The greatest threat to true brotherhood and Christian unity as desired by Jesus, and described by the Apostle Paul in Romans 14, is personal pride that causes us to elevate our personal opinions and “right to be right” above the unity found in Jesus Christ. “Only by pride comes contention,” says the poet in the Book of Proverbs. Pride within a community of saints is devastating to the cause of Christ for great commission living and yet worse, pride keeps the focus on men (either ourselves or others) instead of drawing our eyes to Jesus Christ. When Christians get more concerned about being right than about exalting God, they no longer are living within God’s eternal purposes for them. This is not to fallaciously pit being right and glorifying God against one each other. It is essential that we are correct in our doctrine and practice and it is possible to be right and gracious at the same time, therefore glorifying God. One frustrating thing in today’s post-modernity is the fear that so many have about making a definitive statement or speaking in propositional statements. But we err when our propositional statements are not sourced in and clearly supported by the infallible, written Word of God, and we do further damage when we defend our ideas and positions that are weakly supported by Scripture (or not supported at all) simply because we are too embarrassed, proud, or ….whatever to simply say, “That is an interesting argument, I think I will have a second look.” When we defend the Emperors new clothes (if you remember the children’s story, his new clothes were non-existent) because of the clout we will lose, the pain we will experience, or the embarrassment we might endure, we have made being right not about purity and holiness but about personal success in the church. This is dangerous and all rooted in the sin of pride.
So pride is the chief hindrance to causing saints within a community of faith (the church) to receive one another, to readily admit wrongs, to pursue unity, and to encourage one another in the faith. But in all relationships (although I am thinking particularly about the church relationships), how does this pride manifest itself? Manifestations of pride are too manifold to count; but in my experience both with observations as well as, to my shame, in my own sinful behaviors, we all have tendencies toward certain manifestations of pride. One chief way pride is manifested among Christians in church relationships, is by making assumptions about others.
We often tend to make assumptions about others based upon how they looked at us (or didn’t look at us), the tone of voice, body language, smile (or no smile), questions they ask, and the list could go on. We are constantly in a state of making discernments and determinations while we are relating to those around us. Often it is not what is said that is the most detrimental, but what is left unsaid. A brother or sister makes a comment, we read into what they meant by that comment assuming there is an underlying issue going on. An elder or pastor has not visited a certain church member, and so the church member assumes that elder doesn’t like them or is against them. As a pastor, I have experienced times when I have studied a text of Scripture thoroughly, prayed earnestly about the text, written a sermon…and all this because it is simply the next 5 verses in the chapter we are going through, then stood to preach and suddenly become seized with fear, certain that someone hearing is going to assume that I am personally attacking them because three weeks before, they told me of a specific struggle or problem on this very issue. But even here, if the church member is assuming that I am making it personal, that isn’t good, but my assuming they will take offense is also not good. We often lay awake at night unable to sleep because we are certain that someone made that comment to hurt us in some fashion or because they don’t like us, or “fill in the blank.” And of course, we assume that the person we are thinking about is lying awake themselves thinking up new and cruel ways to cause us pain or to “teach us a lesson.” We are by nature incredibly self-absorbed people and that is where assumption finds its roots-self-absorption. The Scripture does say something about love in the assembly and assumption. “Love seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil . . .Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Corinthians 13). Writing to a Corinthian church that was having some trouble getting along since they were elevating personalities, and pet doctrines and practices over truth, Paul corrects the wrong doctrine regarding the Holy Spirit and His gifts, then he urges them to pursue unity in correct doctrine. The three descriptions of Love manifested that seem to be the most applicable to the issue of making assumptions are as follows:
1.) Living in Love means we are not quickly offended (not easily provoked). If we have the love of Christ within us and we are pursuing love with one another, then we will not be quick to assume that what we heard our brother say or what our brother did was intended to hurt us. We will not rush to provocation when there is disagreement. On the other, hand, we will rush to peace when we feel we have been hurt. To the Spirit-filled saint, it takes a lot to provoke us. But when there is self-absorbed assumption, we immediately take offense when we feel slighted.
2.) Living in Love means we are not programmed to assume evil intent or motives (thinks no evil). We give our brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt. When they say something that could be taken as slight, we assume they made a mistake withe their words, that they meant something different. Self-absorbed assumption hears insult in everything said, every look given is assumed to be negative. Finding out that we were right sometimes only tends to embolden our self-absorption and although we may be right 40% of the time, this seems to give us a sense of license to be gifted with “discernment.” Oh, how adept we become at justifying pride.
3. Living in Love means we are desiring to believe that the Spirit of God is working and sanctifying our brothers and sisters. Isn’t it strange that we can pray for God to grow and purify each other and we can act as if we are really looking out for one another’s growth in godliness, yet still find some kind of perverted glee when a brother or sister doesn’t live up to our standards or even God’s standards of holiness. We are people of faith, so why do we at times, tend to disbelieve the work of God in another’s life. Do they not have the same Spirit of Grace? Is he not sanctifying them? Why do we respond with “I saw that coming” when we hear of a brother or sister who has fallen into sin? or “I am not surprised” when another is overtaken in a fault? I mean, should it not bother us no only that they have fallen, but that we expected them to fall? Genuine love believes in the work of God in the church. They look at the church as being victorious. They are expecting God to do great things and so they attempt great things for God. This is the mark of one who is impacted by the Love of God. The gospel wins, and so a saint who is convinced of this looks for those believing in the Gospel to win, not fail, and encourages and urges each other on toward good growth in God. We know we all fall, we all fail, but we must not become “Eeyore’s” just waiting to be offended, banking on being disappointed by the church, or expecting the negative in the church to be the norm. Let each failure in the walk of a Christian seem like the first as we “believe all things.”
Are our assumptions concerning one another hindering unity within the community of faith, the church God has placed us? Do our assumptions about other’s intentions, motives, or actions give us perverse pleasure “when we are found to be right”? Or do we make much of Christ and assume that he is doing a great work among his people?