Scripture Reading: Ephesians 4:1-6
Have you ever known people who can show incredible grace to those they hardly know, but who seem to withhold that grace from their fellow believers? I heard a joke that directly illustrates this problem:
I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said, “Stop! Don’t do it!”
“Why shouldn’t I?” he said.
I said, “Well, there’s so much to live for!”
He said, “Like what?”
I said, “Well, are you religious or atheist?”
He said, “Religious.”
I said, “Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?”
He said, “Christian.”
I said, “Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?”
He said, “Protestant.”
I said, “Me too! Are your Episcopalian or Baptist?”
He said, “Baptist!”
I said, “Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?”
He said, “Baptist Church of God!”
I said, “Me too! Are your Original Baptist Church of God or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?”
He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God!”
I said, “Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?”
He said, “Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915!”
I said, “Die, heretic scum!” and I pushed him off.
That joke was voted the best religious joke of all time in an online poll a few years ago, probably because it hits so close to home for so many people. Maybe you’ve seen it happen yourself, where people who are otherwise extremely close to each other in their thoughts and beliefs let something comparatively minor cause a sharp disagreement.
God reminds us in the book of Ephesians that He’s extended incredible grace to us all, and He wants us to extend that same grace to our fellow believers. The Apostle Paul wrote:
“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―one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6).
Paul says something similar in his letter to the Galatians:
“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10).
I know of a man who built one of the largest churches in India. A friend who knew him said that one of the reasons for his success was that he never, ever spoke a negative word against anyone or any church who was working in that country in the name of Christ, even if he disagreed with their doctrine or approach. As a result of his true graciousness, he was able to build bridges with many people, expanding the kingdom of God at every turn.
Jesus alluded to the same idea one day when the Apostle John came to Him and said:
“Teacher, we saw a man driving out demons in Your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in My name can in the next moment say anything bad about Me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.” (Mark 9:39-41).
The next time you’re tempted to push someone off the bridge who is otherwise extremely close to you in their thoughts and beliefs, don’t do it! Extend to them the same grace that God has extended to you. Give them a cup of cold water, in Jesus’ name, making every effort “to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
Prayer: Father, thank You for reminding me to seek unity with my fellow believers, rather than trying to find fault with them. Help me to be truly gracious today, and truly forgiving, when I run across those who approach their faith and life different than I do. Help me focus on our shared love for You and extend the same kind of grace to them that You’ve extended to me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.