Earlier I mentioned Romans 14. Scripture that captures this idea that we will disagree, and sometimes on some pretty huge issues, but that the aim is not to judge and bring division. The aim is to …
“Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” Romans 14:13
Paul doesn’t just say, “Hey guys, play nice,” or “We need to all just get along.” He gives us a path, something to replace judgement. He gives us an “Instead …”
It’s interesting to hear how people define “stumbling block” or “obstacle” in this scenario. I’ve heard it discussed as not tempting someone, not putting a drink in front of someone that struggles with drinking, or not putting a piece of cheesecake in front of me. Which of course, I think is super helpful, but the value in this portion of Romans 14 to me is the “make up your mind,” even more so, “your.”
I love seeing political views on Facebook, but I tune out when those views become commanding judgements on anyone that disagrees. Great information, respectful conversations, kindness, humility, an open mind and eager courage to hear variant points … these things have led to me changing my stance on several topics. But for some reason, those things seem counter-cultural, as if we feel we have to force our ideals.
I once had a mentor say, “It’s easy to stand when you stand on truth. You don’t have to fight or worry or lash out, because if what you believe, you actually believe is true, you simply stand.”
Remember the armor of God? That list of items from Ephesians 6? Before each piece is mentioned individually, there is the verse, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
“Stand your ground” is often translated as “withstand,” to take a stance against, and after you have done that you stand. Stand firm. Just stand. It’s this dance, this tension between sharing your own thoughts and opinions (standing your ground) and then resting in God’s armor (to stand).
And do we remember what we are actually standing against?
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Eph. 6:12
It’s like we have forgotten the things that are actually against us, along with the things that are actually for us. (By the way, “us” means “us,” not just you, or those you get along with most, or those you align with.)
During a heated election year, one of my favorite pastors, Andy Stanley, said this, “Government matters. Policies matter. But neither of those matter as much as men and women who understand this word: Faith … So all of you people over 45, knock it off. You need to model your behavior for the next generation that God is in control.” He added, “You are scaring the children.”
The inability to have an actual dialogue rather than your private political monologue is a stumbling block. If you want to change minds, have actual conversations, where you listen too. If you are passionate about a belief, find someone that believes differently and practice thinking and listening together.
When I read Paul’s words, I hear this concept of pre-deciding, before conversations, before posting, before ranting, that you are going to go ahead and make up your mind now to invite God to lead you in your conversations, asking God to make a clear path to real transformative connection that is focused on maneuvering obstacles, rather than trying to do a mic drop with your opinion tripping up someone’s feet.
In my experience, it is rarely a difference of opinion that stands in the way of people walking together, but an insistence that only one person control the path and the pace. Remove that. Make up your mind now to choose “instead” over judgement, to put your energy and effort into creating a way forward with others, rather than in resistance to those you see as an other.
The great thing is that you never have to change your mind, vote differently or take a difference stance. I’ve said it before, but you may have your ideal sharpened. You may walk away even more confident of your opinion. But how great to know it’s been healthily tested. You just have to be willing to entertain an alternative to judgement and division. You have to be willing to instead.
Romans 14 is Paul’s effort to hold a group of people together. People that love Jesus but believe differently. Where does your effort and energy go?