In church, as in anywhere else, any topic of conversation will result in a number of contrasting opinions 1. These opinions are often held very emphatically, as if every single opinion on every single topic carries the same weight as Scripture. 😁
That’s not what Christians really think, of course. But it is an attitude that everyone can fall into without realizing it. It just goes along with being fallen and sinful — although forgiven and redeemed — creatures. I found this article that humorously lists some of the ways that church members have fallen into this trap.
God knows His children, and knows how foolish we can be. So He has given us tools and guidance to teach us how to approach differing opinions from His perspective.
Love God; Love Others
When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, He replied “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Matthew 22:37/Mark 12:30, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5). Continuing His answer, Jesus said that the second greatest commandment was to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39/Mark 12:31, quoting Leviticus 19:18).
If we love God, and then love others because He does, it may not necessarily affect our opinions (although it often does, in time). We will still enjoy one type of music more than another; we will still have a favorite flavor of ice cream; we will still be either early birds or night owls. But what it will affect is how tightly we cling to our preferences when they differ from another’s. We will be more willing to defer to someone else, to go along with something that might not be our own way of doing things, simply in order to show our love for them.
Honor the Lessons Learned from Experience
One of the Ten Commandments is “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16). Proverbs 1:8 and Proverbs 4:1-5 repeat the emphasis on honoring parents, while other Proverbs discuss the value of receiving instruction with a teachable attitude (Proverbs 8:10, 8:33, 9:9, 10:17).
Especially for younger people, we can take time to listen to our elders and their old-fashioned opinions. Their reasoning may be obsolete for a changing world. But, their lessons may instead be timeless foundations that become even more true as the world changes. What seems new to us may actually be a repetition of something done in past generations, with either success or failure from which we can learn. What seems like just an old tradition may actually have good reason and beautiful purpose.
Fulfill Our Responsibility to the Next Generation
When Deuteronomy said to love God with all our heart, soul, and might, that commandment was quickly followed by another, directed to parents: “You shall teach them [God’s laws] diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 6:7, repeated in Deuteronomy 11:19). Ephesians 6:4 tells fathers to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Especially for older people, we can take the time to mentor and develop the generations that will replace us. That does not mean trying to mold them into “mini-me’s”, though! Each new generation is facing its own set of challenges and bringing fresh new ideas into the world. Those can be blended with past experience to stretch and strengthen the church…if we are willing to step outside of ourselves and invest in young people. We need to do so in a way that teaches God’s truth, but with flexibility about style and presentation. And, BTW, those proverbs about having a teachable attitude never stop applying, at any age!
Reverse Our Idea of Status
In Luke 14:7-11, Jesus reversed our usual concept of jockeying for position. He said not to aim for the best position at the banquet table. Instead, assume a less-prominent position, and wait to be invited higher…rather than risk being asked to move down for a more important guest. When His disciples bickered over which of them was the greatest, Jesus rebuked them. He used a child as an example, saying that the greatest in His kingdom was the one with the most childlike humility (Matthew 18:1-4, Mark 9:33-35, Luke 9:46-48). He also used Himself as an example: He is, by far, the most deserving of honor, but he stooped to serving others instead (Luke 22:24-27, John 13:5-16, Philippians 2:5-8).
This teaches us all — young or old, traditional or ultra-modern — to resist the temptation to insist on getting our own way. Demanding that others defer to us, because we think we are more important and entitled to that deference, is the opposite of what God wants from us. Note that this applies even if we really are important, with a long history of leadership or with brilliant new ideas. Jesus is God Himself, and still didn’t insist on all the glory that He deserves.
Submit to One Another
Romans 12:10 tells us to “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor“. Ephesians 5:21 phrases it as “be subject to one another in the fear of Christ“, while Galatians 5:13 says “through love serve one another“. Philippians 2:3-4 says “with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” All of 1st John chapters 3 and 4 emphasizes the charge to love one another, as does all of Jesus’ high-priestly prayer in John chapter 17.
It seems that God has gone to some effort to emphasize this point: Everything we do as His children must be characterized by love that results in unity (John 13:34-35). That includes how we handle conflict both outside the church and also within it. Our initial human tendency to put ourselves forward, to take offense or to insist that our way is the only correct one must be resisted. Instead:
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Seek God’s Kingdom First
Christians need to remember that our Great Commission is to reach the world for Christ (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8). That includes a world full of folks who don’t look, think, or act the same as we do. Trying to turn them into clones or “typical” Christians is not fair. The goal is to introduce them to Jesus, and let Him turn them into the unique person He intends.
That leaves no room for saying that anything must be done in any certain way, whether a traditional one or a new avant-garde one. It leaves no room for complaining that something is inconvenient for me, if that something will help brings others to Jesus. All of our focus is to be on God, His kingdom, and the world that desperately needs to hear the good news that He loves them! 2
Footnotes and Scripture References
- Usually the number of opinions can be estimated at number-of-people plus ten percent!
- I would really hate to get to Heaven, and learn that someone was not there because my self-centeredness helped to drive them away from Jesus. I never want my silliness to make Him or His church look foolish to the world!