1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. 4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us ? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. 11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
James, the brother of Jesus, sought to offer spiritual guidance to the church. And this meant not only calling people to move toward the ways of Christ, but also to turn away from their less desirable ways. James’ first words in this passage gives us a hint to his perspective. “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” James saw what many of us fail to see when we are in the midst of arguments, or when we are critical of others - our lack of compassion or judgement for another often stems from our own internal battles. Yep. As much as I would like this to be wrong, I know that it is indeed great wisdom. Almost always, our anger, judgement, and defensiveness when we disagree with another is a result of pride, fear, insecurity, or…. did I say fear? Fear is at war with love. When we live in fear, we squeeze out grace. “There is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 4)
Think about it, why is a different opinion, or a disagreement threatening? Why do we get so defensive? Usually it is because we fear something - the loss of superiority, being liked, being right. Sometimes we feel threatened because of the stance of the other person. Maybe they come at us aggressively or with malice. I try to think about Jesus in those scenarios. He was the master at remaining calm in the midst of aggressive accusations and disagreements. And of course, that is because he lived in perfect love, he was love, itself.
So, in this highly polarized setting, in which we live, how do we navigate disagreement? I think first we must recognize our own baggage, wrestle with our internal battles, and wonder about why we get defensive and fearful in these situations. Then we must look at the other with love. Even if they are coming at us aggressively (emotionally, not physically), we are called to love them first. Remind yourself that God really loves this person, and I can too, then get curious about them and their way of thinking. Open your heart up with love at the forefront, recognize your own battles are playing a part in your natural defensiveness, then give yourself and the other grace, lots of grace. Humility and a posture of love will always pave the way for good.
What sort of battles arise in you when someone disagrees with you? How can you recognize those and remember to love the other in your next difference of opinion?
Lord, remind us that you love us deeply, even our enemies, even those with whom we disagree. Give us your eyes to see others through the lens of love. Give us your ears to listen with curiosity and grace. Let us be instruments of peace in the world. Give us grace for ourselves and others, and let us grow in your perfect love. Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.