Focusing on the Things We Have in Common
Does the number of things that divide people disturb you? We are divided by race, nationality, socio-economic factors, geographical stereotyping, gender, age, politics, social issues and spiritual differences to name a few. I am not talking about society as a whole but the division that exist among those who claim to be followers of Christ. How it must trouble our Lord when He sees His Bride so divided. The sad thing is most of the things that divide us have little eternal ramifications. Instead, they have to do with our personal preferences, rather than the unchanging principles of our faith.
I am not naive enough to believe there will be unanimity among God’s people this side of heaven. There will always be differences. It is not the differences that trouble me. It is the attitude accompanying them that is troubling. It is one thing to disagree but it is another thing entirely to do so with an unloving attitude. While we may not reach unanimity, Christ did give us one directive that leaves little wiggle room in interpretation. He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34, 35 NASB).
If we are to obey the command of Christ, we must find a way to look beyond our differences and to focus on the things we have in common. Several years ago, I heard a message by John Maxwell that dealt with dealing with conflict. It was called the 101 Per Cent Principle. Basically, it challenged people in conflict to find the one percent that they could agree upon and to give a 100 percent effort to build upon that one percent of agreement. As followers of Christ, we have more than one percent to build upon. Paul wrote about our commonality in the Letter to Ephesus: “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6 NASB). Notice Paul emphasized the attitude we should have toward each other before he gave us the things we share in common. If I have the attitude Paul expresses, surely I will be able to act brotherly toward others who share the common elements of our faith.
When we push our common beliefs to the background, and fight over the peripheral things we do a disservice to our Lord and we give ammunition to those who have not yet been brought into the family. We legitimize the thought that Christians are hypocrites. What is the unbelieving world to think when we preach love and demonstrate the opposite? When we consider the common things Paul said we share, it would behoove us to consider we are going to spend eternity with many of the folks we refuse to tolerate. It seems to me it would be wise to begin this side of eternity to learn how to love our brothers and sisters in Christ in spite of our differences.