There is a significant amount of unrest and conflict in the world right now. It feels to me like Christians are getting caught up in it and acting just like the rest of the world. How should Christians respond to unrest and conflict in the world?
This is a great question we should be asking ourselves as Christians. We share your sentiment. We, too, have been discouraged at times by how many professing Christian brothers and sisters have been responding. We should note that not all Christians are behaving badly. There are many wonderful things as well. The real question, however, is how we “ought” to respond? How should Christians respond to the trials we are collectively facing right now?
A More Excellent Way
To introduce his famous “Love Chapter” (1 Corinthians 13), the Apostle Paul says, “I will show you a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). There was a great deal of conflict in the Corinthian church.
In his letter, Paul addresses their conflicts over partisanship, their lawsuits against each other and debates between those who were visiting prostitutes and those who were practicing celibacy in marriage. There was additional contention over whether they should eat meat sacrificed to idols, the practice of wealthy members excluding poor members from the Lord’s Supper and confusion over spiritual gifts. The Corinthians were kind of a mess. It seems the Corinthian church had a little too much Corinth in them and not enough Christian.
Paul’s answer to their conflicts is love. The Corinthians were to live by a more excellent way. They were to surpass the regular human responses to these conflicts. In 1 Corinthians 3:3, he asks, “For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?”
Elsewhere, he uses violent language to warn the Galatians: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:14-15).
The Virtues of Faith, Hope and Love
As Christians, we are called to conduct ourselves in a way that transcends the ordinary. This does not mean that we should not have convictions. It does not mean that we should not take a stand on issues. It means that our conduct and character—even in conflict—ought to be marked by the virtues of faith, hope and love (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Faith is trust at its core, and in times of trials, it is the belief that while the world around us seems like chaos, God is still good and accomplishing his purposes. It is the conviction that our sufferings are neither meaningless nor the final word.
“Faith over fear” has become a T-Shirt. While sometimes what I see being done in that T-Shirt looks more like “Folly over fear,” it is true. When we feel fear, we must choose to reorient our vision from the threats in front of us to the one who is greater than all.
Hope is the ability to see through the present suffering and pain to better days on the other end. It is more than just seeing a silver lining. It is the belief that God is at work to accomplish his good purposes. It is the belief God brings evil to an end, and that our suffering will give way to joy.
We despair when we have no hope. We cannot see light in the darkness. We cannot see how the present suffering could ever end. This despair darkens our vision and leads to pessimism and cynicism. The hopeful ones recognize pain is temporary and muster up the courage to persevere.
Love is the commitment to another. When we look at love this way—as opposed to mere affection or acceptance—it makes sense of the difficult commands of Jesus to love even our enemies. You may not have affection for your enemy, but you can be committed to their good. You can pray for them, bless them and even do good to them.
In Romans 12:21, Paul ends his appeal for the Romans to do good to their enemies with, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” This is the logic. Evil cannot be overcome by evil means. We must conduct ourselves with love, seeking the good for others even for those who do not seek our good in return.
Overcoming the Fear of Death
Theophilus, when you look around the world today, you will see a lot of fear. Underlying all of the anger and frustration, you will see people afraid. People are scared to death. They are scared of death. The amazing testimonies of Christians facing persecutions, tortures and even death with a song come because they understood that death had lost its power.
The resurrection of Jesus meant that death had lost its sting and no longer needed to be feared. It cannot be that they never felt fear, but the fear of death gave way to their belief that Jesus had risen from the grave…and they would, too!
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