I think the church is being stretched. I think in this season everyone, everywhere is being stretched. But if anyone should have their “ears on” and head in the game about the opportunity to re-think and re-calibrate a thing or two, it’s the church — not the institution, but the people of God.
And one of the marks of how we’re doing, I think, is in our conversations. Easy to “dwell together in unity” (Ps. 133:1) when you talk about the weather, sports, and the doctrines you agree on. But try and make sense of the headlines that consume us today. Try and talk with certainty about things that are anything but certain, if only because of the mega-media maze we live in today where we can always find a voice, an expert, a study that aligns to our feelings. And then, try and process that with others holding a different view? Well, to say the least, it can be a challenge. Those can be hard conversations.
Pick a topic. How serious is COVID really? Has the government over-stepped their authority? Are masks really effective? What about matters of justice, protests, and how to make a difference where it matters? Top it all with a global pandemic, people growing stir crazy and ready to shed their bonds of shelter in place, add the uncertainty around economic recovery, and then mix in an election, and I’m thinking you have yourself a bit of a pressure cooker which is counter-productive to “civil discourse in the public square.”
And, it’s not like you can just ignore it, forget it, or pretend it’s not happening. You can’t really just talk about something else because, until recently when sports started firing up again, there’s not much else to talk about.
And here, though it’s just one area, is where I think the church is being stretched. Where the church has an opportunity to model the transcendence of the gospel through Spirit enabled unity beyond some superficial uniformity. Where, as we’re constantly pressed to engage with one another around controversial matters, we put on display the goodness and pleasantness of living as family together, like oil running down Aaron’s beard, a people where the Lord commands the blessing (Ps. 133:2-3).
And it starts, I think, with our conversations. With being “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). And, as we practice talking about hard stuff around the family table, it prepares us to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders” with speech that is to “always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Col. 4:5-6 ESV).
This leads me to this morning’s text (sorry for the long intro), a text that’s been on my radar for the past several weeks as my “bubble” expands and I connect more and more with my brothers and sisters in Christ and find myself in hard conversations. As we quickly get past the weather and talk about how we’re processing what’s going on in our world.
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.
(2Timothy 2:24-25 ESV)
Taken a bit out of context? Yeah, but I think the principles apply. Not quarrelsome. Kind to everyone. Able to articulate an argument. Patiently enduring — not necessarily evil, but often an opposing view. Correcting, or trying to convince with gentleness. Recognizing all the while that it is God who changes hearts and minds as they need to be changed. And that we have the promise of the presence of the Spirit of God to lead us into truth.
Take this approach concerning our speech, mix it with a healthy dose of Romans 14 where we’re not to “quarrel over opinions” (Rom. 14:1 ESV) or pass judgment on “disputable matters” (Rom. 14:1 NIV), address such matters through the filter of God’s word, and I think we have an environment where iron can truly sharpen iron (Prov. 27:17). And where brothers and sisters can model gospel-founded unity.
It takes some work. And, at least for me, some confession when our flesh gets the better of us. It also requires a commitment to the gospel being the main thing superseding all things, and a trust in the God of truth working in our midst. But at the end of the day, or at least at the end of the heated debate, we’ll know the pleasantness and goodness of our unity in the Spirit despite our differences in this season.
And there, God will command the blessing.
By His grace. For His glory.