Our world seems to thrive on adversity and disagreement. I just checked one of the largest on-line news agencies – every article on world events was about disagreements, people not getting along. That’s the world we live in.
But forget about the world, we can’t change it. What about people? People like us, just ordinary people. Why can’t we get along with other ordinary people? Especially, why can’t Christians get along with other Christians? Admit it, we don’t always.
I want to offer four observations that I believe have the potential to eliminate most disagreements between Christians and help us get along with each other. We may not be able to change the world but we can change our behavior.
1. Give other people the benefit of the doubt.
Have you ever noticed how we often tend to assume the worst of other people? When someone says something we don’t like we immediately assume that they were trying to hurt us. Maybe they didn’t mean what they said the way you heard what they said. Maybe there’s more to the story than you know that precipitated their actions. Maybe it’s really YOUR problem and not theirs. Many times a situation can be diffused simply by giving people the benefit of the doubt.
1 Corinthians 13:7 says that love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. The phrase believes all things means to see the best in others, not to automatically think the worst of them. Christ-like love is always ready to give the other person the benefit of the doubt.
2. Treat people with respect.
It sounds easy but we don’t always do it. If we would learn to treat other people with respect it would diffuse so many difficult situations and avoid so many conflicts. Marriages fall apart because couples never learn to treat each other with respect. Churches split because people never learn to treat other people with respect. Politicians are at loggerheads (a state of quarrelsome disagreement) because they never learn to treat other people with respect.
Matthew 7:12 says whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Except for a few oddballs we all want to be treated with respect. Notice that the burden is placed back on us – how we treat others is the point not how they treat us. If we train ourselves to treat other people with respect we’ll find that we will get along with them much better.
3. Refrain from being a Crusader.
By this I mean that we don’t always have to correct everyone. Sometimes we just need to let them be wrong – in the long run it probably won’t make that much difference. I had to learn this lesson the hard way. After college I took a job working for a large Christian organization. One day I was given contradictory instructions by two of the leaders. Convinced that one of them was wrong I took it upon myself to straighten out the situation by going to the other leader, hoping that he would put this man in his place. It wasn’t that I was wrong in my analysis – but I was wrong in how I attempted to handle the situation. I remember to this day, forty-one years later, exactly where I was when that man said to me, Steve, don’t always be a crusader. His words have stuck with me all these years. Not that I’ve always succeeded in following his advice, but he was right. We don’t always have to correct everyone and make sure that they know they’re wrong. By the way, I have great respect for that man even though his words stung.
1 Corinthians 10:24 says, Let no man, then, set his own advantage as his objective, but rather the good of his neighbor. When the good of the other person is our real objective rather than straightening them out, we’ll handle the situation differently.
4. Throw out the record.
So many times we don’t get along with other people because we remember that at some point in time they offended us. Remember the proverbial little black book with all the girls’ phone numbers in it? Many Christians keep their own little black book in the back of their minds filled with every slight that has ever been committed against them, real or perceived.
1 Corinthians 13:4 says Love thinks no evil. The idea is that when you are living in Jesus love you don’t keep an account of the evil things people have done to you. Some translations put it this way: Love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do. Throw out the record and see if it doesn’t help.
Getting along with other people, especially with Christians should be a priority for us. Not getting along isn’t an option.
Stay in the Word