It would be easier if God just called us to be nice…
In Romans 12 Pauls calls the Christians to live in harmony with others, love sincerely and prefer others over ourselves; even those who are different from us. It sounds pretty straightforward on the surface. Be nice to people.
But is that what Paul is really commending we do? Recently, God has been shifting my thinking when interacting with others and it’s been a sobering time of learning.
You see, in a world where you are expected to have an opinion on everything and everyone has the right to share their opinion, it can feel complex. How do we as Christians, navigate the call to genuinely live in harmony with others, with those who have different views, cultures, beliefs and values from us? Why should we aim to live in harmony?
I was having a conversation with a work colleague a few months ago about how we were both navigating Covid19 and other things in life and as we are sharing he said “My ancestors are watching me and I need to make them proud.” My brain registered the comment and I deemed it be not “THE TRUTH” and the curiosity switch in my mind went from on, to off. His opinion or life experience didn’t fit into my worldview so for the rest of the chat, we did some other small talk and I hardly asked anymore questions.
On the surface, it looked like I had been accommodating and loving, however, on the inside God and I could both see that I had placed this person in the “that’s not truth so there’s no point finding out more” box. It looked like I had been nice but in reality I disregarded him. Not, what I believe, God calls me to do.
It got me thinking, ‘why should I love sincerely and live in harmony with all people?’ Other than the fact that God calls us to, as shared in Romans, Ellen White shares that “it is through social relations that Christianity comes in contact with the world” (Ministry of Healing pg. 496). That’s a pretty big reason for living in harmony with others. In fact, it’s definitely far deeper than being nice because it’s about allowing others to see who Jesus is, through our relationships with them.
When we look around the world today, we can see that the world needs Christ and Kingdom principles… we all do! In tuning out and switching off my curiosity towards my colleague, I lost the opportunity to be empathetic. I missed the opportunity to understand him, to see him as human and bring the principles of Christ into his life in ways he may be open to.
So how do I go from just playing nice to sincerely loving and living in harmony with others?
I remind myself that people are different. God made us different in some ways and people come from different upbringings, families, countries, education backgrounds and the list goes on. It seems like a pretty obvious thing, but If I remembered that more often then maybe I will stop expecting that people will be like me or ought to be like me! I might remember that no two people in the world are exactly the same in thought and experience. Children brought up in the same household by the same parents don’t agree on absolutely everything, so why should I expect any less from a stranger? I think that reminding myself of this might help me take an approach of curiosity. To be curious, to learn more about others and their experience, to empathise with them and to truly see them as children of God. When we see each other’s humanity, it binds us together.
I check myself. Ellen White shares that “self is the enemy we most need to fear.” I ask myself, what is it that I am battling or protecting within me that makes it difficult to hear what someone else is sharing? Am I feeling attacked? Am I afraid of something? Do I want to hold onto being right more than I want to hear someone else’s thoughts and experiences?
In the case of my colleague, I’d decided I was right on this particular point and there was no need learning about why he thought the way he did. This attitude doesn’t open up room for Christianity to come into contact with his world because I’ve taken no interest in it.
Be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). Since I am trying to bring the world into contact with Christianity, it’s important for me to meet people where they are at. Disregarding my colleague’s opinions and experiences, or bible bashing them, does not help me to get to know why he thinks the way he does. Listening and asking questions might. Andy Stanley is quoted as saying, “Everything everyone says or does, makes sense to them.” So if I am finding it hard to understand why someone does or says what they do, then clearly I’m the one in need of knowledge and I should be doing the asking. Sincere love requires sincere interest in people and their life experiences. Of course, I may still disagree with their conclusions or understandings, but I can do so in harmony – because I’ve listened and they feel understood.
It would be easier if God just called us to be nice. Then I could probably justify ignoring the parts of people I don’t understand or that scare me. But God calls us to a higher and a deeper standard. A standard that requires us to live in harmony so that others may see Him.