We all know the holidays can be fraught with all kinds of relational conflict. By God’s grace this is not the case for everyone. It could be worse. But still, we live in a fallen world where even faithful, bible believing Christians dread the holidays because of the drama. This may be even more likely this year with tension heightened all over the country. This, for example, is where I’m getting the title of this little exhortation. I know of several families where the parents have told their grown children not to return home for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year because they have not been vaccinated. Now, of course, it’s tempting to weigh in on that issue and perhaps I will in the future. For now, what seems more important is the question above. How do I honor my parents if I disagree with them? And you could apply this more broadly if this particular example doesn’t fit your experience. How do I love anyone I disagree with? How do I keep a disagreement from becoming a quarrel or a wedge?
Let me offer these biblical principles as a guide to fuel your own biblical pursuit of holiness in this area:
1. Disagreements are not automatically disrespectful. There are loads of examples of this in the Bible. A powerful one would be David’s conduct toward King Saul. Saul was jealous of David and wanted to kill him. Though Saul was the king of God’s chosen people, he acted dishonorably toward David and David was forced to flee and hide in order to preserve his life (1 Samuel 19-31). This is (hopefully) a more extreme case than what you might go through this holiday season but it’s still helpful. In spite of the fact that this was a life-threatening “disagreement” it shows that David was able to take issue with Saul without dishonoring him. One way this comes out is how David refuses to “put out his hand against” Saul to harm him (1 Samuel 24). And his reasoning was that Saul was “the Lord’s annointed.” In other words, David reasoned that as soon as God was done with Saul being king, Saul would be done and David need not do God’s job for him. So, frequently, when we disagree with people what we want is to do God’s job for him. We want to humble those we disagree with (and, usually, by “humble” we mean groveling at our feet in abject humiliation). And, because we try to act like God, our disagreement becomes a quarrel-turkey, basted liberally with oily disrespect. I don’t know if that metaphor works or not but you get the drift. Don’t try to do God’s job for Him. You can disagree without disrespecting. In fact, sometimes respect requires disagreement because it’s actually dishonoring to the Lord when you go against your conscience.
2. Disagreements do not always last. Sometimes one of the hardest things about our disagreements is that we have a hard time imagining how they’ll ever end. This was the case with Paul and Barnabas. Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement over whether or not to take Mark on one of their missionary journeys (Acts 15:39). This was so sharp that they separated and went on different missions. However, it seems that, over time, this was resolved because Mark actually became “very useful” to Paul and his ministry (2 Timothy 4:11). This was a disagreement that looked like it had no end but it did come to an end. Knowing that God could sovereignly, and in his time, end a dispute can give you patience as you maintain a readiness for unity and relationship.
3. Not every disagreement is worth winning. Whether you’re right or wrong there are some disagreements that it’s ok to lose even if you are, technically, right. In 1 Corinthians 6:7 Paul says it would actually be better to suffer wrong than to take someone in your own church to court. In principle, I take this to mean that even when you might be right, there are certain “hills” that you just don’t need to die on. Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” God did this himself in the centuries that preceded the death of Christ (Romans 3:25). Surely we can show the same grace and mercy to others in many of our disagreements.
In any case, we need spiritual strength. We don’t “think” ourselves into maturity in these areas. We wage a spiritual war, with the word of God preached to our own hearts, taking every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).