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What do our words say to a watching world?

Glorifying God by respecting those with whom we disagree

Our world is in turmoil. All you need to do is turn on the news or open your social media apps to find a volcano of responses—differing opinions on how to handle the world health crisis, whether states should reopen or stay closed, accusations of racism and injustice, and tense debates that seem like personal attacks. If you desire states to reopen, some think you don’t truly care about the health of our nation. If you desire them to stay closed, then you’re said to be promoting an economic crisis. If you march in a protest, you’re accused of contributing to the riots and anarchy. If you choose not to protest, you’re accused of not caring about racial injustice. It’s a lose-lose situation. 

In our fallen world, we can’t be too surprised at the outpouring of emotional and angry responses. Yet in the midst of all of the turmoil, do followers of Christ appear any different than our unbelieving neighbors? Have we considered how our responses affect those watching and listening to us? All it takes is a quick look at Twitter or Facebook to see the mud-slinging between the body of Christ when there is a difference of opinion. From name calling, to snarky remarks, to shaming—even questioning whether someone can really be a Christian while holding to their view. Do we believe the best about our brothers and sisters in Christ, or do we assume the worst? 

Galatians 5:14-15 gives us a dire warning, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.” 

As Christians, we’re to be beacons of light and hope. We’re to offer peace to a hurting world by pointing them to the sacrificial love of Christ. We’re to love our neighbor as we love our own body, caring for and nourishing it. But our biting words begin to consume our thoughts and affections, leading to animosity toward those sitting in the church pew next to us with different views. It’s a slippery slope that leads to division in the body of Christ and an ugly witness to the world. 

Dealing with different opinions and opponents

How will we draw the unbelieving world to Christ if we’re shaming and slamming one another, standing self-righteously in our own opinions, unwilling to listen to those around us? We’re supposed to be known by our love for one another (John 13:35). How can we have unity in our churches when so many varying opinions exist? The Bible speaks to how we’re to interact with those around us, especially with those who stand in opposition to what we believe. 

Titus 3:2 reminds us to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. Notice that it doesn’t say we’re to show perfect courtesy to those who agree with us, but to all people. This includes those who are diametrically opposed to what we’re saying. 

James 1:19 reminds us to be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. Have we truly listened to those who share a different opinion than our own? Or are we formulating our response and just wanting to be heard? 

In 2 Timothy 2:14, Paul instructs Timothy to charge the people “not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.” Yes, we should defend the gospel. But how many of our debates as believers are unprofitable? People are listening to our conversations within the church. And Paul gives us a dire warning: that these types of quarrels will destroy the hearers. Are our words promoting love in the body of Christ? Or are they leading to division? 

Later, in 2 Timothy 2:24-25, Paul gives Timothy a model of how followers of Christ should behave, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” Paul acknowledges that we will have opponents. And, we’ll have different opinions within the body of Christ. There will be instances where it is appropriate to passionately defend our view. Yet, will we do so with a spirit of gentleness or pride? Our words are to be sweet like honey, increasing persuasiveness and full of grace.  

Before we speak, post, or respond, let’s examine our own hearts. Do we truly care about the injustice surrounding us? Or, do we want to prove ourselves to be right? Do we need to respond publicly to every opinion that’s different than our own? Can we admit that we might be wrong about something? 

Our main concern as believers should be to glorify God with our words and actions and to uphold the value of all humans as being made in the image of God. Our hearts should mourn the trouble that surrounds us, and we should be zealous to love our neighbor, regardless of our differences. Let’s keep first things first and remember that our words and actions are representing Jesus to a watching world. 

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