On Disagreeing Well

In a recent episode of his interview-style podcast, Ezra Klein ended with a closing essay about disagreement. Klein had just completed a two-hour interview with the well-known blogger Andrew Sullivan. During the course of the interview, which was occasionally tense, Klein and Sullivan disagreed about a number of hot-button political and social topics. Yet, as he used his final words to speak directly to the listener, Klein insisted that it was valuable to focus on the areas in which we agree or see validity in the position of those with whom we disagree. He argued that even if only 20 or 30 percent of someone’s argument is correct, that 20 or 30 percent can be the most important in helping another person better understand the world.

Disagreement, in particular bad faith disagreement, has become a hallmark of our society. It doesn’t take a lot of investigation to figure out why that’s the case. It’s simply easier to move through life without having to challenge your understanding of the world. Moreover, many of our social institutions reinforce us when we pick apart the thoughts and beliefs of others, especially when we do so in witty or sarcastic ways.

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Yet, this isn’t the way we see the Bible talk about disagreement. Instead, we’re shown Paul going into Athens and spending his day walking around the city trying to understand people who think and believe differently than he does. Only when Paul has worked through these differences does he begin to preach to them, and even then he does so using their cultural context and their language to help them understand where he is coming from.

In addition, throughout Jesus’ ministry we see him challenging cultural assumptions, like in the story of the Good Samaritan where Jesus completely inverts the idea of who is behaving like a neighbor to the man who was injured. Jesus doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He doesn’t call us to pick apart others for the entertainment of our side. Instead, he calls for us to question our assumptions in a constant quest to pursue the kingdom of God and to do good in the world. Often that means we will be in conflict with others, but when we’re following Jesus we should handle that conflict with grace and love.

 

Today’s blog post was written by Benjamin Howard. Benjamin is a lead editor for Teaching and Learning Resources at The United Methodist Publishing House. He received his Master’s in Theological Studies from Lipscomb University and currently resides in Nashville.

Today’s Bible Lesson

Christ Creates Holy Living

by Patty Meyers

This bible lesson originally appeared in the Winter 2016-17 issue of Christian Living in the Mature Years.

Lesson: Galatians 5:18–6:10 • Background: Same

Continuing our study of Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, we explore the fruit—or fruits—of the Spirit in more depth. What are they? How do they meet the needs of others? How do they work for the good of all? We will endeavor to understand the characteristics of these nine things. We will begin with definitions and pursue what they meant to Paul and his intended audience, the Galatians.

Love is one of the most over-used words in the English language. We use the word to embrace all sorts of things. We love ice cream, friends, movies, spouses, children, God. The Greeks had several words that described different kinds of love. In his book The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis uses Greek concepts to discuss four forms of human love: storge, eros, philia, and agape.1

Storge means “family love.” It is the bond among mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers— even extended family. There are many examples of storge in the Bible: Noah’s family; Ruth and Naomi; Esther and Mordecai; Mary, Martha, and Lazarus; Jesus and James, Peter, and Andrew; Rebecca and Jacob; and many more. The family is so important in the Bible that even one of the Ten Commandments is about familial love. It says, “Honor your father and your mother so that your life will be long on the fertile land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).

Eros means “physical, sensual, erotic love.” The most famous Scripture featuring this kind of human love is the Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon. Genesis contains some erotic stories but not all are as beautiful as the Song of Songs.

Philia, for which the city of Philadelphia is named, means “brotherly love or friendship.” Jonathan and David come to mind, and the New Testament exhorts believers to love another, love our neighbor, and love our enemies.

Agape is “selfless, sacrificial, unconditional God-love.” It is the kind of love that Jesus had for his Father and his disciples. It is the kind of love shown by giving one’s life for one’s friends. How did Paul use the word? Galatians 5:6, 13, and 22 translate the word agape. Paul was concerned about how members of the community treated one another. He understood love to be a gift from the Holy Spirit that produced the kind of behavior that honors the Holy Spirit, in stark contrast to the list of inappropriate behaviors found in verses 19-21.

Joy is second on Paul’s list of the fruit of the spirit. Joy is more than happiness. First of all, it comes from God. It is deep and stays with us even during hard times. It is an essential part of the realm of God. It is related to the word rejoice. We can be sad and still rejoice in what we have. “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10).

The word peace means different things, depending on the context. It can be tranquility or quiet, harmony, cessation of conflict or war, peace of mind, or inner calm. Paul wrote to the Philippians about “the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. (4:7). Paul wanted the Galatians to have the kind of peace that comes from having a right relationship with God so that it permeates one’s very being and spills out in relationships with others.

Patience is gracious behavior with others. It implies endurance and sometimes waiting. When one’s first response to a situation is frustration, it may mean taking a deep breath and thinking before putting one’s foot in one’s mouth. Paul thought that it was more than a virtue, that it was a gift of the Spirit that would have a positive effect on the way the Galatians got along with one another and with him.

Kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are all acts of self-discipline and positive ways to treat others. They articulate the ways that believers should behave. New behaviors grounded in the new life in Christ give freedom to live differently than before. God’s faithfulness to us should evoke our faithfulness to God and to all of God’s people. In addition, these behaviors illustrate the nature of love that is listed first among the fruits of the Spirit.

Remember that this section of Scripture is part of a treatise on freedom and justification by faith. Since believers lived by the commandment of love rather than Mosaic Law, they needed some sort of system to guide their comportment. Paul did not make his appeal to the Galatians based on theological abstraction or works of righteousness. He appealed to them out of his deep desire for them to live by grace rather than Law. Paul called the Galatian Christians to a higher form of living instead of having immoral conduct or just following the rules. If they needed laws, there was no law against these nine things. They were called to live the way Christ did when he poured himself out for them and for many. Love governed his choices and his actions. If we follow Christ, love governs our choices and behavior, too.

In the last section of today’s reading in Galatians, Paul offered a few insights into what the church would be like if its members lived in the Spirit. What would life together look like if congregations were to accept and share the gifts of the Spirit? We would bear one another’s burdens as Christ bears ours. We would be gentle with other people and ourselves. It may be that some of our sharp edges would get rounded off. It may be that neither our “bark” nor “bite” would be scary. It would mean living simply so that others can simply live.

Paul said that “a person will harvest what they plant” (6:7). He exhorted the Galatians to outdo one another in doing good works. Paul wanted the Galatians to restore right relationships with God, with him, and with one another. He did not shy away from speaking the truth in love to them. He challenged them to examine themselves to see whether they lived in faith and embodied the self-giving love of Christ. He encouraged them to “carry each other’s burdens” in order to fulfill the law of Christ (6:2) and to “work for the good of all whenever we have an opportunity” (6:10)

Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians could well be entitled “A Guide to Holy Living.” It is solid teaching that would change the world if those who hear it would also do it. It is addressed to the whole community, and speaks to us as well. We have the opportunity to make our community and our world a better place. Why would we ever give that up? Think about your faith community. Imagine that everyone actively lives the fruits of the Spirit. Would there be fewer quarrels? Would people speak more kindly to one another? Would there be more outreach into the community? Would more people be involved in the mission and ministry of the Church? Would more people say yes when God calls them to ministry, whether it be lay or ordained? Would there be a strong teaching ministry? Would your community work together for the good of all, especially the vulnerable? How would congregational worship be different? As Paul understood, freedom and possibility emerge from the practice of love in all its forms, for the Galatians and for today’s communities of faith.

  1. goodreads.com/book/show/30633.The_Four_Loves. Accessed 12 May 2016.

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