“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4:16
I had three different believers make three very strong, yet very different comments to me this week, all relating to the current political and social climate. The level of passion being felt by many in our country is at a level I don’t recall it ever being at before, and much of it centers around two issues: abortion and racism. The conversation about the presidential election is largely a conversation about these two issues.
I’m not here to downplay the seriousness of both these issues. Abortion is murder. Racism is pride, hatred and a disparaging of God’s image in another. And the Bible is clear that injustices like these exist on the societal/structural/systemic level as well as the individual level (because societies are developed by sinful people), and thus the fight for justice is multifaceted: personal, political, societal, spiritual, relational.
But my point here is not to compare and contrast these issues. My point is to issue some challenges on how we, as Christians, enter into these “battlegrounds.” How are we going to war? Is our posture any different than the world’s? Are our weapons any different than the world’s? What kind of witness are we leaving? Do we actually love the people we disagree with?
A few questions to consider:
1. Is our anger and passion disconnected from other biblical qualities like humility, grace, confession of sin, patience and longsuffering. Anger is an appropriate response to evil, one that Jesus displayed. But it’s not the only appropriate response, and consistently adopting a posture of anger and outrage will eventually lead to sin. John Piper recently wrote an article calling for a “brokenhearted boldness”:
“Boldness can become brash, harsh, severe, cruel, angry, impatient, contentious, belligerent, coarse, crude, snarky, snide, loud, garish, obnoxious — all in the name of Christian courage. Or more subtly, boldness in the cause of truth can become, even if less brash and severe, more all-consuming. It can become such a fixation that all other beautiful affections and dispositions are eaten away from within.”
Our world doesn’t need more people who are simply outraged. They need more people able to combine righteous anger with love, humility and patience.
2. Do we allow there to be diversity within the church on how, when and where different believers fight for justice? We can, and should, agree that abortion and racism (and child abuse, sexual slavery, adultery, revenge, covetousness) are evil. But this doesn’t mean we all need to feel equally passionate about each of these issues, or all fight for justice in the same way. It’s actually beneficial for us to be diverse in this way, as none of us have the necessary bandwidth, insight or abilities to fight for every issue, on every front. Can we say to our brother or sister: “I’m glad you’re involved in the fight for racial justice; tell me more about what you’ve learned”?
3. Do we remember that many of those on the “other side” need Christ (and need Christ more than they need to be won to our side)? I admit the phrase “Win the person, not the argument” is a bit oversimplified, but it carries some valuable truth. Are we so dead set on winning arguments that we are forsaking love? Are we so focused on our side coming out on top that we lose our witness? Taking a hard stand for the truth of a particular issue doesn’t mean you have to press that issue at every opportunity.
4. Do we remember the need for real heart change that only comes through the gospel? Passing laws against abortion is necessary and desirable. But it’s one part of the battle for life. What would be more effective was if there was no demand for abortion in the first place. A recent article argued that the vast majority of expecting mothers and fathers want to keep their children; abortion is not a desirable option. Making it illegal is one way to disincentivize it; but so is developing hearts and minds that see the full value of life, trust that God and his will is good, and experience a community of believers that cares for those most likely to get an abortion–with financial help, emotional support, mentorships, a commitment to adoption, etc.
The charge will be made that questions like these are a distraction from the seriousness of the issues at hand. I don’t buy it. Biblically, both our convictions (doctrine) and our character (godliness) matter. We can be right in all the major doctrinal issues, but be a walking example of ungodliness, and a horrible witness to the doctrine we say we believe.
As Paul writes to Timothy, let’s keep a close watch on both our lives and the doctrine we believe and proclaim. In doing this, we will “save both yourself and your hearers.”