When Paul finally arrived in Rome as a prisoner, he called together the local leaders of the Jews. He wanted to speak to them about why he had been sent to Rome in chains. As he introduced his desire, they responded by saying, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against” (Acts 28:21-22).
How sad. The sect that upholds the truth that can set us free is spoken against everywhere (I Timothy 3:15; John 8:32). If you are like me, you tend to think that such a great thing when presented properly will be accepted by all. Even if they decide not to agree at least they ought to appreciate what we believe and be tolerant of our goals. Yet, that is simply not the case.
No matter what we do, if we are faithful to God and His word, some will simply not like us. Jesus Himself said that some would speak against us and believe they are speaking in the name of God (John 15:21). That means some who even believe they are acting as Christians will persecute and speak out against those who are truly practicing the truth.
When others speak against us, instead of softening what Jesus taught or hiding in our church buildings, we need to rely on God. We can pray as the psalmist that God not allow our enemies to exult over us or put us to shame (Psalm 25:2). We can ask God to lead us on level paths and not give us up to the will of our adversaries (Psalm 27:11). False witnesses abound against us, but God can provide us with faith and victory. We can take refuge in God and seek His deliverance (Psalm 31:1-2).
We do not retaliate with vengeance. We do not try to put our enemies in their place. When we are wise, we will respond as Jesus did while on trial, simply allowing the enemies to speak. We do not have to provide a defense against our attackers. God will defend in His time. Rather, we treat those who would attack us with kindness, patience, love (Romans 12:20-21). We need to overcome evil with good, not rise to the evil and return it upon them. It is so easy to seek vengeance, to seek retaliation, to try to provide tit for tat. That is not how Christ would have us act.
Lean on Christ. Do the right thing. Be at peace with others as much as depends on you. Let our enemies beat their heads against the wall trying to get us to move away from Christ. We can take refuge in God and find deliverance. As we live by these means, some of our enemies will even be softened and repent, becoming able to glorify God on the day of visitation (I Peter 2:12).
No matter what we do, someone won’t like us. No matter what we do, some will speak against us. That will hurt us. However, we can lean on God and He will provide deliverance in His time. Let’s just do the right thing today no matter what anyone else says about us.
In our country, we seem to be in the grasp of a culture of negativity. We are discontented about nearly everything. We have two major political parties who seem to be more interested in opposing the other’s agenda than doing what is right for the country. If they are for it, I have to be against it. In the sports world, if a team has one bad season, the boosters begin to complain and seek a quick dismissal of the coach. They do this by grumbling among themselves then to the management or school administrators until the negativity grows, and the program has no choice but to make a change. We feel we must find and expose all the errors a person has made before we examine if there has been any correction of those errors. We must be right on every issue. The media seems to delight in tearing down the image of anyone in the public eye.
I fear this same culture of negativity has infected the church. It is not something new. God’s people, like most people throughout history, have fallen prey to this type thinking. The children of Israel had not been out of Egypt very long before they started murmuring. Moses was a target of the people, yet God told him that it was He they were murmuring against, not Moses. Of the twelve spies, only two had the confidence that God’s people would prevail in taking the Promised Land. The others only saw the negative.
In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul warned the church not to participate in grumbling or murmuring, but seek the good of others and not merely look out for their own interests. Nothing can destroy the unity of a congregation quicker than discontented brethren who seek to find fault in everything done in a congregation. It can be the simplest things. The song leader is not very good, the preacher is too firm in his presentation or the prayers are too long. I have even heard people complain that there are too many prayers and too many songs. How can praising God through song and approaching Him in prayer be laborious? It seems to be a major catastrophe if the worship assembly goes five minutes too long. Some might say, “The elders actually made a decision without consulting me first.” So, if there is something we disagree with or dislike, we simply start talking to our closest friends in the congregation about our discontent. Then, the seeds of discontent are planted and the growth of disunity will surely bloom. If we have a complaint about someone, we will not go to them. We treat an eldership or the preacher as the congregation’s “complaint department.” We complain to the elders or preacher about someone else and are essentially saying, “I don’t want to hurt his feelings, so, I am telling you so you can hurt his feelings.”
Christ gave the principle regarding disunity in Matthew 12:25; a house divided will be brought to desolation. Paul wrote about brethren biting and devouring one another in Galatians 5:15. In the same context he goes on in verse 20, while listing the works of the flesh, to list rivalries, dissension and divisions as it is described in the English Standard Version. Those who sow discord among the brethren is listed in Proverbs 6 as an abomination to God along with pride, lying, shedding innocent blood, wicked planning, running to evil, and false witnessing. This is no small matter to our God. In dealing with the many problems facing the Corinthian church, Paul wrote first about their division in chapter one. Unless they were unified, they could not correct their other problems. He chastised them for their party spirit.
If there is someone in a congregation with whom we have a complaint, go to them and resolve the complaint. If there is a spiritual problem, go to them. In doing so, you may save a soul. Take no delight in their frailties. Do not adopt the attitude of being the sole source of truth. Even in dealing with an errant brother, we must do so with humility. Listen to the warning of I Corinthians 10:12 and not think too highly of ourselves, lest we fall. And, do not let your knowledge inflate your ego and cause you to sin as we are told in I Corinthians 8:1. If your complaint is he never polishes his shoes, either talk to him or keep it to yourself. If your complaint is based on your personal opinion, I suggest you remain quiet. Avoid discord and avoid something God hates.
In Ephesians 4:20-23, Paul explained that we Christians should put off the old self and put on the new self that is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (ESV). Then in Ephesians 4:25-32, he gave some illustrations of these changes.
We know what this passage says. We are working on it in many aspects of our lives. There is one aspect of modern life, however, in which this work is often overlooked—the Internet. The faceless nature of the Internet and e-mail often allows us to sin without even realizing it. Certainly, we are careful with the biggies—no pornography, no gambling, no stalking. But what about some of the sins mentioned in Ephesians 4:25-32?
We are to speak the truth. Did we check to make sure that e-mail we are forwarding actually tells the truth? I am often shocked at the number of Christians who forward an e-mail to me with the disclaimer: “I don’t know if this is true, but it sure makes you think.” Sadly, forwarding false e-mails simply gives atheists and skeptics fuel for their accusations that we are gullible people who won’t do our homework. Lying by forwarding an e-mail is still lying.
We aren’t supposed to sin when we’re angry. That means even though we are angry we don’t dwell in bitterness, have outbursts of wrath, clamor, slander, or gossip. We definitely don’t pursue malice. Because we can’t see who we’re talking to when we e-mail, blog, or comment, we often talk in ways we would never speak face to face (of course, if you would speak that way face to face, that doesn’t make it right, that just means you are sinning face to face as well as on the Internet). When we write on the Internet, even if we are having highly emotional discussions, we must still write with kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness no matter how anyone else has written to us. I know this one is tough; I violate it all the time and Marita calls me down on it.
We aren’t supposed to steal. Did we download someone’s song from a website and put it on our mp3 player without paying for it? Some musicians allow it, but for the most part that is illegal. It is theft.
We must let no corrupt word come out of our mouth, but only that which will build up. When we are e-mailing, blogging, commenting, facebooking, pleonasting, are we saying things that build up? Or are we just displaying our own arrogance, mocking others, belittling them, tearing them down? Certainly, we can educate people even about things where we disagree, but is our goal really to help people grow or is it to vent our spleen and take down anyone who gets in our way. Sadly, I’ve been in the midst of “Bible studies” online that were the least edifying discussions I had ever seen. Even more sadly, I know times where I crossed the line on this. It is just easy to violate these principles online and not even realize it.
We are to remove clamor, slander, and malice. Clamor simply means to make a lot of noise, an outcry. Sadly, far too many are blogging, facebooking, twittering with nothing in mind but to raise their own outcry of clamor about one topic or another. Sadly, many gossip and slander by forwarding e-mails (especially political ones) that aren’t based in truth and are specifically designed to make us think ill of the subjects in the e-mails. Sadly, many people pursue malice by working hard to sharpen their wit in order to hurt, belittle, and mock others online. They think they are being funny or just making a point. They are sinning. It is so easy to do. But instead, even online, we are to speak with kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness.
The digital age provides many blessings. But it has also provided many opportunities to turn from the Lord. Remember what Paul said, “That is not the way you learned Christ!” Let’s act like Jesus even when we’re online.