The familiar time-proven quatrain says it well:
To live above with the saints we love, Oh, that will be glory! But to live below with the saints we know That’s another story!
It is true that when we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! The day will break, the shadows will flee away, and we will be face to face with Christ our Savior. Sin and sorrow shall cease and we will dwell forever in the land of “no more,” where there will no more tears, death, sorrow, crying, or pain (Rev. 21:4). We will be reunited with loved ones who have gone before us in the Lord, “the spirits of just men, made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). As the hymnwriter has said, “What a day, glorious day that will be!” But until that time, a lot of patience is required to “live below with the saints we know.” In this life, we will eventually have to deal with the spirits of just men (and women) who are not perfect. Saints come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life, and from various backgrounds with a wide range of knowledge and experience. Despite the fact that believers share much in common, they can be as different as night and day. They might have different ideas and opinions as to how a certain project or event in the local church should be conducted. They might disagree on what is the best approach to reach the unsaved, what is the best way to conduct youth ministry, what topics should be emphasized from the platform, or even what music style is the best. There are as many differences as there are faces in the local church. When an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, watch out! Sparks will fly upward—you can count on it!
To help deal with this, God has included an abundance of “one another” commands in the New Testament that emphasize patience and forbearance among believers. Christians are to accept one another (Rom. 15:7), be at peace with one another (Mk. 9:50), bear with and forgive one another (Col. 3:13), and be of the same mind toward one another (Rom. 12:16). These are reciprocal commands, shared responsibilities, and non-compliance by one does not absolve the other of the obligation to obey.
WHY THE DIFFERENCES?
What are the reasons for differences among believers? Are they all bad?
One source of differences actually comes from the Lord. 1 Corinthians 12 reminds us, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.” The same Spirit, Lord, and God sovereignly bestow differing spiritual gifts, spheres of ministry, and levels of operation among all believers, enabling us to serve in various capacities. These differences highlight the multifaceted grace of God (1 Pet. 4:10). This is part of what makes the Christian life exciting! God calls different people from different walks of life, and He endows each one with a unique combination of talents and abilities to glorify His Name. We are different, yet one in purpose: to glorify the Lord. It is the reason why Paul prayed that the Ephesian believers “might comprehend with all the saints what is the width, and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ” (Eph. 3:18-19). We need one another to help comprehend the range of God’s amazing grace. Our differences show the wide dimensions of the love of Christ and His power in redeeming us from the hand of the enemy. Thank the Lord for these differences!
But some differences spring from other sources. Some come about as a result of natural personality differences: some people are more outgoing than others; some are more reserved in their demeanor; one may be bothered when they see a jovial person always smiling; another can be annoyed by the person who always seems to be down-in-the-mouth. Despite the fact that there may be legitimate behind-the-scenes reasons for this, these differences can cause issues at times—issues that will eventually need to be resolved with patience, understanding, and help from the Lord.
Conflict among the saints can also result from different levels of spiritual knowledge, understanding, and maturity. There can be educational and social differences. There can be different convictions about certain matters as was the case in the Corinthian assembly (1 Cor. 10–11). In Corinth, some had opposite views concerning the days of the week or regarding the consumption of certain kinds of meat. Today, we can disagree on music. Some desire upbeat music in order to attract visitors from the outside. Others have been saved out of a worldly background and detest anything that even slightly resembles their unsaved days. These differences (and many like them) can be very strong and difficult to resolve, causing much conflict in the church.
DEALING WITH THE DIFFERENCES
How then are differences to be dealt with? What do you do when the unstoppable force and the immovable object collide, especially when both people know the Lord and quote verses to substantiate their claims? This is why the Lord has supplied us with the “one another” commands in Scripture. Repeatedly, the New Testament emphasizes the responsibility that we all have to work with each other in the common cause of glorifying God in the world, magnifying Christ in our lives, and striving together for the faith of the gospel (Php. 1:27). We are to demonstrate by our mutual care and concern that we are members one of another in order that there be no schism in the body (1 Cor. 12:25). By this, we are demonstrating in a practical way the fulfillment of our Lord’s prayer in the upper room that we all be one (Jn. 17:21).
When there is conflict, we are to genuinely seek the face of the Lord and the leading of the Spirit. We are to prayerfully open God’s Word and seek light on the subject. Instead of automatically assuming that we are right, we need to humbly consider whether we are defending the Bible or simply standing up for our own personal preferences. Perhaps the problem is not with the other person; perhaps it is with me! No one of us should be beyond being teachable (Php. 3:15).
All of this needs to be done in a spirit of love and consideration for others. We can have diversity, yet maintain unity. We can be different from each other, but still be of the same mind toward one another.
Good Christians can collide at times. But if they strive to be like Christ in all their ways, seek to be conformed to His image in attitude and action, and follow His steps, a lot of unnecessary hurt will be averted. As we give preference to one another (Rom. 12:10) and respond in a spirit of meekness and humility, we demonstrate that it is always good that the heart be established with grace (Heb. 13:9). If we approach our differences in this God-honoring way, we will douse the flame that the devil is fueling in his efforts to get blood-bought believers battling one another instead of him.