embarrassed to admit just how many issues I have hotly debated over the years for which I now hold a different conviction. Humility is never a bad thing.
It’s OK to disagree. Iron sharpens iron. But make it a clean “fight”. When we purpose to interact in a godly way, we reflect an important characteristic of our heavenly Father: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36 NASB). And leave it to the Lord to do the judging.
“Therefore, do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts.” 1 Corinthians 4:5 NASB
About the author: Julie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.
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Join the conversation: What have you learned about handling disagreement in a godly way?