“The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” James 1:20
The last twenty-four hours have been very difficult and alarming for our nation. If you are like me, many of you tossed and turned last night considering the implications of a protest mob over-taking the national capitol building. There are no easy or simple answers to the multi-layered conflict our nation faces, and we as a church cannot help but be swept up into this struggle. When facing complex problems, it is right to look again to fundamentals. We must firmly remember and strive to believe and practice the basic things taught to us by Jesus. If we, by faith, live out the fundamentals, the Lord Jesus will bring about a good end.
Let’s consider the negative fundamentals – things we must not do.
First, we must avoid the “anger of man.” James 1:20 is very clear that our sinful anger will never produce the righteousness of God. When you’re motivated by anger and hatred, your actions will only produce division, more anger, and death. No good thing ever comes from outbursts of anger, a clearly identified product of our sinful nature (Galatians 5:20). Jesus lived in a day with as much, or more, political unrest and struggle as our day, but He never grew angry over politics.
Second, never take part in cycles of vengeance. The cycle of vengeance means that if you hurt me, I’ll be satisfied only when I hurt you more. This is an unending cycle that leads to destruction and death. We are clearly warned in Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” It is not our role to avenge evil. Only God sits in the final seat of judgment, and He will judge justly. By faith we believe that the wicked will not go unpunished, but if we take judgment into our own hands, it immediately quenches our gospel zeal. We will never authentically share the good news of forgiveness and new life in Christ with someone we hate and want to hurt. This cycle of vengeance can only be broken by the love and mercy of Jesus at work in our hearts.
Next, let’s consider a few positive fundamentals – things we must do.
In Christ we are called to love and pray for our enemies. The same verse about vengeance quoted above, does not leave us in a neutral place. Romans 12:20-21 goes on, “To the contrary, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing so, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” We are commanded as Christians to love and pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44). If you find yourself enraged against your enemies and want to do them harm, you do not have the mind of Christ. By working to bless those against us and praying for them, we are seeking their salvation and the permanent heart change that only Jesus can bring. We do not overcome evil by force, but by the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We must keep clearly focused in our minds and in the passions of our hearts, that the great commission of Jesus Christ has everything to do with the salvation and discipleship of souls. Doing the will of God is about making disciples, not winning arguments. Jesus relentlessly pointed people toward a different way of living, spoke against their sinful ways, and told them that if they persisted in their sins they would perish. But He did these things to teach them the new and living way of Jesus Christ. We must keep focus here. The fundamental command left to us by Jesus is to make disciples (followers) in His name.
This leads us to the third positive fundamental of the local church. When we become disciples of Jesus Christ, we come out of the community of the world into the community of the local church. This community must be distinctly different from the world. Churches divide or become no different than the world for many reasons – including politics. At this time, as a local church, we must be doubly diligent and passionate to love and honor each other (Romans 12:10). We must be passionate and struggle against the evil of our age to keep priority in the church.
Our first priority is not social activism. Our first priority is the worship and exaltation of Jesus Christ our Savior. At church each Sunday, we must each commit to leave our struggles at the door and turn our hearts toward heaven. We weekly renew our faith and hope in Jesus by worshipping Him as Lord.
Second, we hear His living Word from the Bible. We must come with a heart prepared as best we can to receive the instructions, exhortations, and commands of Scripture. We want to focus our minds so we can draw closer to Jesus in understanding and obedience.
Third, we confess our sins, lay down our pride, and rejoice in the grace of Jesus toward us personally.
Fourth, we authentically love each other. We must not divide against each other in factions. We must not gossip against each other. We must strive to speak with each other in well-meaning conversations to resolve differences and encourage each other. We must give each other the benefit of the doubt.
Let’s be guided by Ephesians 4:29, speaking no corrupt (evil) words, building each other up, using words that are appropriate for the occasion (well timed), and full of grace. I warn you that it is nearly impossible to accomplish this type of speech on any social media platform. These days require significant and time-consuming conversations. We need to hear each other’s real voices and see each other’s nonverbal expressions so that we can truly make progress. Take more meaningful time with less people, rather than throwing out provocative statements to many people in a vain attempt to “influence” them. Be prayerful and very thoughtful before you broadcast your thoughts to the world.
I urge you to keep these fundamentals in view as we move forward.
May the Lord Jesus give us an abundance of His Spirit in these days,