I prayed this morning for the strength to deal with a friend. I like my friend, but we see the world very differently these days. We’re learning to steer away from anything in the news because it inevitably leads to conflict. I like him a lot, but we can’t believe how differently we think about issues that matter to us both.
That’s why I love the honesty of Scripture: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:12-13).
Every one of those words sounds good to me in theory. I can’t picture a more attractive set of virtues for a church. But every one of those virtues is hard for me to live out with real people who grate at me with their incomprehensible and nonsensical ways of seeing the world.
Paul commands us to put on a new identity that transcends our differences. “Whatever our worldly background or status,” writes Douglas Moo, “we all now have our fundamental identity determined by Christ and the people of Christ to whom we belong.” Our common identity in Christ transcends our view of politics, masks, or anything else. We are, before anything else, “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.”
But the new identity comes with a set of new attitudes:
- compassion — an emotional state of caring for the needs of others
- kindness — a warmhearted, gracious disposition
- humility — a humble opinion of myself
- gentleness — restraint that seeks the good of others
- patience — a willingness to suffer without being easily provoked
All of these reflect Jesus. All of these go against how I want to act when exasperated. All are consistent with who God has called us to be. The Spirit will help us as we put on these virtues as part of our new identity.
These five virtues shape our actions. When we start to cultivate these virtues, we’ll be able to put up with (“bearing with”) one another. Sometimes that’s what it takes. We’re meant to tolerate the irritants and endure them even when they drive us crazy.
Not only that, but we’re then supposed to forgive each other when we get it wrong, remembering that’s what Jesus did for us.
I know these verses, but I’m getting to field test them now. We’re in a season of deep divisions and sharp opinions. I can block and cancel those who tick me off and conclude that they’re unworthy of my attention. I can avoid the friends who see the world differently than I do, and who aren’t afraid to tell me what they think.
But Christ unites us, and that matters more than any other division. My job is to cultivate the same attitudes that Jesus has shown to me, and then do the hard work of putting up with others and forgiving them, even when they drive me crazy. And it’s their job to do the same with me.
And then repeat. It’s going to take a lot of obedience, and a lot of the Spirit’s power, to do this. But the result will be something beautiful that reflects the character of Jesus in this divided world.