Why do we find it so hard to be nice to each other?
I have been driving more than usual lately and all that time on the road gave me an opportunity to see a multitude of campaign signs. Many of them were typical "Vote for me!" advertisements, but some were just plain mean, with rude and nasty comments about opponents.
This type of campaigning is disturbing. Not only is it based in expressions of anger and even hatred, but it takes no thought of a political opponent as a human being. It thinks nothing of the impact of these words on the person, their family and their supporters. It is a "win at any cost" approach that sacrifices humanity for victory. It may be accepted as normal campaigning, but is it really acceptable?
What makes matters worse is that this hostility is not limited to political campaigns, but extends to daily relationships at work, in families and even within the body of Christ. Winning an argument takes precedence over demonstrating love, positions become more important than people, and gaining ground replaces grace. People too easily lose sight of what really matters as they become lost in themselves, a position or a movement.
The Bible has much to say about how we are meant to live together and treat one another. As the nation of Israel followed Moses through the wilderness, their ongoing complaining and negative attitudes delayed their entrance into the promised land and some people even lost their lives for these actions (not because God couldn't tolerate their attitudes, but because of the damage it did to the whole community.
Later, the Psalmist reminded his listeners, "How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1) He goes on in the psalm to compare such unity to the symbols of God's anointing and the dew that refreshes the holy mountain of God. The psalm ends by saying that, “For there [unity] the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” (133:3b)
Jesus even reminded his disciples that the world would know them by the love that they had for one another and challenged them to live in such a way that others would see that love. Then, before his death, as he spoke with God about what was most significant to him, he prayed that his followers and those who came after them would be one even as Jesus and the Father were one. Unity was very important to Jesus, and it should be to us as well.
Just think of the number of times each day we have the opportunity to tear down or build up. These are the times when we could be critical, but choose encouragement instead, or when we could share hurtful information, but keep it to ourselves. These are the times when we can be like everyone else, or chose to be like Jesus.
Keep in mind, it is not always a big action on our part that makes a difference. Sometimes, the most influential choices are the small ones. There are moments when someone says to us, "Did you see what that person did.?" and we can say, "Yes, I did. Isn't it awful?" In simple words, we confirm and multiply the original negativity. This, however, is not our only option. In fact, we have many. Let me offer just a few:
“Yes, I did. I am not sure why things were done that way, but I am sure there must be a good reason.”
“Yes, but I make it a point not to judge someone else.”
“What happened really seems to concern you. Did you speak to the people involved? That would be the right place to start. I would go with you if you would like.”
My personal favorite is, “It's really none of my business and I don't feel comfortable talking behind their back.” Even when we are speaking to the person who failed, we do not need to belabor the problem, but come alongside them, offering our support to help them find a better solution.
This is how Jesus responds and how grateful we are that he does. Jesus doesn't take our sin and share it with others. He never tears us down in person or behind our backs. He joins us as Savior and Friend to help us overcome our challenges and become who we are meant to be in him. Jesus may hold us accountable, but he does so with great grace and love. As Christians (literally, “little Christs”) shouldn't we do likewise?
It is not always easy to be nice and to strive for unity, but as the recipients of God's amazing forgiveness, love and grace, doing so should be a priority. We represent God so our actions matter, but, at the core, it is simply the right thing to do. People around us, even people we love may choose a different path, but we take our direction from Jesus and seek to live out the high calling we have in him. Just think of the light of that witness in a world surrounded darkness.