God’s incredible Creation is teeming with richness and intricacy. Yet our sin nature seems inclined toward the idea that many people can be quickly evaluated and tagged with labels which capture their essence. Keeping up with the hurried pace of the world, some of us often work to make interactions with others as efficient as possible, particularly those with different opinions.In doing so, we conserve effort but neglect relationships.
Even in the Church, we can struggle at times with the Lord’s command to invest in others as well as ourselves. (Philippians 2:4)Should this approach become habit, ultimately the mind can disengage, and we may cease listening all together. How then shall we detect a need in the life of our brother or sister?
Beyond eschewing blessings and edification orchestrated by God, this practice divides the Body of Christ. We are each susceptible to contentiousness and too idly employing popular expressions in an attempt to invalidate opposing views, particularly in the present politically-charged social climate. I’ve caught myself and others forming opinions in this dangerous manner–nearly before the other person has finished a sentence, we have them figured out. For example, we might even seek to corrupt credibility while debating social issues by mentally (or verbally) labeling others disdainfully as “liberals”, “fundamentalists”, “extremists”, etc. Whether consciously or subconsciously applied, whether valid or invalid, terms applied so shallowly sabotage relationship. Defensive battle lines are quickly drawn and a sort of emotional scorching widens the rift between the two sides, asphyxiating opportunity for understanding and growth. It’s like assessing the whole value of a house based solely on the type of siding! God has created human beings with much more depth and value than that. Where is the spirit of Jesus Christ in our relationships?
In addition, labeling and thereby diminishing others is often justified under the guise of biblical correction. But as a child of God, I need to be careful where and how I use the authority of God’s word. While I am certainly not required to affirm another’s perspective where unsound, when dealing with brothers in Christ God does instruct me to “make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (Romans 14:19) Paul is addressing conflict over the legality of Christians partaking of certain foods and behaviors. The idea seems readily applicable here as well: a goal of every believer in Jesus Christ must be to seek peace with others, even if we differ, and to build them up with our words and actions. But what about correcting errant theology? This is certainly essential – if it is truly errant. We must take great care to avoid standing on Scripture’s authority to support our personal preferences. When addressing true error, Colossians 3:15-16 instructs, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…” (not outrage or defensiveness) “… let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish….” Peace and the word of Christ [i]both[/i] must accompany admonishment.
Habits formed over many years are never easy to change. Our present culture in the United States has made it easy to be carelessly argumentative, oblivious to the heart our words may wound. So let us consider today whether our speech and attitude invite repentance or resentment. Do our words convey honor or disdain? To be effective emissaries for Christ, we must reject the destructive patterns of the world which offer only alienation. The Lord has provided Himself as our model in the gospels. Following His path of peace, truth and honoring our brothers will bring us closer to heart of the Father and to the rest of our holy family.