We are living in troubling times– times filled with uncertainty. I, for one, am very concerned for my children and what the future will hold for them. We are surrounded by fear and anger. Everywhere we turn there are heated debates on same-sex marriage, the 2nd amendment and the right to bear arms, the upcoming presidential elections, governmental healthcare, abortion, and the list goes on and on. The question then becomes, “What should we as Christians do about it?” Some say that Christians should be very involved in politics and make our voices heard. Some automatically respond to hateful speech and accusations with their own hateful speech and accusations. Some say that as Christians we should simply sit back and leave the politics alone, focusing on our mission to save the lost and nothing more. So which is it? I believe that our best course of action is to follow the example of the apostle Paul.
In 2 Corinthians 1:12, Paul is reiterating his history to the church in Corinth and he states, “For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you” (ESV here and throughout). In this passage, Paul gives us very specific instructions as to how we should conduct ourselves in the world, and especially towards our brethren.
Paul begins this passage by stating, “…the testimony of our conscience.” Paul is reminding us that our conscience is important. In Acts 24:16 Paul also stated, “So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” There are some things, such as abortion, that I personally find so atrocious that it would offend my conscience if I didn’t at least try to do something about it. In this specific instance, God has spoken plainly in His Word about the value of life.
We must be careful, however, not to bind what offends our own conscience on others. For instance, I also have a strong belief in my 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. For me, I believe it aids in my ability to protect the children that God has blessed me with. At the same time, I know that I have brethren who hold the exact opposite opinion. The idea of having a gun offends their conscience. Therefore, I will not ask them to offend their conscience by carrying a firearm, and I pray they will not ask me to offend my conscience by not.
Continuing in our passage, Paul goes on to say, “…that we have behaved in the world with simplicity.” A concept that unfortunately I am just beginning to understand, and am trying to teach my children, is that sometimes less is more. Paul was a very highly educated man, yet he made sure to conduct himself with simplicity in the world. 2 Timothy 2:22-23 teaches, “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.”
Part of maturity is knowing when to walk away. If we have an opportunity to speak up about something we feel strongly about, I absolutely believe we should take it. However, if that conversation deteriorates into hateful speech or a foolish controversy, we are no longer aiding the cause of Christ, we are actually hurting it; it is time to walk away.
The next step we are given by Paul is, “godly sincerity.” I blame it on being a preacher’s kid, but I have a very argumentative nature. I have worked very hard to overcome that, but when I was younger I enjoyed arguing, or, to be politically correct, “debating.” Even more than I liked to argue, I liked to win! That was not conducting myself with godly sincerity. If we choose to take action on something occurring in our world today that we feel passionately about, we need to make sure we are doing it with the right motivation. Philippians 1:17a says, “The former proclaim Christ out of rivalry, not sincerely…” When we are taking a societal or political stance, “In the name of Christ,” we need to make sure that our motivation is pure. We must remember our ultimate goal on earth, in the words of the wisest man ever (other than Christ of course), “The end of the matter; all has been heard, Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)
Paul’s next instruction is, “not by earthly wisdom.” When we take a stand against things that are going on around us, whose authority are we doing it under? If our primary motivation and argumentation is based on what we think, what we want, and what is best for us, I fear that our motivation is wrong. As Christians, it is our duty to represent God and His Wisdom, not promote the wisdom of the world (and yes, those are our only two options as Christians). I Corinthians 1:19 reminds us, “For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’”
What comes next is something I believe we often neglect. Paul reminds us, “but by the grace of God.” Our Heavenly Father has extended grace to us far beyond what we could ever deserve. Titus 2:11 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.” If it were not for God’s grace, we would all be doomed for eternity. We need to remember that in the way we discuss sensitive subjects with other people. Are we keeping in mind the grace of God? Colossians 4:6 reads, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” People can be very hurtful and hateful in what they say to us. When we are being verbally attacked, especially for a Biblical stance on a controversial issue, it is very hard to respond with gracious speech. As Christians, however, this is our calling. Our ultimate goal is to promote the cause of Christ, and responding graciously to the hatefulness of someone else will make more of an impact on that person than the most eloquent speech ever could.
Finally, Paul concludes by saying, “and supremely so toward you.” If you haven’t noticed yet, all of this controversy is not just in society, but there is also a lot of controversy going on the Lord’s church. I think we all understand that there are some issues that Scripture spells out very clearly and are not up for debate. However, there are other issues– for example homeschooling or public school, dating or courtship, to have Bible class or not to have Bible class– where we have more lattitude. Romans 14:1 reminds us, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.” If these things: our conscience, our speech, our sincerity, the source of our wisdom, and God’s grace are important to keep in mind in our dealings with the world, they are even more important to keep in mind in our dealings with our brethren.
Sisters, we live in a very uncertain and controversial time. As such, as the body of Christ we have an amazing opportunity to truly be a light in a world full of darkness. Matthew 4:16 says, “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” In many ways, how brightly our light shines is dependent upon the way we respond to the darkness. Let us be like Paul and be able to boast in the things that will truly make a difference.