Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Enemies and Brothers

In almost every letter that Paul writes to the churches (if not every letter), he has something to say about the persons among them who are getting it wrong. Most often, what he has to say about them is...grace.

In 2 Thessalonians, we have yet another example of this. Someone in the community is messing up. Bad. Someone's getting it wrong. Someone's tempting others to follow their example, and it's a threat to the young community of believers who are just trying to figure this whole thing out. And what Paul says is what Paul most typically says in these situations:

Do not consider him your enemy.

Do not consider this guy who's getting it wrong to be your enemy. Do not consider this guy whose understanding is limited your enemy. Do not consider this guy who thinks differently than you do or who hasn't come to your conclusions or who hasn't grown as much as you have your enemy.

He's your brother.

We could use a healthy dose of this, especially in an election year when the us vs. them rhetoric gets heightened exponentially. But even outside of politics, we're dealing with it all the time. The world does whatever it can to divide us, to tell us we're different from each other. Even inside the church. We have all of these different denominations, and there's real hatred between some of them. Sad, but true. Some Christians will not even fellowship with others because of the name they carry on their building or the doctrine they carry in their hearts. We all love Jesus, but that's not enough for all of us. Some Christians are looking at one another as enemies, for no other reason than that they disagree on this or that or the other.

I say this a lot, but so does Paul and that means that it bears repeating as often as we can hear it: someone who you think is wrong about something you strongly believe is not necessarily your enemy; he's probably your brother.

First, it's worth pointing out that you've been wrong about some things a time or two or two thousand in your life. There are things you understand better today than you did five years ago or ten years ago. There are things you've grown and changed your mind on. There are things you've been exposed to that have changed your mind for you. Were you, then, once an enemy of yourself? Would you have considered who you were then to be your enemy now? No. You'd give yourself the grace of being a developing human person and having the ability to grow and to change and to think about things again.

That's the same grace you have to give others. Most persons...are not getting it wrong on purpose. They're not. They're doing the best with what they have - with what they know, with what they understand, with what they've been exposed to. They're not trying to cause trouble. They're not trying to lure others away from the truth. They're not trying to tear down what is established. They're just where they are, with what they have, and they're doing the best they can with it. And they're your brothers.

I think we get this idea of enemies from Paul himself, and he's the one who would know. He was, and he confesses that he was, an enemy of the Christian faith - but not because he was wrong about it. Not because he didn't understand it. His status as an enemy had nothing to do with what he thought about Christianity, but had everything to do with the actions that he actively took against it. Most persons are not taking actions against the faith in order to destroy it the way that Paul was; they're just getting it wrong. So if anyone has the right to say what an enemy is, it's Paul, and what Paul says over and over and over again is: this isn't your enemy.

It's your brother. Try loving him as such. Even if you think he's wrong.

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