Is unity possible with someone you don’t like?

body-of-christ

We are now three more sleeps until Christmas – one of the few days where we find ourselves surrounded by family, fulfilling traditions, and celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Some of us have wonderful, picturesque and happy families while others of us have dysfunctional ones, and some of us simply live too far away and/or do not have the money to make the trek home for the holidays.

But if you are a Christian, you have a different kind of family as well:  the family and body of Christ, your local church.  If you have been involved in your local church with any dedication and for any amount of time, you have probably noticed that there are as varied personalities there as there are within your natural family.  There are people you cannot wait to see, with whom you love to spend time, and there are those whom you would prefer to simply pass in the hallway.  There are kind, generous and thoughtful people as well as selfish, rude and abrasive people.  We have a little bit of everything.

But as the body of Christ, we have been called to be unified.  We have been called to love.  We have been called to sacrifice for one another.

“Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

– Phil 2.2

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

– 1 Peter 3.8

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

– 1 Cor 1.10

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

– Col 3.14

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but 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.”

– Phil 2.3-4

Have you ever heard someone say, “I love him, but I do not like him”?  It is true that love is deeper than a mere emotional affection.  Love is the intentional choice to care for someone, to put his needs above our own, to serve another and look out for their best interests.  It is also true that it is possible to make that choice to honor, respect and love another person even if the other person’s personality is abrasive and you do not particularly care to be in his presence.

But is it possible to maintain that tension in our spirits for a long period of time?  Can we truly make the choice to love someone while our hearts cringe at the thought of being around him?  No.  I would argue we cannot.

Emotions and affections are reactionary.  We learn as children that when we make up our minds and choose a course of action, everything else follows.  Jesus said simply,

“…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

– Matt 6.21

Jesus is speaking directly about earthy treasure versus eternal treasures.  If we set our minds and goals on money, toys, fame or anything on Earth, our hearts will follow in desiring and longing for those things.  If we set our minds and goals on eternal things like honoring God and salvation of the lost, our hearts and affections will be pleased with those things.

Not only are emotions reactionary, but Scripture teaches us that our hearts are wicked and deceptive above all else.

“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?”

– Jer 17.9

Our flesh is marked by our sinful nature, and the natural desires that flow from it are wicked.  If we depend on our hearts to guide us, we will make evil decisions continually.  The emotion of hatred or not liking someone is a result of a wicked heart and unchecked emotions.

As the body of Christ, we have been called to unity.  Unity of mind, unity of purpose, without any division, exemplifying sympathy and brotherly love.  And we simply cannot pursue someone else’s best interest if we do not like him and choose to avoid him.

Ok, so that’s great and all, but what do I do if I do not like someone?

First of all, we need to examine the situation.  Step back and ask yourself, “Why do I not like this person?”  Did this person wrong you at some point in the past?  Was there reconciliation?  Are you jealous of this person for some reason?  Does his personality just rub you the wrong way?

If there is an unaddressed sin, then for the sake of both of your souls, it needs to be addressed.  We are warned strongly throughout Scripture to not make peace with sin or let it continue (Heb 10.26-27, Rom 8.13).  In fact, Scripture teaches us that when a brother is in sin it is our responsibility to humbly draw him to repentance, and if he will not repent to remove him from the church so as to not lead others into sin and hopefully draw him to repentance through that discipline (Gal 6.1, Matt 18.15-17, 1 Cor 5).  This is an act of love, because continuing in sin has the gravest of consequences.  We confront sin in humility, remembering our own sin and being acutely aware that we could be tempted and fall as well.

Was a sin or offense addressed, but you still are bitter?  This is a lack of forgiveness against which we must intentionally fight.  Jesus says that we will forgive in the same way that we have been forgiven, and if we are unwilling to forgive then we prove ourselves to have not been forgiven by God (Luke 7.47, Matt 6.15).  The root of bitterness is a terrible and sly temptation that will ruin us if we do not keep it in check (Heb 12.15).  Recognize in your heart that even if you feel justified in your bitterness, anger or hatred, it will destroy you.  And if Jesus, who is perfect and God can forgive you, then we are compelled to forgive others any offense.

Are you jealous of him?  Perhaps he has a beautiful wife, perfectly behaved children, a wonderful job or that charismatic personality you wish you had.  Or perhaps he speaks too bluntly, makes awkward observations, or has an annoying laugh.  These are heart and sin issues that we need to address without confronting or involving the other person.  Jealousy is a wicked deception of the devil, convincing us that God has not been as good to us as He has to another person.  This is conquered by intentional thankfulness and pursuit of God’s direction in your life.  He may not be giving you money because you would become unfaithful with it.  He may have given you difficult children to grow your faith.  He may have you in your specific job to make a kingdom impact, even if the job is terrible.  God has a perfect and sovereign plan for your life, do not dishonor Him by wishing you had someone else’s, but trust and follow Him.

It is true that we will not be accountability partners, best friends or bosom buddies with everyone.  We simply do not have the time or emotional capability to do so.  Jesus chose twelve disciples, and of those twelve had three closest friends, and He was able to maintain this many relationships in part because He did not go in to an office from 9:00-5:00 every day.

It is also true that in the process of discipleship, people will fail and need to gain victory over specific personality flaws.  Thus, if a man has committed adultery and proven Himself unfaithful, then there is a season of growth, accountability and restoration required before he should be trusted fully again.  If someone has stolen money from the church, he needs to prove his repentance and be restored before serving on the financial team again.  If someone has been caught in a lie, then a system of checks and balances is established for a season while he is restored.

But all of these situations must be confronted and handled in love.  If we have been forgiven, then we must forgive one another.  If someone is seeking to confess and restore himself in the wake of a sin, then it is the body’s responsibility to pray for him and walk with him in that process.  If we never allow him to regain honor or trust, then we are sinning against him.  We, as the body, should be in the business of forgiving and restoring people – just as Jesus forgives and restores us.  We are all going to fall, and we all need grace from God and grace from one another.

As a unified and united body, we will have close friends, we will have acquaintances, and in a large enough body, we will have people whom we have never met.  What is important is that we have a unified heart to love and honor God, that we have a unified mission in reaching our communities and world, and that we are intentionally seeking one another’s well being through brotherly love.  If a need arises in the church, do we jump to meet it?  Do we encourage one another by helping people get connected and involved?

In short, we need to check our hearts.  Our hearts will deceive us and validate our sinful tendencies if we do not keep them aligned with Scripture.  We are commanded to love one another the very same way we love ourselves (Matt 22.39).  So those quirks and tendencies that we overlook in ourselves, we are commanded to overlook in other people.  Those allowances we make for ourselves, we are commanded to make for other people.  And if we care for one another in brotherly love, then we humbly and intentionally address sin that we see in one another.

Remember also, that we are united as a body – working towards a goal.  The Church should not be static relationships, but strategic team work towards impacting the kingdom.  We must therefore intentionally value what everyone brings to the table (1 Cor 12), and when we see a bigger picture we can value others more easily.

Thus we must be unified with someone that we do not like, but we should not be content to “not like” a brother or sister in Christ.  That is an emotional reaction to a bigger issue, which we need to address in our hearts.  Pray for him.  If you pray for someone long enough, you will begin to care about him on a selfless and real level.

So let’s get real with ourselves, with God, and with one another.  Are you harboring anything against someone else?  Confront it – either in your own heart, with God, or with the other person.  Do not let division begin in your Church, that is one of Satan’s greatest tactics to neutralize our effect in our communities and world.  Put one another above yourself.  Love boldly.  Remember that we are working together.  And trust God for the outcome.

I can’t change, even if I wanted to.

Yesterday I was driving home from the grocery and was scanning the radio when I hear the refrain of a song with these lyrics:

And I can’t change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
And I can’t change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to

I did a little research and found out that it is a song entitled “Same Love” by Macklemore, advocating for homosexual marriage rights.  It is an extremely peculiar song, with the chorus repeating the mantra that change is impossible, people are genetically made up with sexual tendencies and desires that are immutable, but yet the rest of the song is advocating change:

We press play, don’t press pause
Progress, march on
With the veil over our eyes
We turn our back on the cause
‘Til the day that my uncles can be united by law
When kids are walking ’round the hallway plagued by pain in their heart
A world so hateful some would rather die than be who they are
And a certificate on paper isn’t gonna solve it all
But it’s a damn good place to start
No law is gonna change us
We have to change us
Whatever God you believe in
We come from the same one
Strip away the fear
Underneath it’s all the same love
About time that we raised up… sex

So, Macklemore would have us believe that homosexuality is a genetic disposition which is unalterable and thus everyone else has to change their feelings, beliefs and laws on the topic.  He argues in this verse that laws are the place to start, but he is ultimately trying to change the general public to accept and validate the homosexual lifestyle, and he says it is possible.

Ironically, in the very next phrase, he attempts to unify religions by discrediting them all, and establishing that he can speak authoritatively on the supreme being.  If we “all come from the same [god]” then no religion’s claim to absolute truth can be accurate, and thus all are fundamentally invalidated.  Unless, of course, he is saying that you can believe whatever you want, but only his belief system is the right one…

But that is another conversation for another day.  And though we could reflect on the statements made in this song for hours, I want to ask the simple question:  Can people change?  Macklemore would have us believe that we can change our attitudes and reactionary feelings, but not our core being or genetic makeup (which he believes is the foundation of homosexuality).

Our culture is based on the assumptions that change is both possible and impossible.  We are inundated with self help books, coping tools and counseling, ten easy steps to any goal and get thin fast options.  At the same time, we preach to ourselves that “people never change” and if someone has let us down one time, we write them off as untrustworthy and keep them at arm’s length forever.

I would argue that Macklemore is fundamentally right.  While we can change our actions, and while we can continually make our community, our lives or our personal situations more comfortable and appealing, we can never fundamentally change our DNA.  Our genetic disposition.  Our nature.

Our sinful nature.

And thus we have come to the core of the dilemma.  Is there a “gay gene”?  Are people born with an attraction to the same gender?  I do not know the answer to that question, and quite frankly it does not matter.  But I do know that until we have been saved by faith through grace for the forgiveness of our sins, all sexual desires – homosexual or heterosexual are sinful.  Every. Single. One.  Why?  Because it is not of faith, and everything that is not of faith is sin (Rom 14.23).  If we do not know and understand God’s beautiful plan for sex within the bond of marriage, to His glory, then our perception of sex is sinful.  If we do not make love to our spouse, thankful for the gift from God and unto His glory, then it is sin.

If we trust this claim of Scripture to be true, then we can also be assured that sobriety, giving to charity and feeding the hungry are also sinful – apart from faith.  These deeds are commands of Scripture, and will make society more comfortable if followed, but it will not merit one eternal salvation because apart from faith it is done for selfish and wrong motives.  If I feed the hungry out of pity, or if I feed to hungry so that people will notice how good of  a person I am, no glory is given to God.  And therefore it is not of God.

So yes, we can modify behavior, but we cannot change the core of our being.  Scripture says that apart from God we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2.1).  Dead people cannot make themselves come to life!  Scripture also says that we are naturally born enemies of God (Col 1.21, Rom 5.10).  And while we can observe some of His commandments as good, like feeding the poor, we are naturally (genetically) made up to live for ourselves and not for Him.

God has to breathe life into us.  We were dead bones walking around.  But God can change our makeup.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

 – 2 Cor 5.17

Notice here that the verb tenses are passive.  We are made new, we do not make ourselves new.  But God changes us from the core.  God promises to completely remake our genetic makeup, our inner being, our natural tendencies:

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”

 – Ez 36.26-27

He is the one who changes us.  Sometimes the change is immediate and dynamic.  Sometimes the change is slow and steady.  There is no “ten easy steps” guideline to becoming a new creature, because it is God working out His perfect will and desires in us.  We are the clay and He is the potter.

So what do we do?  This could all sound quite fatalistic, if we just stop trying.  We first recognize that we are all genetically flawed.  Every desire we have apart from God is evil.  All of our actions are sinful and deserving of damnation.  And we cry out to God to save us.  He then takes over.  We read His Word, and when we see commandments about sexual purity, about financial stewardship, about caring for the poor and dying to ourselves, and we ask the Holy Spirit who has taken residence in our lives to help us obey those commandments with the right heart and motives.

Will we ever have completely pure and holy motives?  I cannot answer that, but I do know my own wicked heart, which is deceitful above all else and I highly doubt that my motives are ever perfect (Jer 17.9).  But I do trust that God has given me a new heart and a new Spirit which enables me to know Him, love Him and obey Him.  And those things that are done in faith are glorifying to Him.

No, Macklemore, you cannot change, even if you wanted to – at the core level.  But God can change you.  He can change me.  He can change anyone, and lead us to salvation through repentance.  And we all have to change every natural desire that we have, because apart from faith it is all sin.  Heterosexual and homosexual.  Non profit and for profit.  Good and evil.  Apart from God, it is all the broad path to Hell.

For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

 – Mat 7.14

narrow path