Fight the battles worth fighting

By Elsie Dalton

I doubt anyone would challenge the fact that Christians are called to preach the gospel at all times. But in the last six months, I have watched many of my Christian friends push evangelism to the back burner in favor of taking a political stand. Social media has been toxic and civil conversation almost impossible — even among Christians. Please read this as coming from a fellow Christian trying to find a balanced attitude toward politics.

1 Thessalonians speaks very strongly to the subject at hand. Paul condemns the Jews harshly, saying they “displease God and oppose all mankind” by obstructing the spread of the gospel to Gentiles. “Hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved” helps to “fill up the measure of their sins (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16). This sin of the Jews is put in the same sentence as killing Jesus—that’s how much Paul hates it. Since “Gentiles” does not apply in our situation, any unbeliever can be substituted, but the point is that Paul thinks preventing the gospel from being preached is sinful. That should make all of us think seriously about what happens when we are confronted with the world. We can very easily prevent ourselves from witnessing to unbelievers by engaging them with angry or disdainful speech. Our “witness” can be irrevocably harmed by actions that give us a bad reputation. A Christian reaction to the world should always be evangelism, which we cannot do if we react in one of these ways:

Our “witness” can be irrevocably harmed by actions that give us a bad reputation. A Christian reaction to the world should always be evangelism, which we cannot do if we react in one of these ways:

  1. Hide in our shells or sequester ourselves in communities of believers and talk about the rest of the world as if they are some outside entity. We aren’t supposed to be of the world, but we are supposed to be in it.  
  2. React to pressure (hatred, name-calling, attack, etc.) with further hatred, name-calling and attacks.

“Affliction” looks different in 2017 than it did in the 1st century, but it does exist. No, Christians in America are not physically persecuted or executed, but they face enormous pressure in interaction with unbelievers. Especially through this political season, Christians have faced huge amounts of anger and hate from several sides. Our duty is always to respond with a loving expression of the gospel. When our friends or acquaintances call us racist homophobic Nazis, we cannot explode in frustration or anger, and we cannot afford to spend paragraphs in antagonistic defense. We must forgive, move past and preach. I’m frankly shocked at some posts I’ve seen by friends of mine who have let themselves be polarized by politics.

Standing in the way of the gospel is “displeasing God and opposing all mankind.” Do not shut yourself off from sinners, and do not return the name-calling. React with love to your gay, trans and pro-choice friends, and also your conservative friends who put being right over spreading the gospel.

My mama always told me when I left the house alone that I had to uphold the family reputation. What she meant was, the way I acted would reflect upon her and my dad and my siblings, and I needed to watch my mouth and my actions to cultivate a loving and respectful reputation.

Christians are in exactly the same situation.

Our family reputation is harmed each time we respond in anger or hate. Think before you post, about how your words will reflect on the kingdom of God, and foster a reputation of love and respect, even in the face of hostility. “They” cannot make you respond in anger, that is your choice. Consider it carefully. From Philippians 1:27-28:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,  and not frightened in anything by your opponents.

And later:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

In a letter to Timothy, Paul says that we have been given “a spirit not of fear, but of power and love and self-control.” And in Ephesians he says that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”

Resist the urge to wrestle against flesh and blood. Hostile political debate does not lead to an expression of the good news, and we have more important battles to fight.

Elsie Dalton is a barista and housewife in Memphis, Tennessee.

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