I had one of “those” meetings recently. In one of our congregational confabs things got a little chippy. One member basically insinuated that I had not been completely forthright in a previous meeting. It is never easy to have your integrity called out in front of your church family. And (no surprise) I thought the accusation was unfair. I believe I spoke the truth and it was infuriating to have my veracity called into question.
At that point of personal insult, I had a choice. One option is easy – simply give in to the flesh and respond with the works of that flesh as defined in Galatians 5:19-21.
- I could have responded in enmity – treating this man like my enemy and striking back. He started it, after all. That would have been easy.
- I could have responded in strife and rivalry – arguing with him and forcing people to take sides. It’s me or it’s him! That would have been easy.
- I could have responded in a fit of anger – losing my cool and telling him off in front of everyone. That would have been easy.
I am a man of the flesh. Sin is easy for me and it comes naturally to me. Even though I have been redeemed by the Blood and indwelled by the Spirit of God, I still have all of the instincts, tendencies and propensities that come naturally to a fallen creature. It is so easy to give in to those instincts and to simply strike back.
Who are you to question my integrity, sir? You are the one with the problem, not me! How dare you? I am the pastor of this church and you ought to be ashamed for coming against the “anointed of God.”
Let’s be honest, how many of our responses to others amount to a more adult version of the playground chant:
I’m rubber and you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you!
I could have done that. I could have struck back in the flesh. It would have been easy.
Years ago, I was a scuba diver. We went out by boat to the Gulf Stream (off Palm Beach) and dropped the anchor about 10 feet from the ocean floor. The boat drifted in the current and we went down 90 feet and drifted along with the anchor. In the dive, I covered over a mile and wasn’t even tired when I came to the surface. Drifting with the tide doesn’t take a lot of effort. Like walking in the flesh, it is easy.
Are we, as Baptists, content to simply drift with the flesh’s tide of sin? Do we just take the easy way?
- It is easy, when someone opposes my agenda, to blast him with angry words. That wells up from my sinful heart and all I have to do is drift. No problem.
- It is easy to strike back, in full Don Rickles mode, when someone insults me. (You young whippersnappers, just google Don Rickles). When I am insulted, anger and insults spring naturally to the surface.
- It is easy to divide the Body of Christ between the good guys and the bad guys, us and them. It is so easy to paint brothers and sisters with whom I disagree as wolves among the sheep. Sinful human beings are schismatic; it comes as naturally to us as breathing.
- It is easy, when I don’t get my way, to moan and complain and murmur and gripe. It comes naturally and requires little effort. That’s just the way we are.
- It is easy, when insulted, to insult back. My natural, sinful pride cannot bear belittling and when someone challenges me, I find it very easy to fight back. Don’t you?
- It is easy to spread rumors and to slander those who have hurt me.
- It is easy to join in ridicule of my enemies (or of those who annoy me, since are all to spiritual to have “enemies”).
Walking in the flesh comes easily to each of us. It is our natural, sinful way. And that leads us to a bigger question. (Well, questions.)
Are we Baptists spiritually lazy? Are we just going to float with the tide and walk in the flesh? Are we going to give in to our schismatic, angry, insulting, returning evil for evil, fighting back, fleshly ways?
All too often in the Baptist Blogosphere and in Baptist debates in general, we have drifted with the tide of sin and taken the easy road. But there is another way.
The Hard Way
When I was challenged at our congregational meeting, I had another choice – a much more difficult path. It required me to give up my pride, to overlook insult and to seek unity regardless of the other person’s actions.
That is not easy, let me tell you.
I’ve done it both ways. When provoked, I have given in to the flesh and told the other person exactly what I thought. I’ve done great harm that way, but cannot remember ever accomplishing spiritual good by that tactic. Once in a while, though, I’ve made the hard choice. When provoked, I responded in kindness. When hurt, I responded in grace. When insulted, I responded in encouragement.
This is very hard. It involves swallowing my pride, dying with Christ, denying myself and walking in the fullness of the Spirit instead of the power of the flesh. It involves saying no to everything that comes naturally to me and yes to the new way of Christ.
- You will never do anything harder than forgiving someone who has insulted, injured, abused or mistreated you.
- Loving the unworthy and the unlovely, those who deserve nothing but rejection and scorn – that is the opposite of easy.
- Nothing is harder than rejoicing in the middle of the dark night of soul or having peace in the midst of the storm.
- It is brutally difficult to be patient with the sins of others and continuing to be kind to them in spite of it.
- Treating sinful, difficult, annoying, obnoxious people with gentleness, meekness and goodness – nothing can be a bigger challenge than that.
It is, in fact, impossible outside the work of the Spirit. (Hence, these things are called the fruit of the Spirit).
I wish I could say I’d done that every time, that I had walked in and evidenced the fruit of the Spirit instead of the works of the flesh. I haven’t. I’ve walked the easy road more times than I count. But I can tell you this, when I’ve made the hard choice, I have seen God work.
The Hard Way is the Best Way
That’s what happened at my meeting. This time, I chose not to let the flesh loose to wreak havoc. I listened to the man who was upset and we talked and by the time we left that night, we were on the same page and shared a (metaphorical) group hug. The water of the Spirit extinguished that opportunity for division because I didn’t pour the gasoline of the flesh on the flame.
Questions for Southern Baptists
I’ve been accused of having an unrealistic view of the SBC. Maybe those critics are right. Of course, we have real issues and real divisions that we need to discuss and deal with. These discussions must be frank, biblical, forthright and bold. My concern is not THAT we have these discussions, but HOW we have them. It seems to me that the works of the flesh have characterized our discussions way too often and that too seldom have the fruit of the Spirit been in evidence.
So, we need to answer the questions I asked earlier.
Are we going to be spiritually lazy and give in to the natural divisive, schismatic tendencies of our sinful flesh?
Or are we going to walk the hard road? Are we going to man-up (sorry ladies) and walk in the Spirit – returning good for evil, loving our enemies, forgiving those who hurt us, rejecting slander and gossip, demonstrating joy in the darkest night and peace in the storm, and being patient and kind to all?
You can call that simplistic. I call it biblical.
Which path, Southern Baptists?