Grace in Our Differences

Differences can be frustrating, confusing, and even angering at times. 
    We share this world 7.6 billion people. By the time you read this, that number will almost certainly have increased. Billions of people bring billions of opinions, concerns, issues, and differences. As Christians, how are we supposed to handle these differences?
   One of our clearest marks as followers of Christ should be how we handle our relationships with others (John 11:35, 1 John 4:20). Most assuredly, we will have our differences. We will find them with non-believers and with fellow Christians. These differences will range broadly in size and importance. Differences can be frustrating, confusing, and even angering at times. However, our response to these differences can carry great weight in our effectiveness for the Gospel. 
    Of course, Jesus is our perfect example for handling differences, disagreements, and criticism. He handled every interaction with truth, love, and care. Think of all of the “issues” Jesus dealt with on this earth. He was confronted about His thoughts on the Sabbath, adultery, wealth, divorce, government, and authority. He handled issues of race, class, culture, religion, and worldview. He spoke with religious leaders, fishermen, businessmen, children, adults, crooked officials, priests, and more. 
    We can learn much from the spirit with which Jesus handled His differences throughout the gospel accounts. Let us consider a few specific circumstances from His life. 

He Loved – Mark 10:17-22

In this passage, Jesus is met by the man that we have come to know as the “rich, young ruler.” Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us of this encounter. From their testimony, we know he was rich (Mark 10:22), he was young (Matthew 19:20), and he was a ruler (Luke 18:18). We know that Jesus grew up as the son of a poor carpenter, and he never was given any position of formal rule on this earth. This man was the opposite of Christ’s class and position.        
When the man spoke to Jesus, he revealed that his belief and priority was far different than Jesus’ belief and priority. Jesus preached a Gospel of grace through repentance and trust in himself as the Messiah. However, this young man emphasized a life of good works and obedience to the law. He did not see a need for grace; he was completely self-reliant. When Jesus asked the man to sell all he had, give it to the poor, and follow Him, the rich man walked away sad.
  His personality, background, and mentality all differed from what we find in Jesus. How did Jesus respond to him? Mark 10:21 says, “Then Jesus beholding him loved him…” When Jesus looked at this man, he did not focus on all of their differences. Rather, he saw Him as an image-bearer of God. He loved him and asked the man to follow Him. Regardless of background or belief, we need a Christ-like love for others that allows us to point them to follow Him. 

He Focused on the Gospel (Patiently) – John 4

   In John 4, we have the familiar story of the woman at the well. We know that Jesus chose to go through Samaria (vs. 4) a place full of people that most Jews would not speak to or acknowledge. The relationship between these two groups of people was fueled by racial bitterness and social vitriol. Their thoughts toward each other were so loathsome that the woman was shocked when Jesus chose to even speak to her (vs. 9).
    In their conversation, Jesus focused on the Gospel. He offered her living water (vs. 10), spoke of salvation (vs. 22), pointed toward true worship through the spirit (vs. 23-24), and eventually revealed Himself to her as the Messiah (vs.26).
   The woman, on the other hand, tried to focus solely on their differences during this encounter. She immediately pointed out their gender and racial differences (vs.9). When Jesus directed the conversation to spiritual things and specifically her own personal circumstance, she immediately brought up a point of contention about the proper place of worship (vs. 20). This topic was a firebox of religious and cultural opinion. Rather than being caught in a pointless quarrel, Christ focused on a meaningful, worshipful relationship with God. 
    Finally, she “agrees to disagree” stating that one day the Messiah would come and help us figure it all out (vs. 25). Of course, Jesus used the opportunity to introduce her to this Messiah personally. 
    Not only did Jesus unceasingly present her with hope in the Gospel, He did it patiently and tenderly in what typically would have been a passionately, heated debate. In our differences with people, do we find ourselves unceasingly focused on the hope of the Gospel? 

In our differences with people, do we find ourselves unceasingly focused on the hope of the Gospel?

He Connected –

   Jesus met with people in dozens of ways. Sometimes, it was in their workplace, their homes, public places, and even religious places. Some conversations were started by the people while others were initiated by Him. People came to Jesus out of curiosity, confusion, sorrow, and anger. Regardless of the circumstance, we see our Savior over and over again connecting with people. 
    He asked questions in more than half of His personal conversations in the gospels. Questions often show a genuine personal interest in a conversation. He often noted things about their lives personally. Very simply, He cared. He saw them as souls to be saved and not arguments to be won. His concern was not the difference in their opinion, but the condition of their heart. He did not shirk at their invasion of His privacy, personal space, or comfort. He embraced it.
     He was not frustrated to leave a conversation open without closure. He did not feel a need to bring finality to every debate. He understood that sometimes the Gospel needs time to simmer while the Spirit works. We must not see people as statistics or opportunities to prove ourselves. We must see them like Jesus did… as people. People that God created for His glory not our own gratification. 
    So, the next time we encounter someone who is bothersome, inconvenient, or incongruent, let us treat them as Jesus did. May God give us grace to love them, connect with them, and stay focused on the Gospel. 

May God give us grace to love them, connect with them, and stay focused on the Gospel.