By Kim Wright
We all think thoughts. We all have opinions. There are the deeper, more theological thoughts: Premillennial, postmillennial or amillennial? What age to baptize? Weekly communion?
Then there are these for which we have a presupposition: Pews or seats? Add a service or crowd in? Hire him? Hire her? Take away Sunday school? Add small groups? Why don’t we keep the puppet ministry? What about this ministry or that? What’s the best carpet and wall color? Service times? Preaching style?
You get the picture.
If we randomly asked 100 church members about a certain topic, they would most definitely have an opinion. And there would be differing ones. Therein lies the potential problem. How do we get along with our Christian peers who have opinions that are different from our own?
Even this question can conjure up all manner of opinions. After much reading through examples of agreements, disagreements, and what it looks like to get along, I discovered the Bible has a lot to say on this topic of differing opinions while maintaining some manner of civility. While there are numerous thoughts on the subject, I’ve narrowed it down to three main ideas:
1. Center on what we have in common.
2. Hold our convictions in love.
3. Respect others’ right to disagree.
Center on what we have in common.
Paul was concerned about what was going on with the people in the church at Philippi. There were some disagreements and strife within the body, particularly between two people. Paul said, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:2-4).
Paul doesn’t tell us what it was the women were in disagreement about, but he does give us a handful of reminders regarding what we can and should do when we disagree with one another. We can “be of the same mind in the Lord” (v. 2). Sometimes we need to take a step back, take a deep breath, and remember our common ground is in the Lord.
Paul went on to tell us that these women had “contended at my side in the cause of the gospel” (v. 3). The cause of the gospel; the good news of Jesus Christ—how are we to share this hope, this good news when we sit all grumpy in our pews? Paul reminded them (and us) of the hard work they’d done to take the message of Christ to the people who now have their names written in the book of life. Don’t blow it with some petty disagreement (my words, not Paul’s).
Another major area of common ground is that we, believers in Christ, can rejoice in the Lord! We can take our eyes off the differing opinions, be glad, rejoice, and celebrate what the Lord has done for us. And we can do it together.
We may not agree on everything, but we can agree on this: Christ died, was buried, and rose from the dead for you and for me. For my sins and yours. So we could have an eternity with him. That, my friends, is worth celebrating together!
Hold our convictions in love.
Paul went on to say in Philippians 4:5, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” There is no reason for ugly sisters . . . or brothers.
Paul addressed this idea of love earlier in this same book. “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Philippians 2:1, 2).
Comfort from Christ’s love? fellowship with the Spirit? tenderness? compassion? like-mindedness? same love? one spirit? one purpose? complete joy? All this is from having been united in Christ. That common ground thing just spilled over into this idea that we should hold our personal convictions in love, didn’t it?
And then there’s this tidbit from Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends & Influence People: “If your temper is aroused and you tell ’em a thing or two, you will have a fine time unloading your feelings. But what about the other fellow? Will he share your pleasure? Will your belligerent tones, your hostile attitude, make it easy for him to agree with you? ‘If you come at me with your fists doubled,’ said Woodrow Wilson, ‘I think I can promise you that mine will double as fast as yours; but if you come to me and say, “Let us sit down and take counsel together, and, if we differ from one another, understand why it is that we differ from one another, just what the points at issue are,” we will presently find that we are not so far apart after all, that the points on which we differ are few and the points on which we agree are many, and that if we only have the patience and the candor and the desire to get together, we will get together.’”
Let’s unclench our fists, sit down with each other, open our ears, and listen—really listen—to each other. We might find that we have more in common than we thought. We may even find a way to meet in the middle of our differing opinions without compromising our convictions but all the while bringing glory to God and his church.
Respect others’ right to disagree.
We find an example of people respecting one another’s right to disagree in Acts 15:36-41. Paul and Barnabas had come to a place where they simply could not agree on the next step of their journey. They were traveling together, preaching the good news of Christ, and one wanted one thing and the other disagreed. Their solution? To part ways.
And while this isn’t the answer much of the time, it is the answer some of the time. On occasion we have to agree to disagree and go where we can continue to do ministry. The key in this passage is that the good news continued to be spread and the church was strengthened. Neither man sat at home stewing about what the other was doing or the other person’s opinion. No, they respected each other’s right to disagree and the church continued to grow.
We have the same choice. If you find yourself at an impasse, grumbling all the time to anyone who will listen, not able to agree on the direction of your service, maybe it’s time to prayerfully consider a different ministry where you can serve. (Side note: The Bible also has a lot to say about being divisive within the church, but that is for a different article.)
Ask God to show you.
So what do we do with all of this—this majoring on our common ground, holding our convictions with love, and respecting others’ right to disagree? At the very forefront of it all, we pray. We spend some time with the Father, talking to him, yes, but also listening to what he has to say to us.
Here are some things to ponder and questions to ask the Father:
• Show me where my opinion has become just that—my opinion and not of you.
• Show me any area of my pride that is causing hurt in the body of Christ.
• Remind me of the common ground I have with my brothers and sisters.
• Help me to see as you see—with your eyes and not my own.
• How do I hold my own convictions with love? Show me how to speak my mind yet still be kind.
• Give me ears to listen not only to you, Lord, but to my church, my community, and beyond. What are their needs? Where am I being selfish? Where do I need to bend?
• Show me if you would have me serve in another capacity or in another area.
Then be still. God will show you. And he’ll give you the courage to act upon these things with grace and peace.
Kim Wright, wife, mom to five children, and Mimi to two grandchildren, is a freelance writer in Morrow, Ohio.