“And it came to pass , when the time was come that he should be received up , he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, And sent messengers before his face: and they went , and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said , Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did ? But he turned , and rebuked them, and said , Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of . For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. And they went to another village.” Luke 9: 51-56
It is so easy to be wrong. It is even easier to be right in letter and wrong in spirit. In the text, the disciples felt a certain response was appropriate, and even had a scriptural precedent for that response. But Jesus rebuked them, not because this had never been handled that way before, but because their heart condition was dictating to them how they were going to handle it.
If you hang around churches very long, and pay attention, you’re going to see things handled all sorts of ways, some of which will be wrong. Some of these wrong ways will have scriptural precedents. Some of the people performing these wrong actions will have verses to back up what they are doing. But unless things are done in the proper spirit, the right thing can quickly become the wrong thing.
For example, let’s say you and I have a doctrinal disagreement. It can be a small thing, or a large thing. Some heresies are harmless, and some are harmful. But whether it’s small or big, harmless or harmful, my heart condition towards you will dictate to me how I handle the disagreement. I can jump on my soapbox and proclaim that ‘open rebuke is better than secret love’, which is absolutely true. I can claim 1 Timothy 5:20 in how I deal with you and use that to justify myself as I broadcast our disagreement, although I’d have to wrest the scriptures a bit to do that. If I’m in a position of authority in the ministry, I can use that authority to subtly and not so subtly make my points. I could do all these things, and there are times in which that is the exact biblical fix for a situation. But unless it’s done in the right spirit, I would be as much in the wrong as the rankest heretic.
My particular flavor of Christianity isn’t exactly known for this. In fact, if there is anything we specialize in, it is letting our commitment to doctrinal purity cloud us to the larger picture. We’re sort of famous for dividing into camps and shooting our own wounded. We tend to view any sort of compromise as a breach in the hull of the truth, and we forget that not only must truth be defended, but it must be defended correctly. We aren’t willing to police our own hearts because we are so busy being right.
The truth is, if you’re saved, you and I are going to be together a long time, and if I truly love you as I am supposed to, I’m going to do my best to do what’s best for you, even at my own expense. Even in our disagreement, you aren’t my enemy. Even while we sort out our understanding of Biblical issues, I can be kind without being a compromiser. Even if we never agree while here on Earth, I can edify you without surrendering my position. I can love without crossing over into ecumenical foolishness. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 10 “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient : all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” The book of Romans commands me “Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.” Philippians says I am to “esteem other better than themselves. “ I am to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called , With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Romans tells me “But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably . Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died . Let not then your good be evil spoken of :”
So I, from scripture, have the complete liberty to not be a world-class jerk when we disagree. Christ has both given me that liberty, and that ability. But do I have the heart for it?