In this contentious time, we often feel irritable, worried, and divided. We may even find ourselves fighting over political differences, medical opinions, and much more besides. Yet according to Scripture, we must love each other despite differences.
After counselling the church in Philippi through discord, Paul says, “If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made” (Phil 3:15–16 NLT).
In other words, to accept one another despite differences means trusting God. God will reveal what we need to know when our efforts to work out our differences fail.
Trusting God in Disagreement
While speaking to the Philippians, Paul encourages the church to be like Christ and “count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil 2:5, 3). Even so, Paul acknowledges that not everyone will agree with each other (Phil 3:15–16). He admits all this and yet still encourages these believers to agree with one another: “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord” (Phil 4:1).
Despite such discord in the church, Paul never doubts their faith. He writes, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace” (Phil 1:6–7).
Being a Christian does not require perfect agreement at every moment. It requires trusting God and walking in the Spirit because, once we give your trust to the Lord, we have to live as Christians ought to live—we have to walk with the Spirit.
In Step with Spirit even in Disagreement
We can walk with the Spirit even when we disagree with one another. This is because walking in the Spirit means living by the Spirit and not gratifying the flesh (Gal 5:15). It does not mean ensuring that everyone you know agrees with your opinions.
In short, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:22–23). That is the bread-and-butter of the Christian life. This is what walking by the Spirit looks like.
When Peter tells how to make our calling and election sure, he begins with “faith” and ends with “love” (2 Pet 1:5, 7). It is worth quoting Peter in full to show that confirming one’s identity as a Christian primarily involves how we live:
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. (2 Pet 2:5–10)
Peter does not see such a manner of life as derived from our own power. Just the opposite. He affirms that:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Pet 2:3–4)
I can almost guarantee that some of you have deep disagreements with other Christains right now. You may be tempted to blast or belittle them. You might be tempted to fall into despair. You might be tempted to think that the stakes are so high that, unless someone believes in your vaccine, virus, or political opinion, then that person is not a Christian.
But Paul teaches us better. Our faith is grounded in Christ. The test of our faith is the fruit of the Spirit or a life that moves faith to love in the idiom of Peter. Such faith “hopes all things” (1 Cor 13:7) and so can neither fall into absolute despair or dismissive hatred of others.
Love—that fruit of the Spirit that marks a Christian—patiently endures differences. It takes to heart Paul’s words: “If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. But we must hold on to the progress we have already made” (Phil 3:15–16 NLT). When Paul uses the phrase “make it plain” or “reveal” (ESV), he means a divine revelation. It is something we attain as a gift.
Ambrosiaster comments, “In order to prevent the appearance of pride and the thought that this did not come from God, Paul adds that it was all revealed by God, saying: Let us hold true to what we have attained.” Whatever we have received from God, it is a gift. Pride in knowledge puffs up; love builds up (1 Cor 8:1). It is especially true in disagreements.
Until we all agree, let’s hold each other in high regard. “Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Phil 2:3 NIV). Trust God to change the heart. Do your best and if and when that fails, then love each other, pray, and wait for God to reveal what he wills to reveal.
Like everything else in the Christian life, godly disagreements require faith in God, not our clever arguments or our abilities. Such a faith simultaneously allows us to endure disagreements and resolve them. In faith, we wait for God. Then we live the Christian life in and by the Spirit until such time as God makes things plain to us.