I Love You, but I Disagree with You
Given the way God has directed my life, I am in meetings and consult with fellow pastors in a variety of contexts, sit on boards with other counselors, engage in the classroom with other educators and students (being both), among a host of other atmospheres where opinions are aired, options and issues are wrestled through, and decisions get made. And I cannot tell you have how times I have heard, thought, and even said: “I love you, but I disagree with you.”
With this submission, I am not going to pull any punches. No flowery language. I am not even really trying to be winsome. We need to address the reality of God’s commandment to love one another for what it is, and then do some objective work in our individual soul(s)/ mind(s). So, let’s just go for it, and not pretend any of us do not know what disagreements I am referring to.
I could go on. There are plenty of others. But I hope you noted that, as that list continued, I started to sprinkle in matters of massive church-culture contention from some decades ago. Today, some of those issues are non-starters, if not all but forgotten. For with each one, there was, and for some, still is, overwhelming, if not vehement, disagreement. Yet, the church still endures.
I love you, but I disagree with you.
Over the last few months, I have watched as friends have disrespectfully disagreed with one another both in person and across social media. I have witnessed good, gospel-believing people engaging in unhealthy dialogue on what amounts to identity-politics. I’ve listened as the best of friends have argued about whether or not to wear a piece of cloth over their face. I’ve mediated now countless arguments on various issues where people try to make their points and prove their opposition wrong (they shared meals routinely with their “opposition” prior). Over the last six months, to say nothing of the last four weeks, I have observed many, both at our beloved Bethel Church and at brother and sister churches around the country, begin to entertain dialogue of, if not already, abandoning their long-standing church family and church home because it is not adhering to their personal ideations or personal conviction of what is “the right thing to do.” This is massively problematic, and it is certainly not reflective of the totality of God’s instruction. Consider John 13:34-35:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (ESV).
The Bible here and elsewhere is pretty clear: we are to love one another. Love does not mean “agree with.” It does not insist that it is right or must have its own way. Love does mean to treat others with dignity and respect. It does mean that we should be bearing, enduring, and hoping all things (1 Corinthians 13:7). Additionally, love means we should be patient and not arrogant. My friends, part of my observation, and thus, concern, is that we are not all demonstrating love. Too many are much more concerned about disagreements…about feeling right (not to be confused with being right) than they are being about their familial relationships as co-heirs in Christ (Romans 8:17)!
Unshockingly, this is not the only time in human history this has occurred. For example, the Apostolic Era church (the early church shortly after Jesus’ ascension in Acts 1) had several times when disagreements about various matters rose up among them, and it significantly hampered the church’s effectiveness for camaraderie and gospel ministry. It would be easy to run right to Acts 15 where Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement, or 1 Corinthians, where Paul addressed a number of different divisions within the church at Corinth. But I’d like to take a slightly more nuanced approach, and instead venture to Philippians 4. Consider the following:
“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”
Here, two well-known ladies in the church of Philippi—Euodia and Syntyche—have a significant disagreement. The language Paul uses to write is quite striking. He states that they labored [or fought] side-by-side with him, specifically. They were warriors for the sake of Jesus and would have spent considerable time together. Yet, they had such a sharp, unnamed disagreement that threatened to divide them so thoroughly that Paul invoked a true companion (another Christian) to intervene and restore them back to a place of love, unity, and one-mindedness.[i] As I shared in my opening, I have engaged in no shortage of true companion types of dialogue in recent times.
In that spirit, I hope that as I conclude, you see me as a true companion to you. I assure you, I spent hours in my own heart and mind, preaching these truths to myself, before putting digital pen to paper. I am doing this with you across the spectrum of my life. As such, my intention is to provide a few ways to encourage loving and peaceful dialogue, creative opportunity, and personal investment.
Reach out to the person and ask for the details of what they believe and how they came to their conclusions. Seek to be a learner and not a responder, even if your disagree. Love your neighbor by learning about them. Invest in knowing them and their perspective. Focus on relationship and not opinion. You do not have to convince someone to think another way. But understanding will go a long way. It is okay for all parties to end the conversation appropriately saying: “I love you, but I disagree with you.”
The answer to these questions may make the difference in a relationship. It is okay to disagree with a friend or a loved one and then agree to disagree.
What this comes down to is what we have been unpacking in our sermon series on Romans 14. Pastor Steve, myself, and the others who have preached at one of our campuses on Romans 14 have strived to painstakingly communicate the need to let love reign in our relationships and on non-essential matters of preference or conscience. We need to run to these truths again and again. I would only add to this by asking you to consider Philippians 4:5:
“Let your reasonablenessbe known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.”
May we, as Christians, be characterized by sacrificial love and reasonableness; may we love one another enough to disagree and not destroy relationships; and may our care and concern for one another be self-evident, so that our unbelieving friends or neighbors will look at the unity of our church community and see it as a place they desire to call their own.
[i] There has been considerable speculation over the identity of the “true companion.” Their identity has never been successfully identified with definitive evidence and corroboration. The highest possibilities most agreed upon by Bible scholars are that it was either Paul’s friend and fellow writer Luke, or a leading elder at the church of Philippi.