DIFFERENCES OF OPINION

Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. [Hebrews 12:14-15 (MSG)]

white ibis (juvenile)“Compromise” and “cooperation” are words we hear all too rarely when it comes to our government. Illinois, with a $206 billion debt, has been operating without a budget for nearly a year because Republicans, Democrats and the governor can’t come to an agreement. Although Illinois managed to continue most operations this past year, the state’s poorest and neediest residents suffered the most. If an agreement isn’t reached by July 1, there will be additional shutdowns, more programs cut, schools will lose funding and all road projects will stop. Unfortunately, the winning of political arguments has become more important than serving the people.

The early Christian church nearly failed because of another heated dispute. Fortunately, unlike the Illinois legislature, cooler heads prevailed. Some of the early Jewish converts believed that Jesus’ message was for Jews alone. If a Gentile wanted to become Christian, he first had to become Jewish, undergo circumcision, and follow Jewish law (which didn’t sit well with the Gentiles.) To settle this argument, Paul and Barnabus went to Jerusalem to meet with the church elders. Everyone listened quietly as the men calmly shared their experiences with the Gentiles. Wisely, James turned to scripture for the final word and quoted the Old Testament prophecies showing the Messiah came for all people, not just the Jews.

Although the council decided that Gentiles did not have to become Jews to become Christians, there still were issues that disturbed the Jews about Gentile behavior. In the interest of the church, the Council found middle ground by asking the Gentiles to abstain from sexual immorality, eating food sacrificed to idols, consuming blood or eating the meat of strangled animals. While God certainly doesn’t condone compromising His standards, He does expect us to live in peace with one another and not to let differences cause dissension among His people. Because they quietly listened to one another, considered different points of view, made concessions, and turned to scripture for the final word, the message of Christ continued to spread to Jews and Gentiles alike. Differences were set aside to better serve both God and man. The council knew who they were serving; apparently the Illinois General Assembly doesn’t.

Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.” [Romans 12:17-19 (MSG)]

Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” [Romans 15:1-2 (MSG)]

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