Last post, I addressed speaking as God speaks, and the fear that keeps us from doing it. The more common manifestations of divisiveness in the body of Christ have also been a regular feature in discussion here, and in this post, I want to suggest that those two subjects are closely related.
We don’t want to speak as God speaks because we know that our gnat-strangling, separatist brethren will treat us like heretics if we do. They’ve done it before, and we don’t want to be next. Moreover, we know perfectly well that “But that’s exactly what the Bible says” will not be a good enough excuse. It may save us at the heresy trial — don’t count on it! — but we’ll still become outsiders.
Fear of man brings a snare,” like the wise man said. So how do we get rid of the fear? “Perfect love casts out fear.” If we are willing to receive God’s love, then divine love will overflow from our hearts onto everyone around us. That context of divine love is necessary for this next bit, because “though I understand all mysteries and all knowledge…but have not love, I am nothing.” In love, let us speak as God speaks, not only to the gnat-strangling separatists, but about their gnat-strangling ways.
This might be a rough ride, kids. Find something to hold onto. Here we go:
These people say they’re serving Christ. That’s what it says in the doctrinal statement, and the church constitution, and the membership covenant. It’s even on the big sign out in front of the church: “Serving Christ in our community since 1982.”
They’re not. They are serving their own appetites, their own lusts. Simple as that. Some people want power, some want to feel superior, others have other sinful desires that they are gratifying by dividing Christ’s body. But mark it down, no matter what they say, they are not serving Him, but themselves. If that sounds harsh, just wait. It gets worse.
Their victims are complicit in the sin. These people get away with playing their divisive games for so long because they flatter people. They’re good talkers, sure, but bottom line, it’s a spiritual con game. They tell you that by joining with them, you’re in the know, you’re more righteous, whatever you want to hear. Because they’re stroking your ego, you don’t look too closely at the reasoning; you want it to be true. They deceive you, sure, but you’re complicit in it; if you were struggling for godly humility the way you should be, you’d see right through their nonsense.
How do I know this? How can I dare to judge motives this way? Can I see their hearts, or yours? Read Romans 16:17-18, and then ask yourself: Can you dare not to speak in exactly this way?
So now what? Do we shun them, just like they were going to shun us?
Not a bit of it. God loves these people. He’s crazy about them. Do you think He would shun them? Of course not. He came to save them. So this is where we ask what Jesus would do…or better still, what Jesus did do.
Jesus wasn’t afraid to draw bright lines. He would heal the sick, cast out demons, and proclaim the gospel for anybody: Jew, Roman, tax collector, didn’t matter. (He gave that Syro-Phoenecian woman a hard time once, but He did the miracle all the same.) But when it came to close fellowship, He set the bar a little higher. The guy who said he’d follow Jesus as soon as he’d buried his father? Jesus wasn’t having any of that. “Let the dead bury their own dead.”
You gotta believe that when Jesus picked out the 70, there was a 71st guy who wanted to be on the team, but didn’t make the cut. When He picked the 12 who would walk with Him, surely most of the 70 would have wanted in on that. Among the 12, there were 3 who went up the mountain of transfiguration. You best believe the other 9 guys would have given their right ears to be there too. What’s the point? Jesus would serve anybody, but He was very selective about who He walked closely with. (And take a look at John 2:23-25. Jesus was not the naively trusting sort.)
So how did He pick? The same way He did anything: “The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do.” Luke 6 says He went out all night on the mountain to pray, and when it was day, He chose the 12. He listened to the Father. There is no substitute for listening to the Father.
Paul has given us some guidance. Notice those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to Jesus’ teaching, and avoid them, because despite what their doctrinal statement says, they are not working for the same boss you are. So be obedient, like Jesus was. Serve anybody. Love everybody. Walk closely with a few that you pick after much prayer.
Follow what the Father gave you in the Word, too. You’re not going to walk closely with a divisive person; Paul and the Holy Spirit say not to. That doesn’t mean God is going to steer you to easy people; remember that one of the 12 was a traitor, and despite his good intentions, Peter was no picnic either. God has a purpose in all He does.
So what does this look like in practice? I have one person (the Lady Wife) who has complete access to my life, period. Nothing is closed to her. I have a few people that have near-complete access to my life, and I to theirs. They are devoted followers of Jesus who have stuck with me through good times and bad, and I treasure them. We live in each other’s lives. I have a range of divisive folks in my life. I love them. I serve them as the occasion arises. I do not, however, partner closely with them. How could I? We’re not working for the same boss.