But when disagreements descend into second-guessing motives, distortions of one another’s words, mischaracterizations of one another’s views and personal attacks, then we’ve moved into the flesh.
The net is that the name of Jesus gets tarnished in no small way.
So how do we change that?
Here are seven points to consider the next time you think you have a possible disagreement with another Christian:
1. Go to them privately and ask them what they meant by what they said, did or wrote, or what they allegedly said, did or wrote. Jesus said to go to your brother/sister in private if we have an issue with them. Since we don’t want to misrepresent others in public, going to them directly helps prevent this. And you would want the same treatment if the shoe happened to be on your foot.
About six months ago, I was reading someone’s Facebook wall where they quoted a friend of mine who came out with a new book on evangelism. The entire thread was about what my friend may have meant or didn’t mean. People got angry at one another. Some began blocking others. (These are Christians, mind you.)
Finally, a woman jumped in and said, “Excuse me … but instead of questioning what he may have meant or didn’t mean, why don’t you just write him a message and ask him? He’s on Facebook, you know.”
Her remark arrested everyone and you could smell the embarrassment. Amazingly, no one ever thought to even try to contact my friend and ask. If they had done so in the beginning, the whole issue would have been resolved and the carnage wouldn’t have even begun.
2. When you go to another believer privately, ask them questions. Don’t make accusations. Again, put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself, “How would I want to be treated if this person was me and I had concerns or possible problems with them?” In my experience, I’ve found that accusations based on second- or third-hand information are usually inaccurate. And they are often rooted in misunderstandings.
One time Jesus made a statement about one of His followers saying, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this remark, a rumor spread among the disciples that the disciple Jesus was referring to would never die. But Jesus never said that this disciple would not die; He only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?” (John 21:22-23)
If Jesus—the perfect Teacher—was misunderstood by those who were in His corner, how much more does it happen with us?
3. Never, ever, evah, nevah judge the motives or intentions of another human being. To do so is to sin against them and against God. You and I cannot read someone else’s heart. While it’s fine to question someone’s judgment, it’s wrong to judge their motives. “Love thinks no evil,” Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, but it always believes the best of others. Again, this is covered under Jesus’ gold-plated “do unto others” commandment.
4. Never entertain gossip or slander about another sister or brother in Christ. Again, treat others the same way you want them to treat you. Jesus not only commanded this, He said this commandment fulfills the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 7:12). By the way, I’ve found that many Christians don’t know what slander or gossip is (unless it’s happening to them). They mistakenly think that if something is true or half-true, it’s not gossip or slander. Not so. Jon Zens’ remarkable article on this subject is the best I’ve ever read. Every Christian should read it.
5. Seek peace with all you have. “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone,” Paul said in Romans 12:18. We aren’t going to agree on everything. In fact, I am unaware of any book that exists where all Christians agree with every word or understand every word the same way. That includes the Bible itself.
None of us can claim immaculate perception. So we should be open for correction. But how you approach someone is incredibly important. How we treat one another while we disagree is just as important as the nature of our disagreement.
6. Remember that the world is watching how we Christians treat one another and talk about one another. You can be the greatest evangelist on planet Earth in terms of being able to boldly witness to non-Christians about Jesus. And you can blow the loudest trumpet about mission and discipleship. But if you treat your fellow sisters and brothers in Christ in ways that you would never want to be treated yourself, then you nullify your evangelistic efforts. In addition, how you treat your fellow brothers and sisters is monumentally important to our Lord.
7. Remember Jesus’ last prayer on earth before He gave His life for us. It gives us a peek into what’s foremost in His heart. “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:20-21).
May the Lord have mercy on us all …