When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. Mark 9:14
I have to admit, the political climate right now is driving me crazy. I cringe when I look at the headlines, like I’m opening a container of moldy leftovers.
Yeech! But the main thing that is driving me crazy is the rabid discord. It makes my heart sad to see people hating on each other.
And then I think, “Surely, we as Christians should be different.”
Yet often we are not. That’s why I wanted to explore this verse, which is a part of the story that I discussed in my last blog. It concerns something that is much on my heart — our tendency to be contentious about religious matters.
Whenever I read how the teachers of the law opposed Jesus, I want to shake them and say, “Don’t you get it? This is the Messiah that you’ve been waiting for!” I have such a strong desire for people to overcome their biases and LISTEN, for them to live in harmony and be unified, just like Jesus prayed, “That they all may be one.” (John 17:21)
But it is the nature of man to dispute. And just like this wrangling broke out when Jesus was away, the tendency to dispute is amplified when people get in a place where they don’t see Jesus and his power and wisdom.
I wrestle so much with the religious division I see today.
I could go on and on about it, but one of the main things I want to say is that we need to have convictions, but we also need to be humble. We need to remain open, listen to others, and not think we have it all figured out.
I’ve been reading a totally mind blowing book about people throughout history who were martyred for holding to what they believed the Bible said. I can’t help but be inspired by them.
Yet at the same time I get turned off when I see churches split because one group thinks they need to follow the Bible more stringently.
What to do? Should we be more rigid or more tolerant?
I believe the answer is to be like Jesus, to be “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Like Jesus, we need to have strong commitment to live by the truth. When Jesus faced temptation, he answered it with scripture, and said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4) All of his actions were righteous. He maintained, “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” (John 8:28b-29)
But we also need to remember that Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'” (Matt 9:13)
We need to remember that Jesus healed on the Sabbath. He didn’t condemn the woman caught in adultery. He told his disciples to accept those who were not part of their group and yet performed miracles in his name, “For the one who is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:40)
Again, we need to make it our top priority to fulfill the most important commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'” (Mark 12:30) A top priority should also be to help others do the same, “teaching them to obey everything.” (Matt 28:20)
Yet we can never be self righteous. Jesus related that the tax collector who stood at a distance and prayed, “Have mercy on me, a sinner” was justified, not the Pharisee who was proud of how he kept the law. (Luke 18:13) We so badly want to feel superior and tell someone that they aren’t committed enough if their commitment doesn’t look like ours. But we need to be careful. There is always someone more committed — someone who has given away all their material possessions, someone who is devoted to service, someone who is saving souls right and left.
Instead, we need to practice Romans 14:1, “Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters.” There is a place for the sister who is committed, but weak. Encourage her, and give space for her to grow and for God to work. (Phil 1:6, Romans 14:4)
Timothy summed this all up so well. He started by saying in II Timothy 2:15, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” and then went on to pronounce:
Going back to today’s reading, what did Jesus do when he was faced with religious disputing? You know, you would think that when Jesus appeared, he would have waded in the argument and set the teachers of the law straight. Instead, it seems like he got onto the apostles for not being able to heal the boy, “You unbelieving generation. How long must I put up with you?” (Mark 9:19)
I think this shows us that Jesus expects that our focus should be solely on God. He was looking for faith, the vertical relationship. But his apostles ended up getting tangled in horizontal interactions. How would it have been different if they had looked to God when things didn’t go as planned? What if they had said, “Hmmm, this didn’t work, so let’s pray more and seek the Lord about this?”
I say this because I can relate. I’m trying to remember to look to God. But often, when things are challenging, I start reaching for any safety strap I can find. I get bent out of shape. It goes better when I think, “Wow, this is tough. What’s going on, God? What do I need to learn? What do I need to do differently? How can I trust?”
So let’s sum this all up. What can you do if you are faced with a difference of opinion regarding a religious matter?
- Take time to take the matter before the Lord in careful prayer.
- Be humble. Listen and try to understand the other person’s position. Don’t be self righteous.
- Look to your own righteousness before God. Do you have a log in your eye that you need to remove before you address the speck from someone else’s eye?
- Decide if the scriptures are clear cut on the issue. It is a disputable matter or a salvation issue? Does it regard a sin a person needs to repent of immediately, or is it an area in which they need to grow?
- If you do have a clear scriptural principle to defend, stand up for it! But do so without quarreling. Be respectful. Treat others as you would want to be treated.
May our dream be, as Christ’s was, that we all may be unified!! “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Ps 133:1)
I think it is totally good and pleasant in our church! I love that we are like family. Here are a few recent pictures.
But we’ve had to work for our unity.
Some say that unity will only happen when everyone lives by the scriptures.
But I say that unity will only happen when we obey the scriptures, pray for wisdom, and have open honest discussions in respect and humility.
Discussion is vital. And that means that Satan would like to cut off all discussion, or make it unproductive.
The great tragedy is that he often succeeds.
The great victory is that we can vanquish him by living in truth and grace.