In the last week, I’ve noticed more heat than usual in online discourse. Think of the US Supreme Court overturning Roe vs Wade, or the debate over transgender in sport, or closer to home, the political changes in our city. Sometimes we get in arguments. We feel something strongly and someone else disagrees. While Christians are called to pursue peace, how do you handle disagreements when they inevitably arise?
Scripture calls on us to “honour everyone” (1 Pet. 2:17). Obeying that command has never been easy, and it has become harder in the social media age. Here are four thoughts on gracious engagement (whether in-person or online).
First, pick your battles carefully. On the one hand, the solution to facing arguments is not to avoid them all the time. It can be unloving to not confront people in our lives about erroneous views, or sinful and destructive behaviour. But on the other hand, not everything has to be a battle. Scripture repeatedly speaks about those who have what the Apostle Paul calls “an unhealthy craving for controversy” (1 Tim. 6:4).
Second, work hard at understanding people. Don’t assume that you fully understand their position straight away. We often have blind spots in our knowledge. Therefore, ask questions before judging. Seek to understand someone’s position in the best possible light. By doing this, we humanize those with whom we disagree rather than demonizing them. This doesn’t mean that we downplay the truth. But love remembers this: people are far more than the sum of their sometimes-mistaken positions. The image they bear doesn’t ride on the views they hold.
Third, don’t make it your aim to win the argument. Sometimes we get very concerned with being “right” and being seen to be “right”. Pride kicks in, and our sense of identity is affected. Remember that your identity is secure in Christ. You are loved in him. That means you don’t have to work hard to prove yourself. You don’t have to compare yourself to others. You don’t have to win the argument. Instead, we make it our aim to bring honour to Jesus.
Fourth, your witness to non-Christians affects the credibility of the gospel. The New Testament is explicit in telling us how we should relate to outsiders. Paul says our conversations should be “full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6). Peter says we should speak to them with “gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience” (1 Pet. 3:15-16).
The Bible is filled with summons to give, to serve, to sacrifice, to lay down our rights. But one command is unapologetically competitive: “Outdo one another in showing honour” (Rom. 12:10). We treat others with grace because of Him who has treated us with grace.