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“What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?” declares the Lord God of hosts (Isa 3:15).
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:43-48).
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:16-21).
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal 5:19-24).
Recently, I got into an argument with a fellow pastor. And honestly, it was bad. The way this guy talked, it seemed like, if I disagreed with him, then I was a sinner bound by the sin we disagreed about. There was just no possible way I could honestly approach the text of the Bible and not come to the same conclusion he did without being a sinner, and thus a false teacher who shouldn’t be a minister.
Yep. It was ugly.
This does not sit well with me at all. And honestly, it shouldn’t. Honestly, the matter about we disagreed was, to me, pretty inconsequential. But it was his attitude I found absolutely repulsive. He was acting arrogant and abusive, slandering all who disagreed with him. He was a man of strife.
That’s really stuck with me. I mean, if that is his attitude towards a fellow minister—someone who is, by all accounts, his brother in Christ and in profession—then how does he act towards those who are not even Christian?
What do you do when you come across Christians like these? Even—and especially—people with spiritual authority? Honestly, who and how prominent they are and how much authority they exercise is irrelevant. The steps are the same.
My first reaction was anger. Which may or may not be justified. Bear in mind, you are only hearing my side of the story. I’m sure I could have handled my end of it better. Perhaps I somehow provoked him to this. I don’t know. In hindsight, I know I could have done better, but that is passed.
But also remember that I’m easily tempted by anger. As I shared last week, anger is something that has been a companion of mine. So my anger quickly moved to, “I will show him. I will destroy his stupid arguments and I will shut him right up.”
Internally, that is. I never did anything of the sort.
Because, first and most importantly, then I would be every bit the bully I thought he was acting. I didn’t just want to win the argument, I wanted to grind his face in the dust. I wanted to avenge my hurt on him.
But where is the fruit of the Spirit in that? Where is the trust in God? Those would have been totally absent. Rather, the works of the flesh would have been evident: fits of anger, strife, rivalry, and division, just most obviously. I would be answering a strifeful spirit with a strifeful spirit, not the Holy Spirit.
It could have gotten really ugly.
Second, I had to bear in mind that I didn’t really know the guy. We were talking in a pastor’s forum—that’s right, an online argument (because those are so productive). I’ve never met this guy. This is the one interaction I’ve had with him. Maybe he’s having a bad day. Maybe this is touching on something that’s been a source of tremendous pain in his life and he’s lashing out. Maybe he’s not spiritually arrogant; maybe he’s just hurting.
Maybe I was totally wrong about who he was.
I didn’t have a lot of info to go off of. Like I said, I don’t know him. That’s our one interaction. How am I supposed to say I know his spirit when I’ve never even met him, just exchanged words in an argument online?
I the Lord search the heart and test the mind (Jer 17:10a). I am not God. I can’t make that call.
I needed to set my ego aside.
I wasn’t entirely successful. I will admit that. Since this still bothers me, I obviously haven’t set it entirely aside, now have I?
But what I could do was respond with the fruit of the Spirit.
First, I needed to exercise self-control. What I wanted to do was evil. I refused to do it.
Be angry and do not sin (Eph 4:26). I was angry. I was tempted to sin.
I chose to move on. Self-control.
This is important. Anger is a reaction—it’s not something you generally do willingly, but something that automatically comes out of you from a stimulus. Being angry isn’t sinful, but what you do with it might be.
Second, I needed to see if I thought this could be productive. If I continued to engage this guy, I would continue our strife. I would probably continue to be angry. And so I would continue to be tempted to sin. That was probably not a good option.
So I could either choose to continue to engage, or to disengage. Those are really your only two options in that case. Engaging would probably be a bad option, so I chose to disengage.
That was hard to swallow. I like being right. I felt very hurt and offended by the attitude I was picking up from this guy. And I was pretty darned sure I could win the argument.
But what good was it to win an argument if it meant sinning—giving into my anger, feeding my ego—to do it?
I had to swallow my pride and say, “I’m done.”
I could have probably done better. I’m not saying I handled this perfectly. In that moment, that was as gentle as I could really be. Perhaps if I’d relied more on God, it could have been better. Always room for improvement.
Honestly, that took a lot for me. It’s hard for me to disengage when I am positive the other person is wrong—not only factually, but also morally. And I was positive of that (and I could be entirely wrong, as outlined above).
But in the end, I needed to treat him as a brother, not as an enemy.
And that’s really it, I think. It ties up a lot with that last verse in Galatians 5, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
When someone bullies you, you can choose to respond with the same spirit or with the Holy Spirit. Your desire, your passion, will probably be to respond in the same spirit. To be haughty, angry, and abusive back.
But God has called you to practice that great fruit of the Spirit, self-control. Remind yourself what your priority is: living in harmony with the other person.
Love that person. Respond with patience and kindness and gentleness.
What is more important to you: being right, or living in peace with your sister or brother? Winning or following Christ?