I have been reaching out to a man with beliefs from a different religious tradition. He was concerned if we shared the same views on things like holidays or patriotism. He seemed to relax when he heard something I don’t think he’d heard his whole church-going life. “It is okay to be different from one another.”
A fisherman, a tax guy, and a carpenter walk into a boat. Sound like the typical beginning of a joke? This was no laughing matter. Jesus pulled together disciples from conflicting walks of life. Yes, not just different, but those from different social circles that were at odds with one another.
The career fishermen He chose then might be socially like a truck driver today. It was not a high-ranking, white-collar profession, but they were well-paid laborers in society. Then, the tax collector—a Jewish shill for the Roman government, taking from God’s people to give to heathens (and keep a lot for himself). From such disciples, Jesus builds a “church.”
No wonder they were always arguing with each other. No wonder they each wanted to rule over the other. No wonder it was such a huge thing when Jesus said, “The world will know you are My disciples by your love for one another.”
Things are not that much different
The scene is no less complicated today. One of the worst things a person can do is to isolate themselves from others, especially new disciples, because “they aren’t like us.” The church unites people who “aren’t like us.”
Last week we talked about Bobby and Buddy. As far as church behavior, Bobby took the prize. Buddy was winning the game when it came to doing the work of the Kingdom. However, it would be wrong to assume we can only have one and not the other. The two strengths need each other.
In Galatia, a fight broke out over differences. One group trying to force the other to be like them. In Rome and Corinth, Paul addressed this issue of thinking everyone has to behave like you. Not everyone has to worship like you, but we all must worship. Not everyone has to follow your prayer style, but we all must pray. Not everyone will wear polyester and rayon to church, but we must come to church. Not every church will have padded seating and a Keurig in the foyer, but we must gather somewhere.
Do we love our differences more than other disciples?
When we value things more than people, we have lost the focus of what discipleship should be about. If Bobby will not hang out with Buddy because Buddy does not wear a white shirt and tie, we have a problem. If Buddy cannot adapt to a new way of thinking and love people who sing songs he is not familiar with or pray louder than he is comfortable with, he will not make it.
It is sad, but there are some believers who will not fellowship with other believers because of disagreements about petty personal differences. However, if you hold to something strongly, the differences are not petty to you—like a lifelong aversion to being around a smelly fisherman. We have to get over those things.
We all must be moral. There is no excuse for immorality. We should put people out of the church who choose to live in sin. However, we should not ignore other believers or isolate ourselves from them because they are different.
We are complex creatures
We all develop different values in life. Think of the different choices people make about food. Some eat for flavor. Others choose the cheapest food they can afford. Others make a science out of measuring fat grams or calories. Others want to eat only what is raw. Others want to eat what is high in fat and low in carbs. Others eat anything you put in front of them. And Jesus loves us all.
Of all places, in the church we should be able to have differences. And we should feel safe about being different from one another. Rather than looking down on someone or whispering behind their backs—this is not what disciples do!
Not everyone will celebrate the holiday. Some will to the glory of God. Some won’t, to the glory of God. The key is that God get the glory in everything.
In spite of our differences, we have the same focus: Jesus. We have the same goal: telling others. We have the same plan: Acts 2:38. We have the same destination: Heaven. Let’s not get so focused on each other that we swerve off the path from following the Master.