Our grandmother, Vera Holmes used to tell us if we didn't straighten up she was going to box our ears off. The image of her with boxing gloves was usually enough to make us straighten up and fly right, at least for the moment. Today, in old age, I'm thinking she may have been preparing us for life in the mean streets, where boxing gloves are often the uniform of the day. They seem to exemplify the spirit of the nation right now when so many of us are living on the ragged edge. Fighting is the response of the natural man when we differ. It's one of the primary ways our species deals with conflict, you know, fight or flight. Learning to differ biblically is a discipline we must master, especially those professing faith.
Several years ago Curt Bradford reminded a room full of pastors and church staffers of what Dr. Herschel Hobbs said to a group of fellow Baptists years ago. He said something to the effect "we don't have to be twins to be brothers". Forgive me if this is misquoted but for the life of me I can't find the verbatim. We were discussing a very significant decision our state convention would make at our 2011 annual meeting. There was a good bit of back and forth about the actual recommendation and the temperature in the room was growing warmer. Curt reminded us of the difference in unity and uniformity. Even more, he cooled the room down somewhat with the reminder that there are biblical ways for humans to differ. It was one of those ah-ha moments for which everyone in the room was grateful. Thank you Curt.
America's differences are on public display right now. And, a large portion of the population is wearing boxing gloves, or worse. There's been talk of assassinating the President, blowing Washington to smithereens, and live pictures of rioters throwing rocks through business windows and igniting automobiles. That's not to mention all of the inflammatory language igniting the emotions of people on every side of our many public debates. Maybe it's time for us to learn to differ biblically! Well, let me refine that a bit. Maybe it's time for us Christians to bring a little salt and light to this dark world by modeling those behaviors rather than pouring more fuel on the debates. Taking off the boxing gloves may be a good first move.
Believers are certainly bound by a biblical approach to dealing with differences. The entire Corinthian correspondence is a two-book primer for settling differences and doing so in a way that honors Christ and preserves relationships. Most of the Epistles have some caution about the dangers of disagreement in the Christian community and provide counsel about dealing with other humans without the boxing gloves. A favorite is a passage in Paul's second Corinthians letter. He wrote---
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one
another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another
with a holy kiss.
2 Corinthians 13:11-12, ESV
They're just several points of Christian treatment that can build and edifie the body rather than destroying it. They are---
1. Bring an environment of rejoicing to every human interaction.
2. Aim for restoration. Keep the unity of the body as the prime goal.
3. Agree with one another. Yes, an interesting term is used. It is the Greek word
phroneo and here it references setting one's mind on something. In this
instance it means to set one's mind on the other person. Rarely will humans
find agreement on everything. But, when there's discord or disagreement,
putting our mind on the other person may be the remedy for putting on the
boxing gloves. If two differing believers are doing this there can be victory.
4. Live in peace. Of course, the peace of Christ is an inner peace that moves from
the inside out.
5. Greet one another with the kiss of peace. An embrace may communicate
something nicer that an upper-cut.
Now, what about everybody else. There's the truth that many of our neighbors and friends and colleagues and fellow students aren't governed by Scripture. There are civil laws and the rule of decency that should define human actions when people differ. Even more, you and I are to bring the mind and spirit of Christ to this world. And, that's the sad part right now. Many of us are wearing boxing gloves too. You know, the right fist of fellowship that brings a sad smile of recognition.
These are explosive times. And, here we are, God's ambassadors in them, prayerfully without the boxing gloves.