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Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable

by Bernie Parsons 01/25/2007

Different levels of spiritual growth demand that we work with one another in love, and learn to disagree without being disagreeable about it.  Bernie Parsons

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Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable

by Bernie Parsons

01/25/2007 - minor revisions 11/11/2009

We have a serious problem in the Churches of Christ (especially the conservative wing, but I have seen it among the liberal brothers as well) -- many of us are not very friendly, or very nice. We tend to be suspicious of others, even other brothers and sisters in the church. This stems from a strong
inclination toward self-righteousness, which is a serious flaw.

We expect each Christian to be exactly as we are, to see everything precisely as we see it, and to agree with everything that we say. Any deviation from this norm arouses suspicion, and even hostility.

A traveling evangelist and I were discussing this the first time that he came to our congregation to hold a revival, or, as some call it, a "gospel meeting". He told me that he believed that brothers and sisters in the church must be able to "disagree without being disagreeable". I was so overjoyed to find someone who shared my view on this.

Jesus told a story to illustrate the ugliness of self-righteousness.

Luke 18:9: "And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
10: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
11: The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
12: I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
13: And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
14: I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."

I have heard this passage read out in Bible studies and quoted in many sermons, but it is a lesson that is evidently hard for most of us to learn. We insist upon being among the "certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others".

The problem with self-righteousness is that it blinds us to the fact that we have this spiritual defect. The very fact that we think too highly of ourselves prevents us from seeing to what lofty heights we have erroneously elevated ourselves. From our omniscient perch, we command a stunning view of the sins of others, and therefore feel obligated to brashly point them out.

Sadly, we ignore the plea of God to draw nigh to Him so that He might draw nigh to us, and, instead, wander further and further afield of the truth.

For instance, the apostle Peter gave wonderful insight in how we are to approach one another.

1 Peter 3:8: "Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous:
9: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.
10: For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile:
11: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.
12: For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil."

In our arrogance, we often throw verse 12 at our "sinner friends", that is, those who are not members of the Church of Christ. In context, Peter was writing to Christians to remind them how to treat one another. In doing so, he covers the following important aspects of "loving our neighbor as
ourselves": Share a common mind, be compassionate one toward another, love as brothers, show pity, and be courteous. He further explains that we are not to return evil for evil, getting into quarrels and shouting matches with one another. Instead, if our brothers or sisters wrong us we are to offer a blessing to them. He says that if we will love life and see good days, we must refrain our tongues from evil, and our lips from guile. We must avoid evil, and pursue peace. Only then does the Lord hear our righteous prayers!

The disagreeable way in which many of my brothers and sisters approach our disagreements with one another is in direct conflict with the teachings of Jesus and the godly advice of the apostle Peter. This is a fault that requires much diligent attention to correct. We cannot afford to continue our breakneck plunge along this road of self-righteous condemnation of our brothers and sisters with whom we disagree. Such unchecked bile will convey us along the broad road to spiritual ruin and eternal destruction!

We do well to pay attention to the entire chapter 14 of the letter that the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome. Here is a relevant excerpt:

Romans 14:1: "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.
2: For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs.
3: Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him.
4: Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.
5: One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.
6: He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.
7: For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.
8: For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's."

I have known some weak Christians who insist that it is sinful to eat meat of any kind, and others who insist that it is against the teachings of God to eat pork. Look at verse 2 above, where Paul writes that there are differing beliefs on this. Which Christian is right? Verse 3 tells us that both are. Verse 4 warns us not to judge another man's servant. What did Paul mean by this?

Romans 6:22: "But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life."

We are not to judge the servants of God! Verse 5 deals with those who observe one day as special and others who see every day alike. According to Paul, God cares not whether we esteem one day as special above others or count all days the same! In verse 6, he tells us that the important thing is to realize that each day comes from God, and to be thankful for all days, however we feel about them!

I know church members, and entire congregations, who make the observance of holidays a test of fellowship. I have treated the subject in an article entitled, "Holidays".

The list of differences can be, and is, without end. We easily find more uncommon ground than common. The problem is that we are not loving our neighbor as we love self, and we do not show proper love and courtesy to our fellow Christians.

It dawned upon me a long time ago that our spiritual lives parallel our fleshly lives. Just as there are people in all different stages of physical development, from newborn to toddler; from pre-teen to adolescent; from young adult to middle-aged, and then elderly, adult. So it is with our spiritual development. Due to varied cultural backgrounds and upbringing, as well as different stages of spiritual development, not all Christians are at the same place in their lives.

We know that our fleshly babes are not born with complete knowledge, ability, and experience, but in the church we often expect our newborns to have all three. Just as we lovingly correct the mistakes of our infants and toddlers, with their steady growth and development in mind, so we must
approach our infants and toddlers in the Lord. As we firmly guide our fleshly adolescents, and counsel our young adults in the flesh, so we must guide and counsel our immature spiritual children.

Hebrews 5:12: "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
13: For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
14: But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
6:1: Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,
2: Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
3: And this will we do, if God permit."

We often mistake perfection in the Bible to mean "without sin", when it is actually speaking of spiritual maturity.

Luke 8:14: "And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection."

Look at Hebrews 6:1 again to get a sense of this. We leave the basics of the religion, having laid them as a foundation for our spiritual growth, and move on to perfection, or spiritual maturity, which comes with exercise of the senses to discern good and evil.

Paul, in Ephesians 4, gives a clear description of spiritual growth resulting in perfection, or maturity.

Ephesians 4:11: "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12: For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
14: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
15: But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
16: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love."

The perfecting here mentioned has to do with the edifying, or the building up, or growth, of the body of Christ-- meaning the church, that called-out assembly of Christ. Paul even used the natural concept of not remaining children to show that we need parallel spiritual growth. He further explained that the body -- the Christians -- must mature to the stature, or size, of the head. That head is Christ. We all work together to cause the body to increase, or grow. This is done by lovingly edifying -- building up -- the body.

There are many other scriptures that speak to this approach to spiritual growth, and our attitudes toward our fellow Christians. There is no room for the disagreeable, arrogant disease of self-righteousness. Let us not judge the other man's servant. To his own Master, he stands or falls, and
his Master is able to help him stand, even when we think that he does not have a leg to stand on!

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Bernie Parsons
75 Osborne Street
Greenup, KY 41144-9641

Phone: 606-473-1455


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