Conflict is the cultural water in which we swim. It’s what fills the coffers of Facebook, and keeps ratings—and, more importantly, ad revenue—flowing into cable news outlets. And in the war to gain the most attention, the more incendiary we can be, the better.
And while this is the cultural sea we’re swimming in, the church is supposed to be different. The church is meant to be a place that is unlike the rest of the world. The church is people who are unlike one another in so many ways yet brought together through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is people with good news to tell to a world swimming in a sea of conflict, sorrow, and malice.
The Source of Conflict Among Christians
Obviously we know that the ideal and the reality don’t completely match. Division, anger, rivalry… all these have been found among Christians from the very beginning as the New Testament attests. As my church has been studying the book of James, a question emerged in chapter 4. Where does conflict among Christians come from?
“What is the source of wars and fights among you?” James asked (James 4:1a). The answer: Despite whatever surface level causes might exist, the deeper source of all our conflicts is wordiness (4:2-10).
Conflict among Christians is the result of Christians behaving like the world around us, despite being people who are supposed to be different from it.
So Christians speak evil against one another, slandering and sinfully judging one another. And in doing so, they set themselves up as judges not only of God’s people, but of God himself (4:11-12).
Countering Sinful Judgmentalism with Humility
When we’re confronted with this reality, it can be disheartening. It is tempting to throw our hands up in the air and say “judge not” (Matthew 7:1)… Even if only so that we’re not perceived as being judgmental jerks.
But we need a better solution than that, because the answer the sinful judgmentalism isn’t permissiveness. It is to exercise discernment, to practice right judgment. And that requires humility, especially in our personal relationships.
If we’re going to have unity in our local churches, we have an obligation to address situations where our brothers and sisters in Christ are behaving in a way that is out of step with God’s Word. Whether in conduct or character, where sin exists, we must address it.
We can’t not.
But we need to do so wisely. We cannot simply rush in and hammer people with a Bible verse or a challenge to do more better. We also have an obligation to make sure that what concerns us is actually an issue. That it is not simply our personal preferences, convictions, or upbringing being challenged.
So how do we do that? Here are three diagnostic questions or statements that help us confront and counter the temtpation to sinful judgmentalism in these moments.
Diagnostic 1: “Am I Being too Quick to Judge?”
We need to ask this sort of question because we have to consider whether or not we’re actually deflecting from our own sins as we look at the faults of another. If ever we are tempted toward fault finding, we need to examine ourselves first. We must not ignore Jesus’s warning against pointing out the speck in our brother’s eye while ignoring the plank in our own.
That doesn’t mean that we can only speak up about the sins of another if we are completely and entirely sinless ourselves. By no means! Were that the case, no one would ever say another word ever in life. But it does mean that when we speak, we must do so with humility, with a sense of self-awareness that recognizes that we all sin and fall short of the glory of God. That we all are in need of his grace and mercy.
Diagnostic 2: “Help Me Understand…”
The second diagnostic shifts our perspective away from ourselves and toward others. Those three words, “help me understand,” are so powerful. They’re a way of saying, “I perceive something that concerns me; is my perception correct?”
We need to ask questions like this because, realistically, it’s entirely possible that we could be wrong. We are all capable of misunderstanding and misinterpreting the words or actions of another. So to go to a brother or sister in this posture is to demonstrate humility. It’s not an act of judgment; it’s a genuine desire to understand and judge rightly. In doing so, we may find that our interpretation is right. If so, we have an opportunity to call a brother or sister to repentance in humility. But we may also realize that we were wrong. If so, we have an opportunity to ask forgiveness and seek reconciliation in humility.
In either case, there is the opportunity for God to be glorified as we demonstrate humility.
Diagnostic 3: “Are You Okay?”
This final diagnostic question is like the second, but goes to a deeper level. We have to remember that when people are acting out, there may be something else going on behind the scenes. Something we know nothing about. In humility, we have the opportunity to be a listening ear, to show compassion and grace to that person, in that moment. To help them see that the church is a safe place. One where by God’s grace, people know that they can be honest about their sins and struggles. Where they know that there is nothing to fear from anyone here because if God is for us—and he is—then no one can be against us.
Trusting the Perfect Lawgiver
This is a challenge for us. To humble ourselves means to trust God, because no one has experienced sinful judgmentalism more profoundly than Jesus. Remember, Jesus—God himself—was mocked, ridiculed, and defamed. But he humbled himself, taking on human form, becoming like us in every way. In humility, Jesus saved us from our sins that deserve God’s righteous and perfect judgment—and from our tendency toward sinful judgmentalism.
If worldliness is our problem, Jesus is our solution. If conflict comes between us, Jesus is the only one who can unite us as one. And so we need to turn to him, to ask him to give us wisdom. Wisdom to know what issues to address, and how to address them. To help us grow in humility. And to help us to put an end to conflict among us, as we reject sinful judgmentalism and trust God to be a faithful judge.