During a conversation on recent events, the topic of how we treat each other came up. People have very strong feelings about everything from the government to recent health requirements. The trouble begins when your co-worker, friend, family or member of your church congregation thinks differently than you do. It has caused some hard feelings and arguments that are breaking up relationships. In the conversation I was having, the question of how we should treat one another came up. I had to stop and think. How would Jesus handle it and what can Scripture teach us?
As Christians should we stand our ground and force our opinions onto others? Should we get angry when others do not agree with us? Do we call others selfish, sheep, foolish or busybodies? Things can get very divisive if we are not careful with our words and that has become the problem. No matter what side someone is taking on any given subject, if they consider their opinion to be the only right one there can be problems. Both sides can often quite effectively argue why their beliefs on any given topic are Christian-based. However, rarely is anyone able to change the opposing person’s viewpoint to their way of thinking.
The first event that came to my mind was when Simon Peter cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest when Jesus was being arrested (Matthew 26:47-50). The disciple was reacting to the situation. He didn’t stop to think. He instead followed his emotions, striking out to protect Jesus, but probably also out of fear. I think that is what is happening with today’s Christians as well. Some people are afraid of what is happening, they want to protect others and themselves and they feel they are being good Christians by doing so. Others feel that being afraid or reacting is not having enough faith in God and that others are overreacting. Is one opinion more Christian than the other?
How did Christ react to the injury? First, He told Peter to put away his sword. He went on to explain that He could call down angels to save Him if he wanted to (Matthew 26:52-54). But there was also something else Jesus did. He reached out and healed the servant of the high priest (Luke 22:51). He could have easily let the man bleed and called him out for his deeds but instead, He was compassionate toward him—someone who was against Him. Are we compassionate toward others or are we calling others out?
Colossians 3:1-2 reminds us that we are to set our minds on what is above, not on what is on earth. We are then told to put anger, wrath, malice, railing, and shameful speaking out of our mouths (:8). The passage then says, “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.” (Colossians 3:12-15).
Scripture continually teaches that we are to love and live peaceably with one another. We are also told to admonish those who are disorderly and be longsuffering toward all (1 Thessalonians 5:13-14). We are being disorderly when we argue with others or are accusatory. We must be longsuffering, which the Oxford dictionary defines as: “having or showing patience in spite of troubles, especially those caused by other people.”
There are many scriptures that can guide us in how we should act and how we should think, more than can be mentioned in this article. While we can all find a few scriptures to back up how we feel about current events, it is important to look at the whole picture. If we take time in prayer and study, we can let God’s Word guide us in our actions. Not necessarily in what we are doing or thinking, but in how we are acting or reacting to others.
Romans 14:19 reminds us to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (ESV). Hebrews 12:14-15 says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no 'root of bitterness' springs up and causes trouble” (ESV). God wants us to be peaceful people and to show His love through our relationships with each other. Christians are repeatedly told to love one another throughout scripture.
When we argue and accuse we are not showing love for each other. “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (Proverbs 17:27, ESV). Sometimes someone innocently expresses their opinion and another becomes offended and angered by it because their beliefs lean in another direction. We are told that “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11, ESV). Sometimes there is no “right” answer, even if we think there is. It is best to slow down and remember that a differing opinion of itself is not a sin and not something to get angry about. The adage of agreeing to disagree is a good one in most cases.
When Christ spoke of anger He related it to the commandment not to murder. He said, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22, ESV). I recently heard the statement, "When people turn away from God, they start fighting one another." Scary thought! Are we turning from God when we argue? Based on the scriptures to be patient, to love one another and to be longsuffering I would say so.
Infighting has always been a problem in God’s Church. We see it throughout the Bible. Those who scouted out the Promised Land for ancient Israel were afraid to go in, but one disagreed (Numbers 13:21-33). The Bible doesn’t elaborate but there must have been some debate. Surely Caleb did not just say, "Let’s go!" and shut down when others said they were afraid. Caleb is called faithful so we can assume he was zealous in his argument and there was probably much debate. In this case, the people were mistaken and punished, but the debate surely left some hard feelings between Caleb and the others.
When Job was at his lowest, his friends began to think he had done something wrong. They accused him of causing his own woes even though he had done nothing wrong. They were being self-righteous and God considered punishing them for their misrepresentations. Job reminds his friends, “But wisdom and power belong to God. Good advice and understanding are His.” (Job 12:13, Easy to Read Version). He then goes on to say, “I know as much as you do. I am as smart as you are. But I don’t want to argue with you. I want to speak to God All-Powerful. I want to argue with God about my troubles” (Job 13:2-3, Easy to Read Version).
Wise words. We shouldn’t argue among ourselves but in all things, go to God to find what is right and good. What you and I think is right is irrelevant. It is what God thinks that matters. God does not make mistakes. Are we living God’s way, according to His will? Are we showing love for Him and each other? How we treat each other is important to God. In the end, that’s all that matters.