The Law of Love Part I: Unity in Diversity in the Church
The world is in turmoil right now. At the forefront of the uproar are the matters surrounding the coronavirus and justice. Camps have formed on these issues with gaping chasms dividing opinions.
To further complicate matters, everything is politicized. Wearing a mask in public, posting certain slogans on social media, agreeing or disagreeing with the president or governor all automatically place you into a particular camp.
And so it is becoming increasingly difficult to have civil conversations with people. Many today reverse the sage wisdom of James 1:19 and instead are slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry. There is even fear that saying certain things will lead others to quickly (and incorrectly) categorize you into a camp that you are not a part of.
Admittedly, I even am fearful in writing this article because I may be criticized and sorted into a certain political side. But I press on and pray that you may hear my heart. My intention is not to say which camp is right and which is wrong. My earnest desire is that we as a church would look markedly different from the society that surrounds us. My prayer is that we can show the world that we can be united in love despite having differences in opinion.
This will be a two-part post with Part I discussing unity in diversity in the church while Part II addresses how Christians ought to interact with non-believers.
Hours before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed for His disciples that they would be united as one just as He and the Father are one (John 17:11). How do we as believers maintain unity when there are many differences in opinion?
Before we address the question of unity in diversity, let us first acknowledge there are some issues that we should rightly divide over. We need to determine the theological triage in which we assign the urgency or importance of the theological matter that we are discussing.
If, for instance, a (supposed) Christian said to you that Jesus is one of many ways to get into heaven, or that Jesus was only a great moral teacher, or that there are additional rituals that you must practice in addition to faith in Christ in order to be saved, then this is very high on the theological triage scale. These are matters of utmost importance because they directly affect the essential core values of salvation and the gospel. It would be appropriate to disagree with such a “believer” and to even break fellowship if they maintain their errant theology. Attacks to our core beliefs—including the nature of salvation, the deity and humanity of Christ, among others—would be grounds to rightly divide over.
Matters that are lower on the theological triage scale—like infant or believer’s baptism, the nature of the end times, or the style of our worship music—are not issues to break fellowship over. Issues that are second or third on the theological triage scale are not unimportant. They might be deeply significant, but differences in their understanding ought not to cause a disunity in the church. You may go to a different church which aligns with your convictions on these issues, but you should not abandon relationships or become divisive with other Christians who disagree with your beliefs in these matters.
So what about the issues today? Are these issues worth getting divisive and angry with one another over?
Other’s Interests Above Your Own
Today’s social matters are not high but low in comparative importance. Yes, they are important issues, but we can respectfully disagree while still maintaining unity. Matters like these are in the realm of Christian freedom. A believer has the freedom to engage in activities that are not expressly forbidden in the Bible. Christians, however, don’t always agree on what activities under the heading of Christian freedom should be practiced.
For instance, believers can differ on wearing face masks, getting vaccines, taking medication, and buying ethically-sourced coffee. The Bible is silent on all of these topics and so we are free to follow our conscience in these matters. Yet the Bible is abundantly clear that those who have differing opinions over a matter of conscience are not to judge one another, nor should they look down pridefully on the other.
Paul exhorts believers to “pursue what makes for peace and mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19). In order to pursue this unity, the clear call of the Christian is to love one another and put the interests of others above their own. We are told, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
The overriding principle in matters of conscience and Christian freedom is that we should put others interests above our own. That we would humbly love one another by not exercising our freedom for their sake. Our freedom is not to be used as an opportunity for pride or division, but rather, “through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).
So in matters of conscience—whether that be wearing masks, getting vaccines, using medicine, buying ethically-sourced coffee, and the like—we each have our own personal convictions that we should stay true to. But it is not our job to change someone else’s conscience. Rather, we are to respect the differences in convictions that we have on these matters and graciously love one another by putting their interests above our own. We should always be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
The Law of Love Trumps Division Over Differences
Let us remember the words of the Apostle John,
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us (1 John 4:7-12).
If God so loved us, then we are called to also love one another. God showed incredible, unfathomable love towards us though we completely did not deserve it. So if we have received such love, how can we possibly withhold loving a fellow believer? How can we say, “Well he is not worthy” or “She doesn’t deserve it” or “Well he believes in…”?
Brothers and sisters, if we have truly received God’s love we should not act in this manner. For God could have said those things about me and you—but He didn’t. He chose to love you and me even though we were unlovable. This humbles us and leads us to show that same kind of love to those around us. Pastor and author John Stott reminds us, “No one who has been to the cross and seen God’s immeasurable and unmerited love displayed there can go back to a life of selfishness.” Love one another as God has loved you.
The law of love trumps division over differences in opinions. As believers in the body of Christ, demonstrating our love for God and one another take primary importance over pridefully exerting our opinion on debatable matters. Let us seek to love one another as God has loved us. Let us not allow differences over matters of conscience to create disunity and anger in the church, but rather let us be quick to show grace and compassion towards one another. And let us maintain unity in diversity in the church by putting others’ interests above our own (Philippians 2:3-4) and humbly loving one another.
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