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by Jacob Ninan
Table of contents
Why godly people quarrel
The role of the devil
Why do we misunderstand one another?
1. We have only a limited understanding
2. We are so different from one another
3. We demand that others should be like us
4. We see things differently
5. We are at different stages of spiritual growth
6. God takes each of us through different paths of spiritual development
7. Our particular ministry gives us a particular outlook
8. We tend to follow rules rather than listen to the Holy Spirit
9. God's wisdom has many sides to it
10. People who behave in an unconventional way may not be wrong
11. Our hearts may be divided
12. We are different in our intellectual capacity
13. We communicate things differently
14. We can hardly see our own faults
The largeness of God's heart
Only God has the right to judge
Dealing with others the way God has dealt with us
Growing together with others who are different from us
What can we do to avoid quarrels?
People quarrel about many things. That is nothing unusual. But even worldly people expect that godly people should not be quarrelling. But the fact is that they do. People of God in all walks of life - husbands and wives, brothers and sisters in families and in the church, Christian workers, and even Ďmen of Godí - quarrel. Christian churches and groups quarrel with one another. Godís name is blasphemed among the heathen because of the way His people behave (Rom.2:24). While it is tragic that people of God quarrel, it is more tragic because many times quarrels are based on wrong assumptions about what the others are doing and why they are doing those things. Of course people of God should not quarrel even for so-called valid reasons. Even when someone has done us harm God expects us not to return evil for evil, but a blessing (Lk.6:27-31). But if we quarrel thinking that others have done us harm when they were actually planning to do us good, isnít it ridiculous? It is really tragic because the devil is sitting there and laughing.
At first glance, it seems to be a contradiction of terms to say that godly people quarrel. Some may argue that such behaviour shows that they are really not godly. Of course not, as far as that particular behaviour is concerned. By Ďgodly peopleí I mean those who have become like God in their character. But since no one has become fully like God, what I am referring to are all those who seek to live a godly life (2Ti.3:12), or those who are growing in godliness. (I am not referring to Ďreligiousí people who merely read the Bible, pray, go for meetings, do a lot of ĎChristianí activities and thereby get a name before unbelievers and undiscerning Christians as godly people.)
What I am saying is only that men who are growing in godliness may also fall sometimes into quarrels (or many other types of sin for that matter). We know that even Spirit filled Ďmen of Godí or Ďservants of Godí also may get into quarrel sometimes. The case of Paul and Barnabas is a well-known example, and perhaps we all know of such cases in the years of church history. Let us not get into an argument right now about words and definitions about godliness etc., because that can go on endlessly with certain types of people. Let it be sufficient at this point to say that godly men should not quarrel, but that many of them nevertheless do, to more or less extent depending on how godly they are.
Of course, depending on how godly (like God) people have become, the crudeness of the quarrel will vary. Quarrels can be with shouting, hitting one another or throwing things at one another. I am not saying godly people would quarrel like that. But on the other extreme quarrels can also be manifest when we donít talk to someone anymore, or we cannot look at someone with a smile. One person may quarrel by hurting another, and another person quarrels by keeping a hurt feeling, complaints, bitterness or grudges in his heart. One may think that the second person is a victim of a quarrel and not quarrelling himself. But just think that if he were able to bear and forgive, he would not feel upset with the others. He is also quarrelling, by keeping a distance with the others, which is what the devil wanted to achieve after all. We may be also familiar with quarrels between Christian leaders and churches when they make adverse comments about each other from the pulpit or through the press. Many times what begins as innocent arguments, perhaps about doctrine or some particular way something has to be done, with each person sincerely believing that he is right and the other person is wrong, turn out to become quarrels.
Some wise man has pointed out that it takes two people to quarrel. Perhaps it is more correct to say that if one man tries to quarrel and the other man does not respond in a similar way the quarrel will not get fanned up. Due to lack of fuel the fire goes out (Pr.26:20). Sometimes one who is mature can help in bringing peace by responding in a gentle and merciful manner (Pr.15:1). But sometimes foolish, ignorant or malicious people can rage on and on even when the other party does not respond in kind (Pr.29:9).
Let me also mention before we proceed that all confrontations are not necessarily quarrels. When one believer confronts another about a wrong position or a wrong act, that need not become a quarrel. It is many times necessary, especially for those who are in authority - whether it is a father at home, the man in charge at work, or an elder in a church - to raise issues that can be contentious. When someone who is under authority raises a question, it need not be in rebellion, because he may be just trying to understand something. But if unchristian methods and worldly tactics are used, personal animosity is raised and further exchanges escalate the problem further. Paul confronting Peter with regard to the issue of compromising the principles of the gospel of grace for fear of men is a Biblical example where it did not become a quarrel (Ga.2:11-14). (It may have been due to Paulís gracious way of raising the issue with Peter. But considering Paulís inexperience and Peterís own humility and brokenness at that point it is more likely that it may have been because Peter took it graciously.)
The ideas I am putting down here are not necessarily new. Many people have talked and written about such things. The reason why I am writing this is to put things together in such a manner as to illustrate how complex human behaviour is, and how many quarrels are downright silly Ė not necessarily because people are silly, but because the devil makes fools of us and then sits there and laughs. Then I hope that we will learn how to avoid quarrels. When we have difficulties with others this will help us to remember that we may have misunderstood them or the whole situation. Also we can be merciful to others when we feel they have misunderstood us.Top
Why do godly people quarrel?
The simple answer is that it is because we are not perfect and because the devil is working night and day to try and cause us to quarrel, and thus to separate us. Let us look at this in more detail.
We shall take it, to start with, that a godly man does not want to quarrel. Ungodly men are not really concerned about whether they quarrel or not, as long as they get what they want and they donít get caught in the process. Godly men may differ from one another, according to their level of maturity, in the strength of their desire not to quarrel, and their willingness to suffer in order to avoid a quarrel. But let us take it that in their heart of hearts they donít want to quarrel. In other words the point I am trying to make is that their quarrels are generally unintentional, at least when they start. They misunderstand the situation, other people or Godís ways. They donít remember that they are imperfect and that they donít know everything. They donít make allowance for the fact that others are also imperfect and that it is possible that others might misunderstand them.
Let us consider a simple example. Let us say Brother John makes a comment to Brother Jim with all good intentions. What John does not know at that time is that his comment touches a raw spot in Jim because of some bad experience he has had in the past. So John makes that innocent remark, and Jim gets hurt. Of course, if Jim were to stop and consider that John could not have possibly known about his past experience, or that John is one who loves him and who would not want to hurt him, he would have understood that John did not mean any harm. But he does not have enough maturity to know that. And usually he doesnít get that much time to think before he reacts. And of course, if John had known about Jimís experience, he would not have raised that subject in the first place because John loves Jim and would not want to hurt him! But here are two godly brothers who love each other, and they end up in a misunderstanding and hurt feelings for no real reason!
It is very simplistic to say that the above situation should not end up as a quarrel, because if John and Jim are godly brothers they should not get upset with each other, they should love each other and bear with each other, forgive each other, etc. But we are hardly ever dealing with ideal situations. We are not perfect ourselves, and the others are also not perfect. Perhaps we are mature enough so that the particular situation such as the one above would not cause us to get hurt. What hurts us may be at some other level or of some other kind!
Digressing a bit, let me say that getting hurt itself is not a quarrel. It is a human response to something wrong that happens to us. But if we donít get rid of the feeling of hurt, but nourishes it by going over the incident again and again in our mind, remembering all the past incidents connected with the person who hurt us, listening to Satan accusing the other person and concluding that he is bad or that he has done it with a bad motive, we end up in a quarrel. A mature person gets over the hurt by concluding that the other person may possibly have done things with a good intention, or by forgiving the other person.
Of course, godly men can easily become ungodly under the pressure of temptation. What begins as an unintentional stand as a result of misunderstanding can soon go out of control as the flesh overpowers them. Paul and Barnabas were truly godly people. But they were not yet mature at the time of their quarrel. Therefore their quarrel became so severe that they parted from each other.
I am not advocating an idea that we will quarrel, and that we had better learn to live with it. Far from it. My intention is to point out some of the common reasons why people quarrel, so that we can learn to deal with such situations in a mature way and avoid that quarrel. Looking at it in another way, the more we understand Satanís tactics, the more we can be careful not to give him the victory.Top
The role of the devil
C. S. Lewis, in his famous book called ĎScrewtape letters,í makes a very good point. Screwtape is a senior, experienced demon giving advice to a junior demon called Wormwood, on how to deceive people and lead them into sin and the world and away from God. Lewis portrays the situation as separate demons being responsible for each human being individually. These demons try to manipulate their subjects by whispering suggestions to their minds. The book deals with one young man who has been converted to Christ, staying with his mother at home. Lewis illustrates in this book how the man and his mother get into problems because they listen to the demons and misunderstand each otherís good intentions.
There is a great truth here. Let us look at the possibility that many of our self-righteous quarrels may be because of misunderstanding other people. Many times we may feel that we have been misunderstood, but we may not be conscious many times of the fact that we may have misunderstood others too! Isnít it possible that demons are actively involved in causing misunderstandings? Did you think that they only tempt us to do sinful things? Or did you think that they would never dare to come near Godís children? (Actually the devil had enough boldness to go near the Son of God!)
For example, what about the thought that comes into our mind that so and so is saying such and such a thing to us because he is trying to get even with us for something we did in the past? In other words, this is an allegation against that person, an insinuation that he or she has some evil motive. Isnít this natural for the Accuser of the brethren to do? But just think that the truth may be entirely the opposite of what he says. The other person may be intending actually to do us some good! But we fall for the devilís trick, and say something in return with an actual evil intention Ė you know, tit for tat. Then of course, the other demon points out to the other person how evil we are! And soon the quarrel blossoms!
Now I know that some Christians donít believe there are any demons, or that they behave in the above way. Let us not get diverted into a quarrel about demons now! I know who will get the last laugh.Top
Why do we misunderstand one another?
There are, of course, plenty of reasons. One can write a book about them that may be of interest to psychologists and psychiatrists. But my interest is only to see what we can do to avoid quarrels, from a spiritual point of view. So I want to look only at a few major issues.Top
1. We have only a limited understanding.
First of all, we have to acknowledge the fact that the best of us, or the most spiritual among us, are limited and finite. In other words we are not God. Only God knows all things and can understand all things. But foolish people that we are, we tend to imagine that we also know certain things, especially what we have seen with our own eyes or heard with our own ears! And those of us who think we are spiritual also think that we have discernment! Therefore we are quick to pass judgment and speak out our opinion - even though Godís word explicitly tells us to avoid such behaviour!
How much do we understand even ourselves? Have we not seen many times that the Holy Spirit has shown us sins in us where we had once imagined ourselves to be innocent? If we cannot even understand ourselves fully, how can we think that we can understand the others in what they are doing and especially why they are doing things? All of us have to admit that we have no sure way of knowing what is going on inside othersí minds. Even if we can sometimes guess what is going on, especially if we know the other person well, or if it is a situation that we have gone through ourselves, we cannot be 100% sure.
It says about Jesus that He never made a judgment based on what His eyes and ears told Him (Is.11:3). The secret of His success in this matter is also given in the same verse - He feared God!
We donít fear God that much. Even though we know these Biblical truths, we are quick to place tabs on people, or put each one into different pigeonholes. We say, ďOh, he is like that,Ē when we see or hear something, and quickly he is placed into that particular pigeonhole. It is not that we donít know that we should not do this. But we are so busy in life doing many things or even doing the work of the Lord (!) that we donít have time to pause and wonder about other people. The Holy Spirit tries to warn us that we are going to the right or to the left. But it is much easier to quickly come to some conclusion about people and situations and place them under some name or category, than to take the effort to think about them and try to understand why they have said or done what they did, or to examine ourselves to see if we have somehow misunderstood them or if it was possible that we could have provoked them in some way to react like they did.
It is a very humbling thing when we finally realise that we have judged someone wrongly. It is not just that our opinion about our discernment comes down Ė which is a good thing Ė but we realise that we have perhaps hurt others in the process.
We may also forget that the person we are dealing with may have changed from the way he was earlier when we had formed our opinion about him. We should be changing his pigeonhole, so to speak, rather than mechanically put him in the old one and get him off from our hands. But itís too much bother, isnít it?Top
2. We are so different from each other.
We are so different from one another in many ways that it is extremely difficult to understand others exactly. We are so used to thinking of our own ways as being normal or the standard, that we tend to think of those who are different from us as being peculiar, eccentric, etc. We donít recognise that we have many of our own eccentricities and peculiarities as others see us. A shrewd man once made a remark that we all define eccentricity as being off from our centre. It takes time and usually many mistakes on our side to learn to give room for others to be different from us. Another thing we donít realise so easily is that people can be different from us and still be spiritual! We have a problem with this because we tend to think that we are spiritual and if others are spiritual they should also be agreeing with what we think a doing things the way we do.
Temperamental differences or differences in our personality make our behaviour and approach different from one another. For example two people who worship God from their heart may be different in the way they manifest that worship. One may do it by an exuberant shout or singing and another may stand adoring God in silence where he is at a loss for words. It cannot be said that one is better than the other. On the other hand one may shout loudly just to impress people and another may be silent because he has nothing to say! Only God knows the heart at that point. Of course things will become manifest to mature people also in the course of time. But the point is that we should not be quick to judge. We can find plenty of things to quarrel about because the way they look at things and deal with situations can be quite different from ours. But it is not the external way in which we do things that make us spiritual or not spiritual. God looks at the heart.
Someone has made a broad division among people into two groups, principle driven people and people driven people. A mature man holds on to his principles and is compassionate towards other people. But we tend to be in one of the above two groups before we become mature. If we are in the first group, our Ďprinciplesí are important to us, and we are not going to budge, no matter how our behaviour affects other people. We think it is just too bad if other people get hurt. But if we are in the other group of people we think that we must not offend anybody, especially our friends, and we donít mind bending our principles here and there to keep our friends. Can you imagine the conflicts these two groups can have with each other?
Some godly people are so used to being ruthless with themselves that they cannot understand why others get offended when they speak the truth to them! Perhaps if they were a little gentle with the others in telling them the truth there would be a greater chance that others would receive it. On the other hand if only the people who hear the truth could understand that those who have spoken to them were actually trying to help them, there would be less of getting offended.Top
3. We demand that others should be like us.
We keep expecting that others should be like us or that they should do things the way we do. Instead of ourselves wanting to change, we are waiting for others to change. Instead of accepting others as they are, with all their idiosyncrasies, strong points that hurt where we are weak or clash with our own strengths, and weak points that we find difficult to bear with, we tend to write them off as difficult cases.
Sometimes this becomes a condition for fellowship. People keep congregating around people who are most like them, and leave others to themselves. People of similar temperaments, economical and intellectual level, cultural backgrounds, etc., come together. This can even been seen to such an extent in some churches that the members are more or less of similar categories. Sometimes the whole church manifests the temperament of the strong leader. For example there are sober churches and shouting churches! This may become such a strong character of the church that others who are different feel uncomfortable and would like to leave. They donít want to leave because they are ungodly, but because of a constant pressure they feel to conform to the general character of that church.Top
4. We see things differently.
It is somewhat disturbing to realise that many of the differences we have with other groups of believers are only at the intellectual level, actually. I was greatly liberated when I heard a message on this subject. The speaker said in effect that if we had been brought up to believe a certain type of doctrine or church pattern from childhood or from the time we were born again, we tended to get mentally fixed on them so much that we just couldnít imagine that another man who thought differently from us could be spiritual. He said that a good illustration would be to consider the difference between those who held to some form of infant baptism and others who held to adult baptism or believerís baptism. We canít say that all those who believe in infant baptism will never get to heaven! Many hold on to infant baptism because they sincerely believe they are right. They may even be more spiritual in practical life than many who subscribe to believerís baptism. It is a matter of the intellectual understanding. When we stand before the Lord in eternity these types of differences are going to be less important compared to the value God places on the condition of the heart. Finally, as the speaker said, the question will be, "Did you love Me?" rather than "Did you get pass marks in My examination on doctrines?"
Yet, how many quarrels among Godís people are based on oneís understanding of doctrine! Certainly doctrine is important, because it sets a proper standard for behaviour. Someone has explained it like this. If our heart is right, we are right before God even if our head Ė understanding of doctrine Ė is wrong in some places. But if our doctrine is not right, we cannot communicate the truth to others in the right way!
We know how many quarrels result from differences of opinion about patterns of church meetings, interpretation of prophecies and such things. These are the result of immature minds. But the sad fact is that very few become mature. There is also tendency to conclude that others are not mature just because they see things differently. Understanding of doctrines is not the true mark of maturity because that may depend on many other factors.Top
5. We are at different stages of spiritual growth.
As a man grows spiritually, his spiritual understanding becomes wider, more mellow and balanced, and he becomes more large-hearted towards those who are different from him. He has learned from experience that a time may come when he sees things more clearly, when even the things which he now holds as being cardinal points of faith may be seen as being not so important as to quarrel about. For example, young believers tend to place emphasis on external things such as the pattern of worship, the style of dress, etc. But the mature believer has comes to see that while these things are not unimportant, what is more important is our attitude of the heart.
Think of the example of Paul, how he changed his views as he grew spiritually. Before his conversion he was a legalistic Pharisee who was strict about the external matters concerning the Jewish laws. But when he saw that salvation was not by works or by oneís own merit, he was so taken up with preaching against works that he mentioned that if a man was circumcised he would have nothing to do with Christ (Ga.5:2). This is correct, in the sense that if someone depends on his circumcision as something that qualifies him before God, he has not understood anything about salvation by the grace of Christ. But later in a situation where he felt that he could avoid a lot of controversy with Jews by doing so, he circumcised Timothy (Ac.16:3)!
It was towards the end of Paulís life, when he was so much more mature than he was in the beginning, that he decided to take a Jewish vow and shave his head in order to avoid giving offence to Jewish Christians (Ac.21:21-26). Imagine! The radical Paul who once would have nothing to do with Jewish customs and traditions taking a Jewish vow and shaving his head!
Now, depending on our own level of maturity and our ability to be flexible to see what is good in different situations we can understand or misunderstand Paul.
I donít want to start a quarrel here about whether Paul was right in circumcising Timothy or shaving his head. We leave those issues aside for the time being. What I am saying is that Paul had a very good reason in his own mind for doing what he did at each stage, and the One who looks at the heart did not condemn him. Some radical ones Ė I mean the ones who consider that they are radical, not the genuine ones - may not be as understanding as God!
Think of Paul writing to the Corinthians about some of his great deeds, to impress upon them the fact that he was indeed an apostle of Jesus Christ. We know we would not appreciate anyone who boasts about his own greatness. Actually Paul himself felt quite silly to write such things (2Co.11:17). But he forced himself to write them in order to correct the foolish, immature Corinthians who did not know yet how to value spiritual people.
Now, a carnal Christian who has not understood how bad it is to boast may not find anything peculiar in what Paul did. Another Christian who has gone a little further and who is learning not to boast finds it hard to accept what Paul did. Yet another person who has gone beyond wanting to boast can perhaps understand why Paul did what he did! You see our judgment about someone else depends on our condition too!
This again shows that a spiritual man may do certain things that appear to be foolish to other Christians who do not understand why he is doing such things. On the Day of Judgment, when God exposes the thoughts and intentions of the heart and rewards those who did things with good intentions, we may see how foolish we have been in our opinions about many people. We will be shocked if we see how some of the people whom we had admired had done things with ulterior motives, or sad to see how we had despised people who had actually been pleasing to God.Top
6. God takes each of us through different paths of development.
When it comes to earthly education there is more or less a uniformity of what we learn from schooldays onwards. For example we all learn the same subjects at school - alphabet, arithmetic, etc. - and make a step by step progress from class to class. But this is not so in our spiritual development. God takes us all through different paths of development when it comes to experiences. The result is that we do not all learn spiritual truths in the same sequence. As a result, even two people who have known the Lord for the same period of time may have learned things with different emphases. For example, one may have faced a lot of opposition in life and learned to love his enemies and to be patient with those who oppose him. Another may not have had such enemies and never got opportunities to learn to love such people. But he may have learned something else, for example how to be compassionate and to help others in practical things, which the first brother has not had opportunities to learn.
Some of the experiences which we go through leave some indelible marks on our personality. We become especially sensitive to certain feelings and reactions that people have. We can empathise with others who are going through situations that we have experienced ourselves. That may be the particular contribution that we can make to the Body of Christ. But this same thing can generate quarrels, because not everyone can understand or sympathise with the problems others are going through. People feel that the others should not be behaving like this or that, except the ones who have gone through the experience themselves. In general, we tend to be hard on the others in areas where we have not been broken ourselves.
Our past experiences may have many times left scars on our personality so that we find it a struggle to deal with some situations in the way we know we ought to. For example, those who have been deceived and betrayed in the past find it difficult to trust people and always tend to be suspicious, while others who donít face that problem cannot understand that, and blame them for such slowness of learning, etc.
Godís judgment is always right because He not only knows exactly what a man did and why he did it, and also against what odds he was fighting. For example, He knows that a man who has not experienced the love of his parents in his childhood finds it tougher to love others himself. So God gives him the same reward for bringing out a little bit of love in his life as for another man who brought out much love, because the first man had the odds against him to begin with. I remember something from my younger days when I used to play billiards. In this game, when an experienced player plays with a less experienced player, the experienced player gives the other player some free points to start with, called the handicap. I think that when God looks at two people one of whom is suffering from a handicap due to his past or some present limitations, He gives him the weaker person some Ďfree pointsí that make him equal to the other person! I know this may sound like a queer example. But I get the idea from the parable Jesus spoke, where the master gave the same reward to two servants, one of whom produced five talents more with the five talents he had received and the other who only produced two more talents because he had received only two talents to begin with. But when we look at the two people, we may not realise how each of them differs in his background, and we may think that the five talent man should get a better reward.Top
7. Our particular ministry gives us a particular outlook.
Another factor that specialises our development is the particular ministry God calls us to. The one who is called to be an evangelist has a burden for those who are perishing without the gospel, and he is usually more compassionate towards others than many of his brothers. He values the salvation of people to be so important that he is willing to ignore many issues that other Christians are taken up with. For example, denominational differences do not mean much to him. He is willing to be all things to all men so that he might thereby save some (1Co.9:22). But the one who is a teacher places more value in being correct about doctrines and their interpretations. If he has not also become mature, he may even be willing to see people perish than bend some principle or rule of his. Here we see a stark contrast. Think of other ministries too, and then we can see how our own calling makes us strong in some aspect of Christ more than the others. Blessed are the ones who judge themselves and grow into maturity, willing to bend and yield, and accepting others who are different from them.
It happens often that when God gives someone a ministry and blesses it, the person does not realise that it is only that particular ministry that he has received. When Saul was chosen as King of Israel, he soon felt that he could act like a priest too! (1Sa.13:8,9). In other words he did not recognise his own boundary. If a teacher acts as if he is also an evangelist, nothing serious may happen except that he gets disappointed. But if an evangelist begins to act like a teacher sometimes the results can be disastrous!
Some leaders exhort people to become leaders or workers, because they themselves are leaders! We also read biographies only of outstanding men and women of God. It gives us an impression that all godly people must necessarily be leaders. It is good to raise up leaders because the harvest is plenty and the labourers are few. But it is also a fact of life that not all are called to be outstanding or great or leaders. It says, ďAll are not apostles, are they? Etc.Ē (1Co.12:29,30). One problem is that a lot of people become discouraged or frustrated after seeking for great ministries and gifts they are exhorted to seek for, because it was never Godís intention to give them to all. There are also leaders who give the impression that those who are not like them are second class citizens. Elijah at one time thought that there was no one else in Israel who was faithful to God (1Ki.19:14). Godís gentle answer was that there were 7000 others who had never bowed the knee to Baal (v.18). God had raised up only one Elijah, who was outstanding in many ways. But God also had 7000 other faithful people who had not been called to such a ministry, and as a result they were unknown to people. In the New Testament church, God raises up only a few apostles, teachers, etc., for equipping the saints to build the body of Christ (Ep.4:11,12). They are only a few, while the saints are many in number.
As in a human body, there are members in the Body of Christ who are seen prominently and others who are hidden or unnoticed. It is natural that we think of the prominent ones as being great and ignore or even despise the others. Only in eternity we will be able to know everyone in true light. For example everyone admires the mighty preacher who touches the lives of multitudes of people. But how many know the greatness of a Ďweakí widow who prays for anointing on the mighty preacher? Can we say which one is more useful to God?
Some quarrels arise because people with each ministry are complaining that others are not doing what they are doing. The evangelists say, ďWhy are you all sitting comfortably in the church when there are millions perishing out there?Ē The teachers say, ďThe reason for all problems is that people donít take time to read and understand the Scriptures.Ē The shepherds say, ďWhy is no one concerned about others who need encouragement and why is no one going after the ones who are backsliding?Ē Etc. Demands that others should be like them!Top
8. We tend to follow rules rather than listen to the Holy Spirit.
Another reason for problems is that we all tend to make rules for ourselves on how we should behave in different situations. When we are young we tend to follow what some older believer did in some situation, and if we are older we have our own rules of conduct. Even though we know in theory that under the new covenant we are to be led by the Spirit and not by any law, in practice it is so much easier to refer to our own rules based on past experience and understanding than to wait on the Holy Spirit to tell us what to do. If God had not shown Peter the vision of the clean and unclean animals, and that too three times, he would never have been willing to go to a Gentileís home. He would never have imagined that such a thing could be in the will of God, because it was totally contrary to all his understanding of Scriptures till then. Actually the Scriptures talked about salvation coming to the Gentiles also, but Peterís understanding had not been opened to them yet. Do we think that our present understanding of Scripture is full and that there is nothing more to be seen? Do we think that God cannot ask us to change some of our views?
Jesus was very much right when He compared people to children playing in the street and demanding that others should do as they did - dance when they danced and mourn when they mourned (Mt.11:16,17). In other words, we think that what we do is the right thing and how we do it is the right way, and anyone who does it differently from us is wrong!Top
9. Godís wisdom has many sides to it.
One peculiar thing about the wisdom that man should have, as God looks at it, is that it could be different in different situations and also it could depend on the particular man who is involved. Let me try to make myself clear.
We know about Godís instruction to answer a fool according to his folly and not to answer a fool according to his folly (Pr.26:4,5). In other words, in certain circumstances in dealing with a fool, wisdom is to keep quiet, and in some other situations wisdom is to speak. One has to be mature to know the difference.
But there are also circumstances in which God does not expect one man to behave in a way that He expects another man to behave! For example, in some difficult situation, it would be wisdom for a certain man to keep quiet, because he does not have enough wisdom to handle the consequences if he spoke out. Another man who is more mature may be able to speak and manage it further. So we see that even for the same situation, wisdom is not a standard solution but it depends on the persons involved also. Here again we see how we can quarrel with others who behave differently from how we would have.
Let us say there are 20 different aspects to a problem. One man may know only 5 of them because that is how much he has grown. When he comes into a certain situation, God does not expect him to behave in exactly the same way as another man who knows 15 aspects. These two can judge each other because each is convinced that he has done the appropriate thing! But both of them are right in the sight of God because they have both done the best they knew. But both are also wrong in the sight of God in that they have not done the perfect thing that could have been done! But God does not judge them for that, because He does not demand a harvest where He has not sown (Mt.25:24). It is only foolish men who try to do that.Top
10. People who behave in an unconventional way may not be wrong.
Letís face it. Some people behave in a peculiar way, in a way that does not fit in with common practice. It may be due to some defect in the personality (which they canít help) or it may even be because they are mavericks. Some people who behave in an unconventional way may have some original ideas. Some people just donít accept whatever others say because they are original thinkers, and they donít automatically fit in with the rest of the people. They may even question some of the things that are being done! But they too are a part of the Body. Because they are somewhat inconvenient to deal with, the tendency is to wish they were somewhere else, or even to make it uncomfortable for them to stay. But if we do that we will lose some of the special wisdom that God may want to bring into the Body through such special people. Of course these mavericks have also to learn to find their place along with the others in the Body, and many of their strong points have to be clipped too. They also have to grow. Not all their ideas are good. They have to learn that there could be broader issues in a church than their specific ideas, which people who are more mature than they can see.
When we come across someone who expresses a different point of view or suggests what he thinks is a better way of doing things, we can be too lethargic to change. The easy way out for us appears to be to snub him, ignore him or avoid him! But then we could be the losers.Top
11. Our hearts may be divided.
It is also true that many godly men are somewhat divided in their heart. They are mixed up in their goals. On one side they want to serve God and Him only. But they are not aware that they have other ambitions also such as becoming great or rich. In other words, though they have been converted to God, theirs is not a radical conversion, even if they themselves do not realise it. This is usually the result of the gospel not being preached properly or fully. Why do I call such people godly? It is because they are seeking to please God even though they do not realise that their heart is divided.
In a different sense this is true of all of Godís children. As long as we have this flesh, we have to battle with selfish ambitions, love of money, etc. We get to see these desires in the flesh only little by little. So we have to reckon that even when we think our intention is pure and good, there may be things there that we are unable to see. If we see this, we can be teachable ourselves and merciful to others.Top
12. We are different in our intellectual capacity.
How we deal with different situations has something to do with our intellectual capacity also. From Godís point of view, He makes no difference between highly intelligent people and not so intelligent people when it comes to accepting them or giving them grace for salvation. But both these groups of people have their strong and weak points. An intellectual person like Paul was able to write down the different aspects of salvation in a systematic way as he did in the letter to the Romans. Neither Peter nor John could write in such a way in their letters. But who can deny that Peterís and Johnís letters also contain precious truths and revelations that have blessed believers through the centuries? All of them had the gift of prophecy, but Paul was able to explain things in a better way than the others. In other words Paul had the gift of teaching also.
Now think of how a quarrel can develop between a Paul and a Peter about various issues. Paul can grasp a situation quickly and analyse in detail how something should be done. But Peter has a hunch or a gut feeling about the whole thing, and he is impatient with Paul. And Paul thinks Peter is so unreasonable! It could turn out that Paul is right in some situations and Peter in some others! It is only if they can learn to work together that they can bring out the best in each other. Think of this happening in a marriage where the husband and wife are different from each other like this. It is not only that sparks may fly, but many times it may catch fire too if there is no respect for each otherís strengths and allowance for their weaknesses.
Intelligence itself is something that has different aspects. We know of those who are intelligent when it comes to mathematical type of analysis, but who may be pretty dumb when it comes to dealing with people. There are those who are shrewd in seeing through others but who donít know how to adjust to others who are different from them. There are those who can identify the reasons for the problems but who donít know how to solve those problems. There are those who are good at understanding things but very poor in expressing themselves. O, there are all kinds of people! The bottom line is that none of us is sufficient in ourselves. We need others, and there are things that we can contribute to the Body of Christ that others cannot. The secret is to be ourselves and to let others be themselves! But that takes maturity.Top
13. We communicate things differently.
Even a command of the language or use of words can be different and can cause quarrels. I remember talking to a brother about the question, ďCould Jesus have sinned?Ē After some time I realised that we were both looking at the question from different angles. I was addressing the issue of whether it was possible for Jesus to sin, and he was looking at whether Jesus had sinned consciously or unconsciously in His life. We see how we can quarrel even without really understanding what the other person is talking about! This is especially true when we have a prejudice towards someone. Then whatever he says is seen in a bad light.
There are those who have a legal or mathematical type of mind in the use of words. They want to be precise in what they say. When they say, ďOne minute,Ē they mean actually one minute! That is fine if they took care to be like that themselves. But they quarrel with others who are not so precise. Actually even the Bible uses ordinary spoken language which most people understand without any difficulty. For example, it says about how all Jerusalem was troubled. The precise thing would have been to say that a lot of people in Jerusalem were troubled. But the Holy Spirit allowed the writers to use such language in certain cases because accuracy of numbers was not really significant there. Now imagine how two people with this type of difference in their speech can quarrel with each other!Top
14. We can hardly see our own faults.
The greatest reason we have for quarrels is that it is extremely difficult for us human beings to see our own faults. That is the way we are. Even when we see some faults in us, there will be always many other faults that we cannot see. This is a characteristic of our flesh, and we cannot wishfully expect that we will be different in future. As long as we live on this earth we will have a flesh to carry around, and this flesh is going to be like this. Someone has described our flesh like as iceberg in the sea. Only about 10% or so of the whole iceberg can be seen above the water. What we are able to see of our own faults at any time may be just 10% of† our faults, even after we have grown up quite a bit spiritually. And it is another characteristic of our fallen nature that our faults appear to be like specks compared to the beams which we see in others!
There is such a corruption in our flesh that we hate to see our own faults. First we say we have not sinned. When the evidence is plain against us, we try to justify ourselves saying that in our particular situation we had every reason to do what we did. We try our best to turn the attention away from our sins to the way the other people provoked us. Finally when we have no way of defending ourselves and we are forced to acknowledge our sins, we quickly turn the tables around and start finding fault with others for judging us and for not forgiving us!
When we deal with others we see their faults but hardly any of our own. While Brother John is discussing something with Brother Jim, he points out a fault to Jim. Now John is quite sure that he has only good intentions towards Jim. He also believes that Jim will surely understand. John does not realise that this particular fault of Jimís has been bothering him for a long time and that this particular situation is triggering a reaction. Of course Jim canít see in himself the fault John is pointing out. So Jim thinks John has some bad intention or attitude and tells John what he thinks. Now John canít see any justification in Jimís accusing him like that. He wonders why such a good friend like Jim has suddenly turned against him. John complains that Jim is accusing him falsely. Jim says that John was the one who started it! Come to think of it, isnít everyone being downright silly? If only we could see our own faults, and stop getting worked up about the faults of others! At least if only we could remember that we have many faults that we canít see! This is what the Lord tries to teach us, but it usually takes us a long time.Top
The largeness of Godís heart
Look at Godís heart in contrast with ours. I have been impressed with one aspect of the largeness of Godís heart. When Jesus said that He would never cast off anyone who came to Him, He gave us a picture of Godís heart that has lifted up thousands of sincere believers who were in the miry clay of condemnation from the devil. But think of the same truth from a larger perspective. Here is a man who comes to Jesus basically looking for healing from a sickness. Here is another man who comes to Jesus looking for escape from hell. Jesus listens to them, gathers them to Himself - and begins to work in their lives. Many among such people are not even converted properly. They have Ďcome nearí and have some kind of faith in Jesus. They may not know anything about repentance from sin and faith in Jesus as the way of salvation, or sanctification as a process of being transformed into His likeness. But Jesus accepts them the way they are, and works in them to show them these truths little by little, and somewhere along the way they may get converted properly too.
I think there are a lot of premature babies who come into the midst of a church because a lot of evangelistic preaching is incomplete. Obviously, since they are not even properly converted to begin with, it is no wonder they have problems! They would not be able to understand things in the proper way, they may have carnal expectations that are childish in the eyes of mature people, they may not be able to take corrections in the right way, etc. They are not yet children of God in the proper sense, but they are also those whom God has accepted in some sense. We can see what a largeness of heart we need ourselves if we are to avoid quarrelling with such people or turning them away.
I am not saying that all kinds of wrong behaviour must be tolerated in the name of compassion. But Godís wisdom has many sides, and this is also one side that needs careful attention. Of course, anything can be taken to extremes, including this one.Top
Only God hasthe right to judge.
We know that God is good and that He is also severe. But it is good for us to know how and when He is severe. He is only severe with those who fall (Ro.11:22). I donít think it refers to those who fall accidentally. God is not like that. In other words, He is strict with those who go against His commandments. He is the Lawgiver, and He has every right to be strict with all who disobey Him.
But what about us? Do we have the right to be severe with the others? Of course, those who are in authority have to exercise severity to discipline those under them. But otherwise we have no right to be severe with one another. If we behave in a severe manner with others around us, we are acting as if we think we are God! (Jas.4:12). Just because we feel someone has done us some harm, we have no right to take the law into our own hands. At best we can only appeal to the One who has given the law. This is why Jesus said that one who is angry with his brother or sister is guilty before the court (Mt.5:22). We have no right even to be angry with a brother.Top
Dealing with others the way God has dealt with us.
I have sometimes thought about God, our Father, looking down upon us from heaven. He knows everything about us, what we have done, what we have not done, why we have done or not done them, the particular handicaps each of us lives with, the specific temptations we find difficult, our special tendencies, the strengths He has given us, the damage the devil has caused us, etc. From my human point of view, it is a wonder why He should love me at all! Even though some have become more like God than others, it is still true that when compared to Godís perfection, we are only a caricature of His nature, and earthen vessels which are so fragile even though He has chosen to place some of His treasure inside us. But the fact of the matter is that He does love us Ė in spite of all that we are! And not only that. Even though we are such imperfect tools He uses us according to His purposes. Even when we mess up things and He has to start all over again, He does not give up! When are we going to have that attitude towards our brothers and sisters?
It is somewhat easy for us to think that God has accepted us in spite of our corruptions, weaknesses, imperfections, ignorance, etc. What is difficult is to think that God accepts others also in the same way Ė with their corruptions, weaknesses, imperfections, ignorance, etc.! We tend to be very merciful, compassionate and understanding towards ourselves and hard and demanding towards others!
The one who has seen himself in Godís light becomes a different man. He loses confidence in his own assessment of things and becomes slow in passing opinions. He recognises that there could be other ways of looking at things and other ways of doing things than what he is used to. He is willing to listen to others and he is willing to change his views.
He tries to put himself in other peopleís shoes to understand how they feel. He makes room for the others to be different from him, without waiting for others to change before he can have anything to do with them. For example, when he sees his wifeís faults he seeks to love her because he says to himself that this is the one God has given him to love! He also remembers that she has to bear with many faults of his too, many of which he is unaware of!Top
Growing together with others who are different from us.
When God places someone else in the Body of Christ who is different from us, the first thing we have to do is to accept him as he is, because God has accepted him. We should not wait for him to change first before we accept him. We must remember that God Himself did not demand that we should change and come to a certain level of godliness before He would accept us. But then after we have accepted him we have to learn something from him too, from the emphases he brings to the Body, if we are to grow up to the maturity and fullness of Christ.
Let us take the example of peopleís attitude towards spending money. One believer feels that every cent belongs to God and that one should give an account to God for the way he spends each cent. He tends to think twice before spending any money. If he is not humble enough to learn from the Holy Spirit, he may become miserly and calculative. Then there is another brother who is free with money, spending as quickly as he gets it. He feels that God has given all things to enjoy and that as long as he is not spending money for anything evil he is OK.
Now, isnít there a point in what each one of them is saying? But they can have a quarrel about this when it comes to spending money together, e.g., when they are husband and wife. Isnít this a place where each one must learn to consider that there could be some truth in what the other is saying, and try to learn from him or her? Then there will be a maturing of both! The miserly person will learn to be free from unduly valuing money and the open handed person will learn to be more faithful with the use of money in addition to being just righteous. There could be many other examples like this.
Brothers and sisters, we are being taken for a ride by the devil whose desire is to make us quarrel with one another. He is the one whispering into our ears about what the other person is like and why he or she is doing something. We can be sure that the devil is doing the same thing with the other person too. Let us not be gullible before him.Top
What can we do to avoid quarrels?
Here are a few suggestions.Recognise the fact that we have many faults, most of which we are not aware of, and then be willing to face our faults honestly. This will help us to be merciful and kind to others.
Recognise that we are not God. We neither know everything, nor is it possible for us to fully know what goes on in the other personís mind.
Recognise that Godís wisdom has many sides. The best of us know only in part.
Be quick to hear, slow to judge and slow to speak.
Recognise that there is always a possibility that we could be wrong in some way or other.
Be willing to learn and change.
Recognise that others may be different from us and still be acceptable to God.
Recognise that even when someone does what we consider to be wrong, there could be factors there which we are unaware of which make him acceptable to God. Even when he is in fact wrong, see if he was trying to do right and failed because of ignorance or inherent folly. Finally even if we think he has no excuse, let us show him mercy just as God has been merciful to us.
Learn to appreciate the good we see in our brothers and sisters, especially their longing to please God, even if we notice that they are always not able to do everything right. Think of how we will gladly accept the attempts a child will make to draw a beautiful picture even though he is actually making a mess of it.
We know that we are not to make provision for the flesh (Ro.13:14), meaning that we must not give our flesh an opportunity to act according to its desires. But it is wise to make allowances for other peopleís flesh so that we donít unnecessarily provoke them.
Finally, let us learn to subject ourselves more and more to the Holy Spirit who alone can lead us into all truth, warn us when we tend to go to the right or left of the way, show us the image of Christ and transform us into that same image.
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