Putting on Compassionate Hearts
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.
The way in which we view the world (i.e. our opinions and values) is often determined by our culture. The problem with our idea ‘culture’ is that it is too narrow because in fact a person has a unique blend of cultures. So we have opinions based on our training growing up. We have opinions reacting to the way we grew up because it was too strict or it wasn’t strict enough. We value certain things because they were a part of our growing-up-hood or a formative time in our life, and we have beliefs because of struggles we have experienced in our lives or in that of one of our family members. Many of our opinions are not necessarily wrong. There are many areas in our lives we are free to choose the way we live. We are free to celebrate Christmas and we are free not to celebrate Christmas. It really ought to be no matter of consequence or condemnation.
As Christians however, we must think seriously about our opinions and values. As a Christian, I must always consider how my values are in accord with scripture. There are a handful of responses or scenarios.
1. I could consider my values and pray about them and test them in relation to scripture and find that my foundation is lacking. It is in fact a hindrance to my growth as a Christian. There are many legalisms and free-grace-isms out there that this is the case. I may have had the opinion that anyone late to church is lazy. Getting up at 9 is wasting your day my dad always said (he truly did). I can live in such a way that this is a burden to myself and a burden that I place on others. But, as I pray and study scripture on this I realize that this is not actually a Christian value. Instead, I am placing undue stress and burdens on myself, my family, and my church that actually is an anti-gospel. I end up rejecting God’s grace in favor of my opinion.
2. I could consider my values as good but not binding on others. I may choose to abstain from alcohol because of a former addiction or I may choose to not eat candy so that I would avoid gluttony. However, other brothers and sisters in the Lord are free to choose otherwise. I can rejoice in this difference in the body of Christ as it chastens and challenges me to consider what is foundational, and reveals to me my own weakness. Here is where we sharpen one another. There are biblical principles that support my case, but they can be interpreted in various ways depending on the context.
3. I could consider my values and opinions and test them according to scripture and find that they are binding across all cultures and times. These are things that find their way into doctrinal statements and church covenants. They also are things that feature regularly in the preaching and teaching of the word. We believe that God is three persons but has one nature. James exhorts us to care for the poor. If we are not doing these things we are actually harming the cause of Christ.
So what do we do when our opinions butt up against my actions or the actions of someone else? We must be certain where our opinion falls. There are few things that are not stated in scripture that would fall under category 3. Many of our major disputes actually probably fall under category 2 above, but we place them in category 3. In reality, we often make our opinions more important than the message of the gospel and the doctrine of God! This shouldn’t be the case, but all of us should be willing and open to discuss our differences. We should be open and willing to speak with charity, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, (putting on) compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another. We should remember that God has brought together disparate peoples into the church, his people of God. We who ought to be enemies are now friends because of the work of Christ. Praise the Lord!
For everyone involved, Paul challenges us to be quick to forgive, and to put away any bitterness, wrath and anger. Instead, we ought to be tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ forgave you. We must be quick to listen and slow to speak (Eph. 4.25-32). This is completely opposite of what we typically do. We normally want to get our opinion out and we rarely listen to one another (if you ever observe ‘discussions’ it often involves everyone saying their ‘novel’ thought without ever learning from anyone else. This is the case in middle school and this is the case for adults. Watch yourselves; you are not being slow to speak and quick to listen!) If our own opinion from category 2 causes a brother or sister to stumble, we ought to consider how to lift up our weaker brother. We are not called to be revolutionary in how we live out our opinions; instead we are to forbear with one another and seek to build each other up as we grow into Christ, our head. Remember Paul became all things to all people so that by some means he might save some (1 Corinthians 9.19-23). He joined the revolution of the gospel not the revolution of the next fad. He used his liberty to promote the gospel and so should we. Only we must take care that we not use this liberty to ruin a weaker member in our body. May we be a church who through these many differences is united by the message of the gospel.