It takes lots of patience to live at peace with one another. Contrary to popular opinion, division is not a spiritual gift, though some would have us think so.  I’m afraid we sometimes find ourselves taking cues on how to treat each other—both believers and unbelievers—from the circus that has become contemporary social discourse—played out in Facebook feuds and talking-head pundit shows. In contrast, listen to the words of the Apostle Paul: As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called (Ephesians 4:1-4).  In this passage, Paul highlights some fundamental attitudes and fundamental doctrines – one body, one Spirit, one Lord, faith, and baptism. It’s the attitudes I want to focus on, because without these, there really is no hope for unity—humility, gentleness, and patience! It is the duty of every Christian to seek to establish and maintain brotherly connection, because that seems to be the way of Jesus. Unity is a command to be obeyed as much as any other in the New Testament.  Unity is a commitment to hearing and interacting with one another in love.   John Yoder calls this “reconciling conversation.” Such conversations reflect certain character traits that come from Jesus and the Holy Spirit and personify the kinds of patience that’s required to maintain a Christ-like level of brotherly conversation.  Here are seven types of patience needed with believers whose judgments differ from our own.
  1. Pedagogical patience – takes into account that human learning is gradual and occurs in sequences and stages.
  2. Pastoral patience –takes into account the realities of trauma and healing, along with the patience required to help broken persons move toward trust and commitment.
  3. Multicultural patience –it’s hard to understand each other when we are dealing with cultural or linguistic diversity. Our assumptions may not compute across that divide. Are we willing to work at it?
  4. Collegial patience – needed by the minority and involves coming to terms with a dominate view without being convinced by it. (If you’re in a group of Christians and your view is outvoted, are you going to walk away mad and say, “Well, I lost it!”? Or are you going to hang in there with collegial patience to see if something good comes out of it?)
  5. The patience of repentance – recognizes that even if one’s position is correct, that it has probably been presented inadequately at times, or even unfaithfully at times. (So you might need to repent for that).
  6. The patience of finitude – the recognition that one may be wrong.
  7. Apocalyptic patience – the awareness that all matters are not worked out in the broken reality in which we live, and that we must wait and hope for heaven, where there will be perfect unity and peace.
  Here’s a few questions to further your conversation. (Caution:  PATIENCE REQUIRED!)
  1. What should be our stance toward Christians with whom we seriously disagree?
  2. On what terms can we accept those with whom we disagree as fellow believers?
  3. Is spiritual growth really possible if we can’t admit from time to time, “I may be wrong?” What’s the value of humbly admitting that to one another?
It was the wise Solomon who said, “Understanding is a fountain of life to those who have it” (Prov. 16:22). We normally assume that we are right and other Christians with whom we disagree are wrong. But it’s likely we have something to learn just as likely as we have something to teach. Furthermore, we are not ready to answer these questions unless we remember the terms on which God has accepted us.