Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
Romans 14.19 (KJV)
Stirring the Pot
I’m a marketing creative director and writer by trade, which privileges me to work with tremendously bright, inventive, and passionate people. Friends whose professions are more tightly structured and predictable than mine often comment on how lucky am I by comparison, and I can’t argue with them. Yet they also miss its downside, since creative people can be extremely sensitive and imaginative in their relationships with one another. Personality clashes and shortsighted expectations can lead to silly rifts or hurt feelings. Particularly for those of us in “communications,” the first impulse is to talk about it—though not always with those who frustrate or disappoint us. In fact, some of us avoid that and seek consolation by including people outside “the circle” in our conflicts. Thankfully, in my present situation, this happens so rarely as to be anomalous. But past teams I’ve worked with called this “stirring the pot,” and I’ve witnessed colleagues stir things up so quickly and carelessly that nearly everyone in range wound up scalded in one way or another, none worse than the stirrers themselves.
Following Jesus is an extraordinarily creative venture that requires constant collaboration with our Savior and one another. Passion for our faith and determination to remain true can easily fuel misunderstandings or letdowns that nag at us. Instead of approaching those with whom we differ, asking their forgiveness or seeking clearer understanding, we sometimes widen the circle of conflict in hopes of including others who agree with us. We stir the pot without considering how many more brothers and sisters we place at risk of getting scalded. In Romans 14.19, we’re advised to “follow after the things which make for peace and edify one another.” Thinking we can end confusion by spreading it or believing we can help ourselves by tearing someone else down is silly and delusional. The moment we try to “win” an argument is the moment that ensures everyone—we more than anyone else—loses.
Resembling Our Father
Current culture celebrates pot-stirrers. The media glut constructs platforms for anyone predisposed to cry “Foul!” and we’re so fascinated with disagreements we forget arguing doesn’t fix anything. Why should someone care where you or I or anyone else “stands” on an issue if all we’re doing is standing? As believers, we’re not charged with condemning others or defending us. We’ve been given a much harder, more meaningful task: fostering peace. Our identity depends on this. In Matthew 5.9, Jesus stresses this in black-and-white: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” And even if we tried to breeze by this, virtually every point in its wake confirms He means exactly what He says. “Be happy when people attack you and tell lies about you” (v11); “let others see your goodness and glorify God because of it” (v16); “whoever breaks my commandments and encourages others to do the same is the least in the kingdom of heaven” (v20); “anyone who gets angry with his brother/sister faces judgment similar to a murderer” (v22); “say ‘yes’ when you mean ‘yes,’ ‘no’ when you mean ‘no,’ because hedging and prevaricating comes from the Tempter” (v37); “instead of seeking revenge when you’re slapped around, turn the other cheek; go the extra mile; give more than you’re expected to give” (v39-42). And then He finishes with the topper: “Love your enemies. What’s the point of loving only those who love and agree with you? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (v44-48). He ends where He started. To be known as God’s children, we do our best to reflect His perfection in every facet of our behavior and lives. Resembling our Father isn’t about where we stand or what we say. It’s only obvious by how we’re seen.
A God of Peace
Paul urges us to remember, “God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” Hebrews 12.14 makes the same point, enjoining us to “make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (The King James Version reads, “Follow peace with all men…”) Permitting our passions and rectitude to overwhelm our concern of how well we project a God of peace defeats our cause and displeases Him. He doesn’t need us to defend Him, nor for that matter, should we feel any need to defend ourselves. In Exodus 14.14, we read, “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” When we engage in defensive arguments and proving our positions, we usurp God’s leadership in our lives. “The battle is the LORD’s,” according to 1 Samuel 17.47. It’s impertinent to assume our strategy and defenses are superior to God’s.
How shrewd of the Hebrews writer to connect living peacefully with being holy. And how silly of us to attempt proving righteousness by stirring pots. Any time we try to validate our holiness—drawing attention to us rather than focusing attention on our perfect Father, the God of peace—we invariably create one big, old, unholy mess. Without holiness, Hebrew reminds us, no one will see the Lord. Following peace leads to holiness. Where holiness reigns peace abides. When passions and frustrations have us grabbing at spoons and firing up cauldrons, it’s wise to step back, lower the heat, and simmer down. Jesus never asked us to prove we’re right. He commanded us to be perfect.
Stirring the pot proves nothing; it only creates confusion, risks scalding us and others, and leaves us to clean up an unholy mess. The results are never as tasty as we hope, either.
(Tomorrow: Active Faith, Full Understanding)