Humility, Civility, and Unity in Political Discourse, Part 1
In the ever-escalating tension of today's culture, Bob Lepine poses this question to the congregation at Redeemer Church in Little Rock, Ark.: How would Jesus want us to represent Him when we talk about society, politics, and government? According to the Bible, what we agree on about Jesus and the essentials of our faith should bind us together in Christ tighter than our politics should divide us.
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Bob Lepine poses this question: How would Jesus want us to represent Him when we talk about politics? According to the Bible, what we agree about Jesus should bind us tighter than our politics should divide us.
Humility, Civility, and Unity in Political Discourse, Part 1
Bob: If we're honest, spending a whole lot of time on social media or watching cable news channels these days—that's not particularly spiritually edifying—so how do we be informed citizens without becoming a part of the divided culture in which we're living?
This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, October 20th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. If you've been having conversations about politics with family members, friends, or co-workers, and it has not gone well—there's been a lot of anger in those conversations—we've got some coaching tips for you today. Stay with us.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. I've been talking to parents, who are not looking forward to Thanksgiving this year. [Laughter] You know what I mean?
Bob: There are going to be people around the table, and we don't know whether we're going to have election results by Thanksgiving.
Dave: Isn't that crazy?
Ann: Well, as you sit around your Thanksgiving dinner table, are you going to ask your kids who they voted for?
Bob: I think we all know; maybe we don't know—I have not thought about that—but that's a scary conversation to think about; right?
Ann: Isn't it?—yes.
Bob: I thought, as I was talking to our church congregation a few weeks ago, I thought, “We all need some coaching—
Bob: —“on how we should agreeably disagree—how Jesus would have us interact with one another, even when we don't see things eye to eye.”
I'll tell you what—there are some families—I got a message; I think this was on Facebook® recently from somebody, who said—a close friend of 30 years has just said—“I can't be friends with you anymore—
Bob: —“because of your political views.” Somebody else, who said, “I have a family member who won't talk to me because of who I'm supporting for President.” I think, “Is that what God intends?”
Ann: “Is that what Jesus would want?”
Bob: That's right.
Dave: And that's not that unusual—I mean, it's always been that way—but I think right now it's heightened. I applaud you for doing this series; because I think we all need to open our minds a little bit and say, ‘Okay; let's get God's heart on this/God's perspective.” Everybody’s not going to think exactly the same, even if you're a follower of Christ.
Bob: I did three messages at our church: one on the purpose of government as a good gift from God; the second on how we interact about political issues, even when we don't agree; the third: “How do we decide who to vote for?” and “How does the Bible inform our thinking on that?” All three of those messages are available on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com—both audio and video if you'd like to watch those.
Today, we're going to hear a portion of that second message on how we get along with one another, even when we don't agree.
Dave: I am excited to listen to this—
Ann: Me, too, Bob; thanks for doing it.
Dave: —so let's tune in.
Bob: I'm going to give you the punchline just as we start here this morning; okay? I want us to see this morning that our conversations with one another in the church/with fellow believers and our conversations with those outside the church need to be shaped by a biblical worldview.
Our conversations in the church—when we're talking about politics and government, where we may have disagreements—our gospel unity should always be more important and more significant, more powerful than whatever our political disagreements are. What we agree on about Jesus and about the essentials of our faith ought to bind us together tighter than what we disagree about in terms of government and politics. We should have more in common with one another, in the gospel as fellow believers, even when we might disagree on political issues. That's the first thing I want us to see.
The second thing that I want us to see is that our conversation with people on political issues—or any issues for that matter—when we're talking with people, who are outside
the church, whether they are believers or not, these conversations ought to be marked by a deep respect for the dignity of the person we're talking to. Even when we disagree, that disagreement needs to be engaged with a high degree of civility; not with name-calling, not with intimidation, not with intolerance, not with hatred, not dismissively.
Because we have experienced God's love for us in Jesus—“While we were still His enemies in rebellion against Him, He loved us,”—because we've experienced that, we ought to be dispensers of that kind of love and civility and an expression of dignity for the humanity of the people that we're having the disagreements with.
And there should be humility as we interact with those people—a humility that demonstrates that: even though we think we're right about something, even though we're pretty sure we're right about what we're pretty sure we're right about, we acknowledge that we are not people who have all the answers. Our views are not infallible. We are ready to listen, and learn, and to stretch how we think about things/to hear someone else and to value what they're saying; because we may have a blind spot, and we need to be open to that.
Unity in the church that transcends our political disagreement—unity in the gospel—and then expressing dignity, civility, and humility in every setting. That's what I want us to see as we spend time in God's Word this morning. To start us, I want to take us to what had to be the biggest, most memorable church service ever held in the history of the church in Philippi in the first century.
A little background here: the church in Philippi was established sometime around 49 or 50 A.D., when the Apostle Paul, who had been in Asia Minor, had heard the Macedonian call: he'd had a vision one night; a man from Macedonia said, “Come and help us.” He and his group had gotten up and left the next day. This was their first time to come into the Macedonian region in northern Greece. They landed in Philippi. They went down to the river, because that was a gathering place. They started to preach the gospel. There was a woman there named Lydia, who was a wealthy woman/a seller of purple garments the Bible tells us.
Lydia was converted; she opened up her home, and the church in Philippi began in Lydia's house. You can read about the birth of the church in Philippi in Acts, Chapter 16. Ultimately, Paul and his missionary team left Philippi/left the church there and went further into Greece and established other churches in Corinth and other places throughout Greece.
Now you jump ahead 10 or 11 years; so now it is 59 or 60/61 A.D. Paul is in Rome, and he is in prison. The Philippians have learned that their beloved church founder/the man who planted their church is in prison in Rome. Even though the church was, itself, in economic distress at this time, they took up an offering. They sent a man named Epaphroditus—they sent him to take the offering to Paul in Rome.
Epaphroditus travels to Rome; he meets Paul there in prison. The way this offering works: if you were in prison in Rome, friends gave to your account. You could have a bank account, where you could buy toothpaste and other things. The Roman government did not have high standards for how they cared for their prisoners. It was the generosity of people on the outside who made life in prison livable and bearable. Epaphroditus brings Paul things he needs: like a coat, like paper, and pen and ink so that he can write, and books that he can read.
After ministering to Paul, Epaphroditus comes back to Philippi with a letter from Paul that he's written to them in prison. This is, again, 60/61 A.D. The whole church learns that Epaphroditus is back from Rome: he's been to see Paul; he's got a letter from Paul; and at the next gathering, they're going to read the letter aloud. Everybody, who'd ever been a part of the church, is coming this particular night, or day, or whenever it was that they were gathering on the Lord's Day for their worship service to hear read-aloud the letter that was coming from the Apostle Paul. They wanted the latest: “Was Paul going to be released?” “Had he been sentenced to die?” They're about to find out what's going on with him.
It's Sunday, and the place is packed wall to wall. The letter is opened, and they begin to read. It's a lovely letter all about Paul's great love for these people in this church, his great joy to know that they're doing well spiritually/that they're growing; he expresses his gratefulness for the offering. In fact, the letter is kind of like a long thank-you note to them for their care for him. He's grateful for the offering because of what it tells him, not only because he'll benefit from it; but he's grateful because of what it tells him about them and their spiritual maturity. These people, in distress, who take up an offering—Paul knows that these are people, who are understanding and believing the gospel—they're trusting God. He's overflowing with joy, not because he's getting money, but because these people are generous and giving people.
The letter is being read to the whole church. Everybody is smiling; they're being encouraged. They love hearing from the Apostle Paul until near the end of the letter, when Paul does something that sucks the air completely out of the room. I think the temperature of the room had to drop about ten degrees when he said this: “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.”
Now, you get the context?—he's been warm and generous, and then in the midst of this, he calls out two women in the church, who are having some kind of a public disagreement. In the middle of this letter, he calls them out by name and says: “You ladies, you need to get along.” I'm imagining both of the women were there; right? They're sitting there; they've been hearing this letter; and everyone in the church is aware of the fact that these two women aren't getting along. In fact, I'm imagining there were FOE's and FOS's—Friends of Euodia and Friends of Syntyche—right?—they had kind of polarized, and they were on opposite sides. Syntyche had her group that sat with her at church, and Euodia had her group; and they kind of snarked at each other a little bit. I mean, in Christian love, they snarked at each other; because—right?
Paul had, no doubt, learned about this rift between these two women from Epaphroditus; and he felt it necessary in this thank-you note to call them out by name, publicly, and tell them that they need to agree in the Lord. And then he tells an unnamed friend/someone he calls his “true companion” to help them deal with their issue. He said: “Yes, and I ask you, also, true companion”—some think that may be Luke—“help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life,”—“If these women can't work it our on their own, I need you, true companion, to get in there and help them figure out how to work it out.”
Now, we don't know what the issue between these two women was; and I think that's by design. I think the Holy Spirit doesn't want us to focus on who was right or who was wrong. He doesn't want us teaming up and saying, “Well, I'd have been with Euodia,” / “I'd have been with Syntyche.” No; He wants us to understand that, in God's providence, the issue was not who was right and who was wrong. The issue was: these women needed to agree in the Lord. He wants us to see that division in the church like this/division between followers of Christ—no matter what the issue is—apart from false doctrine—when there's division, it's wrong; and it's harmful; and it should not go unaddressed.
The thought that there was division between these two women is grievous to Paul. His concern about the division in the church was so deep that he addressed it publicly. That's what entreat means—he begged them to agree in the Lord. Unity in the church is a big deal to Paul. Do you know why?—because it was a big deal to Jesus. Jesus, on the night before He went to the cross—having the last supper with His disciples and then instructing them on what was to come—He then prays for them, in John 17, what's called the high priestly prayer.
In that prayer, after He prays specifically for the 11 men, who are in the room—the 12, minus Judas, who has already left—He prays for them. He prays that they would be sanctified and that God would protect them. And then, in John 17, verse 20, He shifts His prayer from them to us. He says, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” That's us; we believe in Jesus through the word of the 11, who were in the room that night.
“I'm not just praying for them”—Jesus says—“I'm praying for those who will come to believe in Me through their word. And here's my prayer: that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us that the world may believe that You have sent Me. The glory that You have given Me, I have given to them, that they may be one, even as We are One; I in them, You in Me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent Me, and loved them, even as You love Me.”
He says the same thing twice: “I want them to be one, because this is how the world will know that You sent Me. I want them to really be one/perfectly one,” “Why?”—because this is how the world will know. Jesus is praying that our unity, as His followers, would be like the unity that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit experience in the Trinity—a perfect unity. And He says this unity will be a marker for the world to know that God sent Jesus—that He is who He claims to be. The mission of the church in the world is hindered when there is a lack of unity among believers in the church. Jesus told His disciples, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Unity and love are linked together.
Paul has already addressed this in his letter to the Philippians before he got to Euodia and Syntyche and called them out. Back in Chapter 2, he had said this, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy…”—and by the way, all of that; it's a rhetorical question—he's saying, “If there is encouragement in Christ”; and of course, there is; “if there is love/comfort from love”; there is; “participation of the Spirit, affection, and sympathy”; here's how you should respond: “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord, and of one mind.”
One translation says “of one mind” means to be intent on one purpose together. Paul says: “If what Jesus has done for you means anything to you, it will bring me great joy to know that you are bound together in gospel unity, loving one another, and intent on gospel purposes. That should be the glue that binds you together.” I think it's safe to say the opposite's true here: “There is great sadness when these things are not true.” Paul says, “Make my joy complete by being of one mind.” I think it's true Paul's sorrow would be expanding when that's not happening. That's why he calls out Euodia and Syntyche.
Paul's not saying there shouldn't be any differing opinions about anything in the church. There's a difference between unity and uniformity; he's not calling for uniformity/he's not saying that everybody has to think exactly alike. It's not wrong for us to have differing viewpoints from someone else or a different perspective on life. We have that in our marriages; don't we? Every husband and wife knows that we don't always think alike about things, and that's okay. In fact, it benefits us to be thinking differently about some of these things.
There are different ways to think about different kinds of disagreements. When we have differences about things, where the Bible is clear, we need to find our unity by going to the Bible and saying, “What does God's Word say here?” so our unity is found in the clarity of Scripture. That's why Paul, himself, was not embarrassed to call out Peter, in Galatians, when Peter was drifting from the gospel message. He disrupted the unity by calling Peter, saying, “We've got to get back to thinking, biblically, about the gospel.” When there's disagreement about the clear teaching of the Bible, we come together to the Bible and say, “Lord, teach us from Your Word.” We gain clarity and unity there.
But when our differences are around things, where there might be a different understanding of what God's Word says, then we need to give each other room to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Our Presbyterian friends have a different view of how baptism should be practiced; our Charismatic friends have a different view about how gifts should be employed—that's fine. We can have unity in the gospel, even when we disagree on these things. We should all seek to work out our salvation. What does the Bible say?—but giving liberty/giving freedom for that.
And then finally, when our differences are around things where the Bible is silent—where we may have a strong preference or where our conscience is leading us in a particular direction, but the Bible is silent about that—we should not judge, or condemn, or distance ourselves from others who see things differently. This is what Romans 14 is all about: “What do we do when there are some people, who hold the view that you shouldn't drink wine, and others say, ‘No; it's okay,’ / ‘You shouldn't eat meat,’ ‘No; it's okay,’—how do you deal with that?” And the answer is: “You give each other a lot of latitude, and you don't separate over those things.”
We need to be able to differentiate between those things that are essential to our unity and those things that are not essential, where we need to give grace and liberty to others. R.C. Sproul has said this, “Agreeing in the Lord with other believers does not necessarily mean that we concur on every secondary or tertiary matter. It does mean, however, that we recognize other believers as true brothers and sisters in Christ when we agree on gospel essentials. It also means that we strive to debate and discuss respectfully; that is, in a manner that honors other people and shows the world that we are united in the gospel. While believers may debate issues that do not touch the heart of the gospel, they may not do so in an overly contentious manner that denies the peace our Savior has brought to His people.” We can disagree, but how we disagree matters to Jesus.
Bob: Well, we've been listening to the first part of a message I shared recently at our church in Little Rock, as I've been teaching about: “How do we think biblically about the coming election?” It's two weeks from this week.
Bob: There's a lot of conversation going on and a lot of friendships being fractured because of political disagreements. I think we've got to do better on Twitter®, and on Facebook®, and—
Ann: —on every social media platform.
Bob, what a great message and what a great job you've done. It's inspiring; I'm going to listen to the rest of it, for sure!
Dave: I mean, it's so helpful; because it isn't just social media—although that's huge—but it's in person: it's sitting beside one another in church—
Dave: —or watching it from home—it's having conversations. It's a reminder that, whoever gets elected in two weeks, is not the hope of the world. You know, you're not the lead pastor of your church; Jesus is.
Dave: And Donald Trump or Joe Biden's not the lead of this nation; the Lord is.
Ann: I'm thinking of Jesus—talk about political unrest in the days that He walked the earth—and yet, I'm thinking of Matthew 5:44, when He says, “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” If we could do that, and treat one another as fellow image-bearers, that would change the way we converse.
Dave: And they're not enemies because they vote for somebody else; they're actually your brother and sister.
Bob: We're going to hear another portion of this message tomorrow; and if you're interested, you can also hear the entire message when you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. You can download this message or view it online. In fact, all three messages from this series are available for download or for online viewing. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and look for the series marked “Jesus, Politics, and the Gospel.” Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com; the audio links and the video links are available there.
Now, next week, we've got something special that we're kicking off three successive Thursday nights, beginning Thursday, October 29, and then continuing on November 5 and November 12. We're going to be getting together for a Love Like You Mean It marriage small group. Dave and Ann Wilson and I will be gathering, online, on Facebook® Live with anyone who wants to join us. We'll be talking about what real love looks like in a marriage relationship: how the Bible defines love and how we can do a better job of loving one another in marriage.
It all kicks off Thursday night, October 29, 7 p.m.; it's a Facebook Live. You and your small group or your friends, you and your spouse—you're welcome to join us. If you're engaged, make this a part of your premarital preparation and join us Thursday nights, 7:00 Central Time. Find out more about how you can be a part of the Love Like You Mean It Facebook online small group; go to FamilyLifeToday.com, and all the information is available for you there.
And finally, if you have not yet downloaded the FamilyLife® mobile app, it's brand new. It's free, and it's available in your app store. Type in “FamilyLife” as one word in the app store search box, and the app should pull up. Again, it's free to download; and that gives you easy access to FamilyLife Today anytime you'd like to listen.
We hope you'll be back with us, again, tomorrow as we're going to talk about how we can have political conversations that are characterized by civility, humility, and where we are demonstrating dignity for every person in the conversation. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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