Responding to Believers Who Oppose Us

Jesus was not big on commandments. His opinion about rules and commandments were reduced to two. Matthew chapter 22 reports Jesus as saying:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

Last Supper by Philippe de Champagne

Jesus Issues a New Command

But in his last hours Jesus issued another command. Jesus and his closest disciples were sharing the meal we now call the last supper, and Jesus surprised them by taking a basin and towel and washing their feet like a servant.

Afterward, Jesus told them he would be leaving them and they could not follow. Understandably, this created confusion, but Jesus had one more thing to say to them before he left; it was a command. John Chapter 13 records it for us:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

This does not mean that we should not love non-believers as well, but Jesus specifically commanded his followers to love one another. We should love our fellow followers in a special way, for we share the same center of our lives—Jesus.

When Believers Disagree

However, the followers of Jesus often disagree on important issues. We sometimes find this disagreement mystifying, embarrassing, and even frightening. Why can’t we all agree?  It is because the Bible does not answer all our questions about truth and life, so people who read the Bible come to different conclusions. If any two people agree 100% on every issue, then at least one of them is not thinking.

So we come to disagree on what we consider important, even essential, issues. How do we respond to those who oppose our well-thought-out opinions? I suggest that, whatever we do, we not forget Jesus’ command for us to ‘Love one another.’ We must sometimes argue against what we think are mistaken ideas, but it should not involve personal hostility.

In visiting other blogs, I sometimes find behavior that seems completely opposite to loving each other. Believers battle each other with ferocity. Both bloggers and those who comment attack fellow believers as though they were deadly enemies.

Their attitudes reflect disrespect, arrogance, scorn, contempt, and condescension. They engage in such tactics as name-calling, mocking, ridicule, disparagement, denigration, sarcasm, caricature, false characterization, and personal attacks. They are often dismissive.

This is true both of some conservatives and some progressives. Does this demonstrate love, or is it venomous hatred? Can we say that everyone knows we are his disciples because we love one another?

Think of the believer you disagree with most. It might be Westboro Baptist Church; I don’t like to call out names but Westboro makes a campaign of attracting hatred publicly. They seem to thrive on it. If we can love our enemies as Jesus told us, then certainly we can love our misguided fellow believers at Westboro, even though we disapprove of their behavior and must call them out on it.

My Honest Heart-felt Goal

Even when it is difficult, I hope always to respect those believers who disagree with me or oppose me. Fortunately, I have seen no hate in responses to my blog, but I am sure I will if I attract more readers.

I hope people do not detect unloving behavior in my blog posts or in my comments on other blogs. I have a constant concern that my tone might come across as arrogant or dismissive when I mean nothing of the sort. If you ever sense that it is, please let me know.

Paul, whom I admire greatly, exhorts us in Ephesians chapter 4:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

May we always follow Paul’s exhortation.

Image Credit: Last Supper by Philippe de Champagne via Wekimedia Commons
Your observations and comments are welcome below.
If you enjoyed this or found it helpful, please sign up for updates in the column to the right (email, RSS, Facebook, or Twitter) so that you don’t miss future posts. Also consider sharing this post using the buttons below. Have a great day! ~Tim
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35 Responses to Responding to Believers Who Oppose Us

  1. michaeleeast says:

    I know what you mean!
    Because we try to keep our comments short they can sound a bit terse.
    I also have had no negative comments.
    Who can argue with Love?

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  2. Hey TIm, well said. This one hit’s home – as once my site started getting organic search from Google the more anonymous in nature (and less friendly) comments started to appear. You have done a great job a JWB of being very thoughtul of how you deliver your messages, while still being honest and inciting growth (not an easy task at all and you’ve really done it well). I am from New York and sometimes tend to “tell it like it is” without enough sugar a bit too often 🙂

    By the way, how do you define “believer”?

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    • Hi Eric, thanks for the feedback–I was really hoping people would tell me how I sound to them. Hopefully everyone hears me as you do! However, I have not noticed that your messages are caustic.

      Regarding my definition of believer, I am willing to accept anyone as a believer who says they are a believer. I am not in the position to judge anyone’s heart and mind. However, there are some ‘believers’ who seem a bit on the edge to me. Some definitely have a lot more baggage than others.

      What is your definition?

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      • michaeleeast says:

        You sound open-minded and polite.
        Your comments are always positive and considerate.

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      • Thanks Tim. “Believer” is an interesting concept. As most serious scholars (from evangelistic to liberal) would attest, we only really know with a decent degree of certainty a handful of facts about Jesus. The many other stories and claims are questionable or have already been proven errant. So most of us at least believe that a person named Jesus existed, and that he was a rabbi from Nazareth. Add a few other personality traits and likely actions and you have a vague historical portrait of Jesus. But of course there’s also the resurrecton. And for the sake of debate, whether that literally happened, is a figurative thing, or was completely fabricated, does it matter if we believe it? What I’m getting at is what defines a believer in the context of the Bible or common Christian application of the word? It seems like either a thing happened or it didn’t, and while we can apply faith to proclaim what we *think* happened, I wonder what someone must believe to claim they are a believer, and even so, what ultimate difference that claim makes? Curious what you or your other readers think of that question in the context of your blog post here.

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        • sheila0405 says:

          “Believer” has become, in my mind, a sort of Christian lingo generally used by evangelicals to describe their theology. That theology is usually a core set of doctrines that people in that particular circle agree on. I know, If you “believe” on Jesus, it is assumed by a huge number of evangelicals that you have been “born again” & agree with the core doctrines. It gets tricky if you are not religious or you have questions about doctrine. Even if you profess a “born-again” kind of religion, if you don’t toe the line with all of the core doctrines, you can be viewed as someone who a) was never really born again, b/c it is impossible NOT to accept all these things if you are actually born again, or 2) your soul is in danger (especially if you are an evangelical who believes you can “lose” your salvation. Right now my own family is deeply concerned for my soul. I converted to Roman Catholicism, which they believe is a vehicle which drives souls straight to hell. I don’t want to get into the weeds more than I have already, but “believer” to me is what I was raised in. Now I just see myself as a Christian, one who tries her best to follow Jesus.

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        • Eric, there are some who claim to be believers in whom I cannot see what in the world they ‘believe’. Bishop John Shelby Spong is one such person; His assertions about Jesus are so tenuous that I cannot comprehend why he even considers himself to be a believer. It is a mystery to me.

          Yet, I don’t think it is my place to make that judgment. I can argue against his ideas if necessary, but I do not feel free to deny his claim to be a follower of Jesus–whatever that means to him.

          However, if a person claims they are a non-believer, I do not think we should treat them any worse than a believer with which we disagree. So, perhaps the definition of who qualifies to be a believer is not an essential distinction in arguing ideas.

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          • If we believe the Apostle Paul, then a believer is one to whom righteousness has been imputed. The promise in Romans 4 being that righteousness is imputed to those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.

            The debate rages on concerning who that actually may be and what the outward appearances or signs look like, but apart from any manifestations, a true believer known to God will have the reality of righteousness imputed to their account and be prepared for the day when God will judge the world in righteousness according to the standard of Jesus Christ. (Acts 17:31).

            By the way, I love the blogs and discussions here. As pastor of a congregation we call “the church for people who don’t like church” it’s refreshing to finally find like-minded appreciation for love of people over doctrine.

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          • Thank you so much Frank! I am glad you like the blog!

            You sum up Paul’s approach pretty well to what a believer is. I am among those who believe in the one who raised Jesus from the dead, so I am a believer. However, some people emphasize a strict dichotomy between believers and unbelievers that seems unfounded to me.

            A person who has never heard Jesus’ message, or has not comprehended it for some reason, cannot believe. But that does not mean they are ‘unbelievers’ either. I believe the love of the Father extends to all humanity whether or not they are aware.

            Believers, or followers, are those who have heard the message and responded, but that does not mean to me that those who have not responded are not imputed with righteousness. Perhaps we see this a bit differently, or perhaps we do not.

            I am so glad to have you commenting! I hope you continue to interact with the posts.

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          • Interesting pericope to anchor on Frank, I like it.

            So in other words if I am understanding you correctly, being a “believer” and “Christian” means only that we believe in him who raised Jesus. And assuming we have very little understanding of what “raised” means (and by this definition we don’t need to beause Paul also doesn’t seem to understand it), and also assuming that we have very little ability to grasp what / who God is (because we have almost no evidence to work with, and the OT is more likely to tell us what God is not as opposed to what he is) then to be a “believer” we simply have to be open minded that there is “something out there,” that we have very very little ability to grasp, by which Jesus was referring to?

            Does that capture what you are saying?

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          • No, that is worlds away from anything I meant to convey. To be a “believer” is to rely upon, trust in, and adhere to a promise. Therefore to believe, one must have a promise or assurance in which to put one’s trust.

            I believe that the Apostle Paul is correct concerning the blessing of Abraham now being available to the Gentiles (non-Hebrews) through the Lord Jesus Christ, in that all people now have the ability to receive imputed righteousness by faith.

            Abraham received a promise from God about his son Isaac and his future descendants. Abraham believed (relied upon, trusted in, and adhered to) that promise in that he was sure that what God had promised He was able to perform. Because Abraham believed God, righteousness was imputed to or accounted to him.

            Today, we have a promise from God about His Son Jesus Christ and the eternal life and salvation from sin that we can receive through Him. Those who believe (rely upon, trust in, and adhere to) that promise and are sure that what God has promised concerning salvation and eternal life, He is able to perform through Christ, also have righteousness imputed to them.

            I disagree that we have “very little understanding” of what “raised” means. It means that the Lord Jesus was dead, buried in a tomb, and three days forgotten behind a boulder sealing the entrance until he was resurrected (raised) to life: a bodily, physical, actual life. I believe this is exactly what Paul understood and was conveying to the recipients of his letters.

            As for God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, I believe that they are alive, available and quite approachable, and that I have an intimate and personal relationship with both through which I have come to know them quite well indeed. So I reject the notion that we (or at least I) have very little to grasp concerning what/who God and His Son Jesus are.

            If, as you put it: “…to be a “believer” we simply have to be open minded that there is “something out there,” that we have very very little ability to grasp…” then we really couldn’t say we were relying upon a specific promise, could we?

            There is much about God that we cannot grasp. For instance He is a Spirit. But what exactly is a spirit? We don’t know. Where is the spiritual realm; below, above, parallel to our physical reality? Again, we don’t know.

            What I do know is that while God is a non corporeal being, His Son Jesus was a real flesh and blood human being, born of a woman, who walked this earth, died, was resurrected, ascended and has never since been forgotten nor ceased to be the subject of scrutiny, history, controversy and religious devotion.

            Simply put, I believe that by following the principles of the Lord Jesus Christ I can love God the Father and others, learn and apply forgiveness even to my enemies, and use godly wisdom to live a blessed life and be a blessing to others.

            However, I am certain that it is only by believing in the vicarious sacrificial atonement of the person of Christ as the propitiate for sin, and in the resulting resurrection of His physical body establishing that His sacrifice was and is complete and effective, that I have received imputed righteousness by grace through faith.

            This will be my last post (as I don’t enjoy discussion through correspondence) but it doesn’t have to be the end of the conversation!

            These and other related questions and issues are welcome on my call-in radio program The #FrankTurnerShow. It airs weeknights from 7:15-9 p.m. EST (except Thurs. 8-9 p.m.) and can be heard online via the link at http://www.frankturner.org. I’d love for you to call (313) 837-1340 anytime while we’re on the air for these and any related questions.

            May the blessing of the Lord’s peace and love be upon you!

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  3. sheila0405 says:

    Regarding the Westboro Baptist Church, and others like it, I get angry about the misrepresentation of Christianity, and I feel immense sorrow that the children are learning that hatred, but I don’t hate the followers.

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  4. jonstallings says:

    Great reminder Tim. It is easy to get carried away by the passion of our own understanding or calling and think that everyone else must be just like us. But the key is that we are all in different places in our faith walk, so we should be able to show grace to one another. Even if an issue arose where I would need to offer correction (Usually with some whom I have a real relationship with) It should always be done with grace and love.

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  5. Pingback: Responding to Believers Who Oppose Us | Sola Dei Gloria

  6. Phil Johns says:

    I suspect the ‘believer’ question will depend in part on which door you came in. For me it was a Billy Graham crusade back in the seventies in London. The idea that you went forward, made a commitment and ‘bam’ you were in! I can remember clergy that I met in the early days finding the ‘I want you to get up out of your seat’ approach quite amusing. Now that some forty years have passed, ideas of church have changed, theological ideas have changed and I have changed. I have a wry smile myself now when I think back to that night in 1973 – not to denigrate the legendary Billy Graham – he did make me consider the person of Jesus and that consideration has continued.

    The fact that someone has not said the right words has often been a problem for me in respect of being a believer. Is it that you’re not in the ‘club’ if you haven’t prayed the sinners prayer? All I know is that the people that have shown me the most kindness and given me the most help in times of crisis have been those regarded as ‘unsaved’ people and they have displayed more humanity than those that reckon they are. The question is a good one.

    This is an excellent blog Tim. I could have done with it about thirty years ago!

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    • Phil, I am comfortable with those who feel they are believers because they said the ‘sinners’ prayer’ or walked the aisle. That was how I identified as a child. I ‘went to the altar and prayed through’, as was expected in my circles.

      Unfortunately, as you seem to point out, some think this is the ONLY way to define who is a believer, and that sometimes creates unnecessary doubt.

      Like

  7. lotharson says:

    Hello,

    first of all thanks for having commented on my parallel post:

    https://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/blogging-as-a-spiritual-experience
    :=)

    As I said, there is a very similar phenomenon which is going on with militant atheists.

    “Believers battle each other with ferocity. Both bloggers and those who comment attack fellow believers as though they were deadly enemies.”

    I have unwittingly laughed after having read your choice of words tough this is not of course very funny.

    I think we should not only love our fellow believers but also unbelievers, however I’m sure you already agree with me on that 😉

    Finally I want to point out I don’t view the Westboro baptists as being my “fellow believers”.
    To my mind they are among the most devoted devil worshipers in the whole earth and perhaps even the entire universe.

    Cheers.

    Like

    • michaeleeast says:

      I don’t think it is helpful to divide people up into “believers” And “non-believers”.
      There is enough that divides us as it is.
      I simply consider myself a follower of Jesus.
      By which I mean that I try to live the things that he taught.
      Believing claims about his person seem to me to be irrelevant.
      N.B. John Spong’s early work on the Bible I find quite helpful..

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  8. Thanks Tim, Sheila, Phil, and Michael for your response on the believer terminlology. As I read the original post I was curious what y’all might be thinking of that word “believer” wrt to the ideas in the post. Regarding Spong, I found him to be extremely helpful early on in breaking some deep rooted paradigm’s… then I saw him speak and take questions at a conference and found that he won’t be pinned down on any one “belief.” I found that kind of annyoying, and then I figured out why, and its because I was the same way and I was hoping for answers from him!!! 😉

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  9. I always feel so affirmed by you as a believer… I’ve read your blog long enough to see you are consistently so with all who generously give their insights, thoughts and opinions on your blog… and I thank you for that. I hope to always respond with patience, love and forgiveness too. ❤️

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  10. The main thing I’ve noticed in myself (and others) for disagree is assuming the other persons beliefs (and the reason) first rather than checking what it is. Sometimes it’s so easy to read a comment and then just jump to what they “must” believe even when they don’t. It’s a very easy mistake to make and I’ve certainly jumped into assuming what they other person believes, why and then trying to “win” the argument rather than understand.
    Something to continually learn.

    Like

    • This is so true Chris. Twice in the last few months I have wondered, ‘Why is this person getting on my case so hard?’, only to discover in both instances they were seeking direction in dealing with their doubts. There challenges were to find possible answers.

      When I receive a particularly strong challenge, even with attitude, I try to assume the best on the part of my challenger. What is there to lose? This is not a contest. It doesn’t bother me if someone says, ‘Sucker! You are so gullible.’

      My only reason for writing this blog is to help or support others. I can’t do that if I am over-sensitive. But I am always concerned that my tone might seem (or actually be) off-putting. So far, I have not encountered any ‘trolls’ on my blog, but I hope to be open to them as well, unless they are trashing one of my readers.

      You, Chris, are a good model, along with a number of other bloggers I read.

      Like

  11. Marc says:

    A person’s actions reflect what they truly believe.

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  12. sheila0405 says:

    Came across this blog today, and it fits in nicely with the discussion on what is a believer. http://www.bookwormbeauty.com/2013/09/guest-post-drawing-in-sand.html

    Like

  13. Stefanie says:

    It’s not my first time to pay a visit this website, i am browsing this website dailly and get pleasant information
    from here daily.

    Like

    • sheila0405 says:

      We would love to hear more about what you think. The discussions on this blog are incredibly advantageous. There is a real respect here, 99.9% of the time, for each others’ views. I always enjoy hearing about other folks’ journeys of faith–or even lack of faith. WELCOME!

      Like

    • I am glad you like to visit Stefanie! And I agree with Sheila, feel free to add your thoughts to the discussion. I would like to hear them.

      Like

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