“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15 NKJV)
The last part of this chapter in 1 Thessalonians is filled with some great admonitions for living the Christian life. I wished I lived up to them! I do believe that as a general rule, Paul is admonishing his readers on how to act toward other church members. We warn the unruly in the church to do things decently and in order. People outside the church see our behavior and judge us and Christ on how we behave. If we’re not under control, God’s control, it hurts our ability to share the gospel. We’re to comfort the fainthearted and uphold the weak. As persecution grew against the early church, it would be easy to begin to waver in faith. When people become weak in their faith, they need our comfort and encouragement when often our first reaction is judgmental. This is the hard one for me, though: be patient with all. (And yes, I believe that includes those outside the church.) We never know what’s happening in someone else’s life. It never hurts to be patient during those times when our gut wants to fight back. Ultimately, instead of trying to give back to others the bad they did to us, we’re called to pursue good for all people – which means, in case this isn’t clear, we don’t believe in “karma.”
Living as a follower of Jesus doesn’t always mean “winning” as the world defines victory. It’s more likely to mean sacrificing worldly victories for the opportunity to show others the amazing love and grace of God. How often do we celebrate a “crushing” victory on social media when our efforts did nothing but cause the other person to turn away from God. We should never lie, we should never refrain from speaking the truth when we speak, but we should always do so in light of the reminder to speak the truth in love. At the same time, when we recognize that the other person is so emotionally attached to their statement that they’ll never accept the idea that they’re wrong, it may be better to stay silent on the issue, but still show the love and grace of God. If I make people realize that I’m right, but do it in an ugly way, I haven’t achieved any victory, I’ve added bricks to the wall that people put up against the gospel. My goal, whether meeting someone face to face or knowing them through social media, is to draw them to the love and grace of God.
Lord, it sure would be nice if intellectual victories in life meant that we drew people closer to You, but that isn’t so. Remind me that You continue to love every person I interact with, even if they’re wrong, just like You love me even when I’m wrong. Remind me that it’s easy to be vehemently wrong, and to listen to others with Your grace.