Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What We Divide Over

Who do you feel uncomfortable around? Is there a real Biblical basis for this, or is it just your personal prejudice? And even if certain behaviors are Biblically wrong, do we love the sinner though not the sin? Or do we try to avoid any contact with such people? But more often than not, the things that make us uncomfortable are things that have nothing to do with real Scriptural issues. Therefore, to start with we need to recognize that God speaks of the unity of the church (Galatians 3:26-29; Ephesians 2:11-22; 4:3-6). In this there were many possible distinctions that are set aside. There was Jew versus Gentile, the original people of God versus the new additions. The Jews could look down on the Gentiles as newcomers to the truth of God, and the Gentiles could look down on the Jews as being set aside so they might be adopted in (Romans 11:11-24). There were the Greeks, who saw themselves as the cultural elite versus the barbarians (non-Greeks), who were inferior. The Scripture even mentions the Scythians, who were traditionally the extreme barbarians who drank blood out of men’s skulls. (I imagine they were somewhat more civilized by Paul’s day, but they evidently maintained some of their reputation.) There were also cultural distinctions such as slave and free. We face many of the same kinds of divisions in the church today. There are racial divisions, generational divisions, economic status divisions. We divide over music, dress, worship styles. How much of this is really division over Biblical issues, and how much is background and personality?   

Now it needs to be recognized there are genuine doctrinal disagreements and genuinely sinful behaviors. But we need to be careful of confusing our preferences with God’s standards. Also, even where there is real disobedience to God involved, we need to correct people lovingly with a goal of bringing them to repentance (2 Timothy 2:24-26; Galatians 6:1; Ephesians 4:15). And we must remember that Jesus associated with sinners, as those who needed a physician (Matthew 9:10-13; Luke 7:36-50; John 4:7-26). Now there does come a time for rejecting those (specifically those who claim to be Christians) who persist in sin (Matthew 18:15-17; 2 Thessalonians 3:14,15; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13). But this should be done when efforts to correct them have failed. But there is a temptation to lightly divide over things that are of lesser importance or even things over which we should agree to disagree. We seem to have fallen into the error of the Corinthians, of dividing into factions over everything (1 Corinthians 1:10-17). And how much of that is issues of substance and how much methodology and personality? We need to reconsider what we divide over.

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