One of the things that stands out to me both in Scripture and in the lives of Christians I admire, is the pervasive presence of an all encompassing love. A true love that confronts wrongs without fits of anger, belittling, or intentionally causing division and strife in the body. Loving statements that are bold and firm, yet do not leave the hearer angry with the person as much as angry with the truth being told, if they are angry at all. One thing we do know is that the gospel is an offense (1 Corinthians 1:18 ), even to the point of others seeking to kill the proclaimers of it (Mark 8:35 ). So, "speaking the truth in love" by no means ensures that we will never offend, but what it does ensure is that we are not sinning when we do so (Eph. 4:26 ).
I must confess this is an area where I feel continually inadequate, and can only praise God that my abilities, or doing of it, in no way impact the effectuality of my salvation, as that is already and can be only secured through Christ's atoning death and propitiation for my sins on the cross!
"I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."-Ephesians 4:1-3.
These verses are preceded by some of the most encouraging and glorious promises given to the believer. In Chapters 1-3 of Ephesians is laid out the unbelievable truths as to who we are in Christ, what His death and resurrection have done for us, and what are future is to be in Christ through our inheritance in Him. There are things in these chapters so wonderful that they can hardly be believed, and yet we cling to them because they are so wonderful and we want them so badly.
These chapters, however, make the first verse of chapter 4 all the more serious. We are told that because of these promises and who we are in Christ, we must "walk worthy". Not that we can achieve perfection while we are in the flesh, and we certainly cannot achieve it on our own, but that we should attain to these attributes as befits a believer in Christ, that we would not hinder the gospel and that we would be "to the praise of the glory of His grace" (Eph. 1:6 ).
When it comes to dealing with our convictions and others, when they are true convictions from God proved by Holy Scripture, without compromising we must address these in:
1. "lowliness and meekness"- We must put the welfare and feelings of others before our own. In other words (and this is to me), I can't let any personal offense taken on my part keep me from acting with the potential of them being offended or wronged by me ever in mind in all of my actions or words directed towards them. I also can't come to them with the attitude of pride, because I think I know more than they. Part of my being meek towards them is being willing to reason with them from the Scriptures and to listen to what they say and why they believe differently. All the while, I have to be in submission to the Word of God. If they prove me wrong, I must submit, regardless of how strongly I felt earlier.
2. "longsuffering"- Here's where patience is so important. I have to understand that any wisdom I may have or any true biblical convictions come only through the grace given by the Holy Spirit of God to give me that understanding or knowledge, therefore I have nothing in my own ability to boast in. The same is true for others. We know nothing about the things of God, except He teach them to us. Knowing this, we have to be patient when dealing with others who maybe haven't been given the same knowledge, and yet not be arrogant in what we know. Just because I feel as though I have an understanding about a particular issue, while someone else does not, doesn't mean they don't have understanding that I don't have. Especially when it comes to people who have been faithful Christians much longer than I. It only stands to reason that they have a greater understanding of many things, because they've been given more experience in the Word and in life. I am reluctant to stand against anyone that I don't know for sure that they are in direct defiance of the Word of God and that they are resistant to any attempt to be in submission to Scripture when often confronted with it, but even so, there must be love and patience in this, never giving up that God can and does continually change and teach all of us as He sees fit.
3. "forbearing one another in love"- To speak plainly, we have to put up with others lovingly, just as they must put up with us. Love takes many forms and includes many things (1 Corinthians 13 ), but there is only one truth (John 14:6 ). Take for example the loving way Jesus taught His disciples(Luke 9:46-50 ; 10:17-20 to name two of many examples), when they often had no idea what they were talking about (as do I). And yet the loving way to deal with the outright falseness of the doctrine of the pharisees and how it was hindering the gospel, was to condemn it to their faces and before others (Matthew 3:7 ; Matthew 23 ). There is a time and a place to be forceful and to be public, but it isn't most of the time. The majority of Jesus' teaching was done with parables and patience. How forbearing must our Lord be to let us come to Him in our ignorance when we pray and to use us as imperfect as we are to preach His gospel and further His kingdom?
You can also see this example in Galatians when certain Jews were enforcing the strict requirements of all the Old Testament Law on the believers in Galatia, making it a requirement for salvation. "O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?"(Galatians 3:1 ). These seem pretty harsh, but the gospel was at stake, people were being misled to trust in their own righteousness and their own ability to keep the Law rather than in Christ's alone. What Paul said to them was loving, and yet he rebukes in much of his letters to the church but only rarely uses this kind of language.
4. "Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace"- Most things as you may have seen in the prior posting , are not worth breaking fellowship over or leaving a church over. I will never agree with everything everyone in any local congregation believes, including the pastor, but as long as the gospel is being taught and preached to all, being ever faithful to the whole council of God as revealed only in Holy Scripture, then I must endeavour with all that is in me to maintain unity and peace with my brothers and sisters within and without my local church. I won't be able to go to church everywhere in good conscience or I may prefer a certain denomination based on convictions, but it doesn't keep me from respecting others in Christ and approaching them with patience, meekness, and love in all things.
How many times must Christ have been frustrated with me? How many times was the Holy Spirit patiently letting me go on in my own ways in order to teach me the only right way was God's way? How often does God not simply destroy us all for sin as we continually dishonor Him, our Creator and Sustainer? If such grace has been shown to us, than how can we not endeavor (not perfectly do) to show that same grace to others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ?
Sin will always cause divisions among the body of Christ, but that doesn't lessen our responsibility to do all that we can to prevent it. No one but God is always right about everything. We have deal patiently and lovingly when disagreements arise, and be always willing and ready to submit to Scripture when we are proved wrong by it. I have not the ability of Christ or even of Paul, who was inspired by the Holy Spirit as he wrote, to always know when and where to openly dispute or rebuke, but I have the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit. Lord, I pray that I would use them instead of my own understanding!
"For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh." - Galatians 5:13-16