Humility, Civility, and Unity in Political Discourse, Part 2
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Bob Lepine asserts that gospel unity should always be more important and more powerful than whatever our disagreements are about. Bob reminds believers of the importance of humility, civility, and unity.
Humility, Civility, and Unity in Political Discourse, Part 2
Bob: Think about a conversation you’ve had recently with friends or family members about politics or current events. Here’s the question: “Was that conversation filled with the fruit of the Spirit?”
This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, October 21st. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. When we talk about politics with friends, or family members, coworkers, is there a Christian way to have those conversations?—and what is that Christian way? We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Is it possible for people, who are in the same family or in the same church, to look at the upcoming election and say, “I’m voting for this person”; the other person says, “I’m voting for that person”; and both of these people love Christ, and they just see this differently; is that possible?
Dave: Impossible; it cannot happen. [Laughter]
Bob: If we all love Christ, we should all vote for the same guy—that’s what you’re saying?
Dave: Exactly. [Laughter]
Ann: That’s actually what I lot of people would say.
Dave: That is what a lot of—that’s why I’m being facetious. A lot of people actually think that; and yet, the body of Christ should be a unified body, where you have different perspectives and still love one another.
Bob: Yes; that doesn’t mean that we set aside biblical instruction; in fact, that should inform how we’re going to make up our minds; but I have people, who I know love Jesus, who are going to vote differently than I’m going to vote.
Bob: I can’t say that those people don’t love Jesus because they’re not voting the way I’m going to vote.
Dave: But it is hard to have that perspective; because you think, “Wait a minute; I can give you five reasons why you shouldn’t vote that way, and even tie them to a biblical foundation.” That’s where it gets hard; it’s like, “How could you…”; and there you are.
Ann: Well, good thing we’re going to have this message today—[Laughter]
Dave: We need help!
Ann: —because Bob is going to teach us on rules of engagement.
Bob: I had an opportunity recently to speak at our church on the subject of “Jesus, Politics, and the Gospel”—did three messages on this. All of them are on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com; both the audio and the video is available.
I spoke in the first message about the goodness of government; it’s one of the institutions God has given us. In the second message I talked about the need for unity in the body of Christ, and how we pursue unity even when we don’t agree on secondary things. I think we have to say that political elections are secondary things. There are some people who just flinched when I said that, but I think that’s true. The third message, which, again, is up on our website, is: “How do you think biblically about who you should vote for? How do you make a biblically-informed decisions?”—again, recognizing different people are going to come to different conclusions on that.
Dave: Okay; enough talk, Bob! We have to hear the sermon, so let’s go.
Bob: This is Part Two of the message I shared recently on how we get along with people we don’t agree with.
Bob: Jesus called each one of the 12, who were His disciples; right? He knew who He was calling: He knew their background; He knew what they were bringing to the group.
Two of the men He chose—well, to say that these two guys would have seen things differently would have been an understatement. One of the guys He chose was Matthew. Matthew was a tax collector. A tax collector was a guy who had a franchise with the Roman government to set up the tax collection zone, and he went around and he enforced the tax collection from the Jewish citizens. The franchise was a lucrative franchise. You could make a lot of money as a tax gatherer. You could be a rich outcast if you were a tax collector. That’s Matthew. He’d gotten the franchise; he’d been collecting taxes; he’d made a lot of money and a lot of enemies; he’s one of the 12.
One of the others that Jesus chose was a guy named Simon—not Simon Peter—but Simon, who is described in the Bible as Simon the Zealot. Now, that doesn’t mean that Simon was just a passionate guy—sometimes we’ll say, “He’s such a zealot”—we mean that person just has passionate feelings about something. No; Simon was a part of a group called the Zealots. The Zealots were committed to the overthrow of the Roman government; they hated the Romans. They were extremists; they were militant; they were violent; they were outlaws. They were convinced that paying taxes to Caesar, a pagan king, was an act of treason against God.
Jesus says, “Come be My disciples,”—tax gatherer and Zealot—“Come; let’s have dinner together.” These are guys who are going to naturally come at this with two different worldviews about how you apply your faith in the political structure of the day, and somehow these two men learned to love one another. I’m sure that Simon’s zealousness was corrected; I’m sure that Matthew’s greed was corrected/sanctified over time; but they found their unity in Jesus.
How we function as citizens of the United States, what we believe about Jesus and the gospel, what we believe about the Bible should inform and shape how we make political choices and decisions. We should be advocates for righteousness and godliness in our culture; we should participate as citizens in a democracy. That matters; we should care about these things. These issues that we’re dealing with in our culture should matter to us; we should be informed, and we should vote. We should fully participate in our democracy; it’s a privilege and a responsibility to do so. We ought not neglect it. We need to be fully engaged as citizens, and we need to have our biblical views inform that.
When we have people in our church or outside of our church, who disagree with our political views—in the church, we need to be pursuing gospel unity as we interact over these things and do nothing to threaten our gospel unity as we interact on our disagreements—outside the church, as we interact with people who view the world differently than we, we need to be extending dignity, and value, and worth; we need to be interacting with humility and with civility.
Be engaged citizens; but don’t make the outcome of the election or your support for a candidate into more than it ought to be, and don’t make political allegiance a more important or more significant matter than our shared allegiance to Jesus in the church. If a brother or sister in Christ has a different political view than you, you ought to feel free to engage in discussion and debate—to go back and forth/to seek to persuade one another—that’s healthy and good. It can even be lively and vigorous conversation as long as you know, and they know, and everybody around you knows that, even if you disagree/even if you don’t get on the same side, your love for one another/your bond for one another in gospel unity is not threatened by these political conversations.
Your love for one another is not contingent upon your political alignment. If your political alignment and agreement begins to threaten love and unity within the body of Christ, political alignment and agreement have become too significant for you. Unity and love for one another is a serious matter, and we need to take it seriously.
We also need to take seriously our responsibility as representatives of Jesus/as ambassadors for Christ to make sure that our engagement in political conversations with friends, or coworkers, or family members—anyone, whether they’re a Christian or a non-Christian—those conversations reflect both truth and grace.
I’m going to take you through about a half dozen verses that are passages of Scripture that I think apply to how we interact with one another on political issues/on issues of controversy—it doesn’t have to be political issues—it just seems those are the issues today. I’ll call these our rules for engagement on these issues.
Ephesians 4, verses 1-3: Paul says, in a political dialogue or engagement, according to Ephesians, we should “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 and the bond of peace.” Okay, the last part is about unity in the body of Christ; but even outside of that, it tells us, first of all, when you’re engaging in any kind of interaction—particularly in this case, political dialogue—make sure you’re walking in a manner worthy/you’re representing Jesus the way we ought to be representing Him.
What does that look like?—humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain peace; and when it’s brothers and sisters in Christ, to maintain unity. If you’re having a political dialogue, and you’re not able to have that dialogue with a spirit of humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, love and peace, it’s time to tap out and go take a time-out; okay? Because Jesus wants you to walk in a manner worthy; and worthiness means humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance.
Here’s the problem we face. When you watch political discourse happening on Fox News, or MSNBC, or CNN, or Twitter®, we don’t see humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, peace. That does not get you ratings or clicks. Don’t get sucked into the culture’s way of engaging in political issues. Do it Jesus’ way with humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, love, pursuing peace.
Along those lines, here’s the next passage for us; this is from 2 Timothy, Chapter 2, our next rule for engagement: “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance, leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil after being captured by him, to do his will.” This is not a suggestion/it’s not an idea that, “You know, try not to get into a quarrel,”—“The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome.” Instead, the Lord’s servant must be kind. Kind to whom?—what’s it say?—“…kind to everyone”!
Then it says you must patiently endure—what?—“evil.” Really?—patiently endure evil? That’s what it says. Here’s what it means: patiently enduring evil means that, when people are rude or unkind toward you, you endure. When they’re foolish and hotheaded, you don’t join them down in the mud.
How do you proceed? Well, it says you correct with gentleness/meekness. If you are engaged in a political dialogue, and you find yourself becoming quarrelsome, or unkind, or impatient, or harsh, you have fallen into the trap. Time out; go back to your corner; get centered; you’re not doing it the Jesus way.
Okay, here’s the next rule of engagement; ready for this one? James 1: “Know this, my beloved brothers; let everyone”—everyone/every person—“be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Does this apply in political discourse?—yes! Quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; when you start to feel the anger churning, you need to quiet your own soul.
Now, the question comes up here: “But what if it’s holy indignation? What if the reason you’re stirred up is because the glory of God is being attacked?” Well, God gets angry; that’s true. The Bible tells us, “Be angry, but do not sin.” The reality is that most of us, even if the glory of God being attacked is a factor, most of us have a little bit of remaining sin that’s mixed in with that; and we’re really mad, in part, because our way is being inconvenienced/because our desires are not being fulfilled. It’s possible to have a little bit of righteous anger in you, but it’s probably comingled with your indwelling sin. You just need to be careful if you’re saying, “Well, I have righteous anger here.” Just judge that rightly.
Okay, here’s another one—one that you know—Paul says, “I say to you, walk by the Spirit”; and then later, he explains what walking by the Spirit is going to produce. When you walk by the Spirit, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.” The fruit of the Spirit is not something we can set aside when we come to talk politics. Political discussion is not a fruit of the Spirit-free zone, like some people like to think: “Well, we’re talking about politics; I don’t have to be patient here. I don’t have to be kind. You weren’t kind; I don’t have to be.”
The fruit of the Spirit is what will emerge in your life when you are walking in the Spirit. If it’s not coming out of you, guess what?—you’re not walking in the Spirit! This is true whether you’re having a political conversation, or doing the laundry, or in the line at the grocery store. If your life is not manifesting love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, something other than the Holy Spirit is in control of you. When that happens, it’s time to call a time-out; time to pray; time to confess to God that you’re out of His will. It’s time to surrender, again, to His control over you.
Ephesians 6 tells us there’s a bigger battle going on than the one between the Republicans and the Democrats. We recognize that the political instability in our day has a spiritual root to it. Paul says, “Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness; against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand, therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, putting on the breastplate of righteousness…”—it goes on with that.
This passage is a reminder that, when you’re trying to survive emotionally in this season of politics/when you’re trying to engage with others on politics or policy, you need to make sure that you are spiritually armored up every day. You don’t go into these conversations unless you are walking by the Spirit and you put your spiritual armor on. If you [don’t], you’re heading into battle unprotected; and there is an enemy who wants to use this political season to disrupt and destroy your walk with Jesus.
If you’re not praying regularly—often/without ceasing as the Bible says—if you’re not spending time in God’s Word, reading it, memorizing it, meditating on it; if you’re not connecting regularly with other believers for fellowship, and encouragement, and support; if you’re not gathering for worship regularly, both with others in corporate worship like this, but also having times of private worship, where you are singing hymns to God in the shower, or in your quiet time—wherever you do it—if you’re not doing these things, you will not survive the spiritual attacks that are headed our way.
Okay; here’s the last verse we’ll look at, although there are many more we could look at. This one brings us back full circle to Euodia and Syntyche; remember them? After Paul calls them out in the letter to the Philippians, and tells them they need to agree in the Lord, here’s what he says to them: “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand…” Another way to say this is, “Let everyone see your Spirit-empowered gentleness and patience in every situation.”
Pastor Ray Ortlund says, “In a world of outrage, reasonableness will stand out.” I think he’s right. Showing unity and love for one another in Christ is going to stand out: “By this all men will know you are My disciples.” So let’s keep these rules of engagement in front of us, not just in this season, but for every season of life.
I’ll close with this. I was in the middle of working on this message this week, on Friday, when I got the news about the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In the middle of all of the tributes to her life and her career, and all of the speculation about how the President and Senate are going to handle this—how they should handle it/how this might affect the election—I was reminded of the fact that Justice Ginsburg had a best friend, who served with her on the Supreme Court/a fellow Justice, who four years ago, died in the middle of another presidential election. That was Antonin Scalia. When she eulogized him at his memorial service, she referred to him as her “best buddy.”
Court watchers know that Scalia and Ginsburg were polar opposites on the court. Scalia was among the most ideologically conservative members of the court; Ginsburg was a reliable liberal. If there was a five-four split on a vote, you could pretty much be sure that Ginsburg was on one side and Scalia was on the other. They did not see things the same way. And yet, when Justice Scalia died, the family asked Justice Ginsburg to speak at his memorial service, and she called him her best buddy. Ideological opposites and best buddies.
Hours after Justice Ginsburg’s death, Scalia’s son, Christopher, tweeted a story that explained how his dad saw Justice Ginsburg. This story had been conferred to him by Judge Jeffrey Sutton, who had clerked for Scalia, about an encounter that Sutton had had late in his dad’s life with the Justice:
He said he walked into Judge Scalia’s office. He said, “It was during one of my last visits with Justice Scalia. I saw striking evidence of the Scalia-Ginsburg relationship. I got up to leave his chambers, and he pointed to two dozen roses on the table and noted we needed to take them down to Ruth for her birthday. ‘Wow!’ I said. ‘I doubt I’ve given a total of 24 roses to my wife in almost 30 years of marriage.’ He said, ‘You ought to try it sometime.’”
Unwilling to give him the last word, he said, “I pushed back: ‘So what good have all these roses done for you? Name one five-four case of any significance where you got Justice Ginsburg’s vote.’ ‘Some things,’ Scalia answered, ‘are more important than votes.’ I let him have the last word.”
Listen, folks; if a lifelong Roman Catholic and a secular Jew, who are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, can be best buddies, can we have unity in the body of Christ around the gospel? Can we be civil, and respectful, and kind toward those with whom we disagree? Is there somebody you need to give a few roses to this week as you dialogue, even in your differences? If Scalia and Ginsburg can be civil, can’t followers of Jesus excel still more?
Dave: Bob, you nailed it.
Ann: Oh, it was so good! Way to go!
Dave: You don’t even need to respond; that was powerful.
Ann: I know; I’m so inspired.
Ann: It gives you hope.
Bob: Well, I just feel such a burden for where we are as a nation/for where we are as a church—for our discourse. As I said, I think how we disagree with one another may be as significant, or even more significant, than the substance of our disagreement. If we can’t demonstrate civility, and humility, and the dignity of other people, then we ought to just keep our mouths shut.
Dave: The world is watching us.
Bob: That’s right.
Dave: If we can’t model unity in the body of Christ, they’re not interested in our gospel.
Ann: You used a phrase that I don’t think will be in the shorter version, but the phrase was: “We have blood-bought unity.”
Ann: Explain that.
Bob: Well, in the body of Christ, we are united not by our political views; we are united by the fact that Jesus shed His blood to bring us into His family. You go back to the beginning of what we heard today. Think of Matthew and Simon the Zealot, from two different backgrounds/with two different perspectives; and yet, Jesus knit them together through the blood that He shed on the cross in making them sons of the kingdom. I just think we need to remember that’s a bigger priority in our lives than who gets elected in the next couple of weeks.
Ann: This would be a good series to send to family and friends before the election.
Bob: Well, all three of these messages from this series are available on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can download the audio; you can view the video; you can share the links with others if you’d like to recommend it to them. Again, go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and look for the series that is titled “Jesus, Politics, and the Gospel.” Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com; and the information you need is available there so you can access these messages.
While you’re on our website, look for information about the upcoming Facebook Live small group that we’re doing. It starts next Thursday night, October 29; it goes three Thursday nights in a row. Seven o’ clock Central Time is our start time. Couples are invited to join Dave and Ann and me as we talk about what real love looks like in marriage. This is our Love Like You Mean It marriage small group. We have a brand-new video series that’s about to come out on this, and we’re going to give you a sneak preview of that video series—let you in on the inside—when you sign up for the small group.
So, again, more information about how you can be part of the Love Like You Mean It marriage small group on Facebook Live, with Dave and Ann Wilson and me: it starts next Thursday night at 7:00 Central Time, and the information is available online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear from Alex Kendrick, the guy who you know from movies like Overcomer, Courageous, Facing the Giants—other movies. Alex has a great message for us about how we can more effectively be praying for our kids, and we’ll hear that message tomorrow. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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