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Winston Churchill once said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
Sometimes we can be so sure of ourselves that we rush to fix a problem that is much more complex than we realize. We may not fully understand the thinking of those who oppose us, and we have not have taken the time we should to listen. As Churchill suggests, there are two parts to courage, and while boldly standing up for right is one part, the part that takes more time is the courage to wait, to talk together, and to listen to the opposing point of view. The expression, “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” is not a scriptural quote but suggests that the very human characteristic, to shoot first and ask questions later, is not a godly way to act.
An Old Testament example is from the book of Joshua when the tribes assembled to attack their brethren on the other side of the Jordan River, because they thought that they had built an altar to a false god. The armies were ready to fight, but when the leaders went to talk with those who built the altar, they discovered that the altar was not for false worship. It was to witness to all that those on the other side of the river were part of Israel and were faithful to the God of Israel. By talking to and understanding the thinking of those in opposition, war was averted and unity maintained.
We all agree that it is right to stand up for the Truth against error. We want to be ready to defend our faith, explaining to others the good reasons for the hope we share. However, it is possible to sin while defending what we believe to be right. An elderly brother once explained this principle to me: “If you believe that divorce is the unforgivable sin, is it better to kill a spouse you hate, since murder is forgivable?” It is faulty reasoning to do evil that good may come. Just as murder is not a good method to avoid the sin of divorce, so we must not fight wrong by also doing wrong.
The Apostle Paul would not hesitate to stand up for what was right, as he explains to the Thessalonians, “But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.” However, Paul was careful in his boldness, as he explains,
“For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness: Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us.”
Do we treat those who do not agree with us as a nurse cherishes her children? Sometimes we may not be this gentle to those who oppose us, but it was Paul’s approach, and it should be ours. The Thessalonians were dear to Paul, he loved them and he worked to convince them of the Truth tenderly, with affection.
Paul gives fatherly advice to his young son in the Lord, Timothy, who was dealing with ecclesial problems. He tells him, “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.” After pointing out how to avoid some problems, Paul suggests what to do when problems arise. “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.”
So Paul’s advice when dealing with disputes was to gently work with both parties, instructing meekly those who are opposing themselves, praying that they will listen to your appeal to bring about peace and unity.
Paul warns us, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound doctrine, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” This time may be here, and it is a trial for all concerned. We are promised that we will be tried, for God does try those He loves, but He will never try us more than we can bear. Paul tells us we must “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” We must be careful that we continue to treat others as we want to be treated, and to love those who we feel are opposing themselves and, as a nurse, cherish them and try to help them. Some may be wrong who are still our brothers and sisters in the Lord, and we should want to help them, not avoid them or be unkind, even though we do not agree.
We all share the hope of Jesus returning soon and establishing the Kingdom on earth. We want to live forever with our dear brothers and sisters. We need to work at getting along with each other now as we journey over rough ground on the way, seeking out any sheep that may be lost, striving to build each other’s faith. May we have the courage to stand up for the Truth and to listen to those who oppose us to try to help them so that all of us together may be blessed with a place in the Kingdom.
Robert J. Lloyd

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