Recently a leader asked a group of Christians, “What sort of things should Christians be able to discuss with one another?” The unanimous answer was that Christians should be able to discuss anything with one another—but the follow-up discussion revealed that there are many topics we cannot discuss in our Bible studies, small groups, family settings, coffee shop conversations, with believers, etc. Why is that? Is there so much fear and anger, despair, refusal to listen (or speak) that much of what disturbs us today is walled off as “forbidden territory”? Must we carefully sound out our Christian brothers and sisters around us and make sure they have the same opinions and thoughts we do before we can share our feelings or thoughts?
The Apostle Paul was familiar with groups of quarrelsome Christians who could not or would not act in love. Before one of his visits to Corinth, Paul, defending his ministry,
wrote, “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ . . . ” (2 Cor. 10:5, ESV). Arguments, lofty opinions, disobedient thoughts among believers—sound familiar? Destroying strongholds, does that sound like work that needs to be done in your heart and mine?
Often we “redirect” Paul’s words to make them focus on spiritual warfare between the church and the world. But today it is time to let Paul’s words to the Corinthians speak to us about the battles among believers within the church. It is Christians such as you and me who have the arguments and lofty opinions, the disobedient thoughts that cast a shadow on Jesus’ words that people will recognize His disciples by their love for one another (John 13:35).
For our own spiritual health, for the spiritual life of the next generations, and for the cause of Christ in the world, we must take Paul’s words to heart as we look into our own hearts.
The issues within and outside the church are difficult, emotion-filled, and have practical implications for everyday life. They really cannot be avoided. Moreover, almost any news report and many internet “conversations” stir “arguments, lofty opinions, and disobedient thoughts” that set us off (or make us refuse to think about or to discuss such matters). As a result, we daily run the risk of falling into one pit or another: anger, despair, fatalism, withdrawal.
Christians have honest disagreements with one another about many political, social, and theological issues. But, as Paul implies, Christians may have less-than-honest disagreements with one another that are rooted in strongholds of sin that lie deep within us, strongholds not yet surrendered to Christ.
Honest disagreements seek understanding. They lead us to study, to pray, to think about issues. Honest disagreements with others help us to value those with whom we disagree. We recognize these persons as Christian brothers and sisters. We do not simply tolerate them, we seek their good and ours. In short, we love them.
Disagreements that are fed by strongholds of sin within us raise our emotional temperature. They encourage us to “dig in,” to ignore any empathy. We discount the value of the folks with whom we disagree when our sin is the root of our loud, angry disagreement. Our goal here is to prove we are right and they are wrong. If others’ arguments are too strong for us, we simply think, “Anyone who holds that view can’t really be a Christian.”
Paul must have wondered as he wrote in Second Corinthians, “Did they lose the first letter I wrote, the one that has the love chapter?” Perhaps in these odd times we need to go back to basics: “Love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”