I recently heard two people say this: “I don’t get along with _____ because I don’t agree with him.” You might find this to be entirely natural, and I can say there is a part of me that understands this well because I’ve thought it myself. But just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good.
We might think that the basis for a friendship or a relationship of some kind should rest upon common experiences or common beliefs. And to some degree, this is true. We do tend to gather with others who are like-minded, which is how we get clusters of people in a religion, or a club, or a denomination,
There is something deep within us that brings us close to one another, and this same something gives rise to our greatest conflicts. This something is our system of beliefs—beliefs about life, and God, and morality. If none of us believed anything, then we’d probably get along more easily. It’s the differences that separate us.
This brings us to the question I’d like for us to consider: How, and when, should we get along?
At times, I’ve wondered why God didn’t make belief, and subsequently the getting along, easier on us. The simplest model to govern a belief is one with a strong, central authority. When a belief system can be controlled from the top, then internal alignment will naturally ensue. This is the model for any number of cults today.
However, the Bible doesn’t set up the church in a command-and-control kind of structure, where leaders of the church act as the arbiters for belief. Instead, the Scriptures make priests out of all believers, give leaders to shepherd and train and guide those believers, and set Jesus as king over all of us. In structural terms, the church becomes flat.
The trouble with this, if you want to call it trouble at all, is that flatness leads to diversity. If I get to read the Bible and tell you what it means, then we’re likely going to agree with one another because you don’t know any better. But if you and I can both read the same Bible, and we can come up with different perspectives, then we’re going to be at odds on some things.
I don’t mean to make this an ecumenical or interfaith call. Protestants disagree with Catholics on the nature of justification. Christians disagree with Muslims on the nature of Jesus. Monotheists disagree with polytheists on the nature of God. And theists disagree with atheists on the existence of God.
These differences are important, because they mean something vital. If there is a God, and our sin separates us from Him, and this life is but a vapor, and there’s a way, but only one way, to be made right with Him, and He divides the world into those whom He is for and those whom He is against, then it’s vital that we know specifics about this God. And it’s vital that we agree on these things.
But beyond these vital differences, the solid blacks and whites begin to gray to varying degrees. There are other beliefs to die for, but they are smaller in number than we might believe. There are others to debate over, but again, they are probably smaller in number than we might think. And there are still others to forebear, which are probably far greater in number than we would like to admit.
God knows this. He saw fit in His infinite wisdom to make it so. By giving us a book and sending us His Spirit and commissioning His people to carry out His commandments, He is running the risk that we’re going to botch some things and fight a bit more than we should. Which brings us back to our question: How, and when, should we get along?
Paul gives us some help here: “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
Much can be said, but for the sake of this discussion, we can just say that the call to unity is predicated on the calling of God. God calls us to be His own, and as His people, He commands us to eagerly maintain the unity of the Spirit. It’s interesting to see the how that follows the what of this command.
Bear one another in love.
By these actions, we are to maintain unity with one another. If we disagree with an enemy, Jesus tells us to love them and pray for them. If we disagree with a brother or sister in Christ, the Spirit tells us to maintain unity with them in the bond of peace.
So when we’re tempted to say we don’t get along with someone because we disagree, it’s probably more accurate to say: I don’t get along with him because I’m prideful; or I don’t get along with her because I’m not willing to love her.
Instead, let us be the kind of people who are humble, gentle, patient, and willing to bear with one another in love.
Question: Why is it hard to maintain peace with someone with whom we disagree?