We live in an increasingly polarized world. Politically and ideologically, the divisions in our society seem sharper than before.
We live in an increasingly polarized world. Politically and ideologically, the divisions in our society seem sharper than before. The disagreements are definitely less civil than I remember. Social media seems to fuel people’s aggression at those with whom they disagree. And such polarizations have affected the church as well. Not only are there theological and ideological divisions among denominations but also within denominations. Take my denomination, the Christian Reformed Church, for instance. We are increasingly divided over issues such as women in office, creation and evolution, ways to racial reconciliation, climate change and same-sex issues. Is there a way to find unity in the midst of such polarization?
I think the first step we need to take, and probably the most underrated step lately, is to have humility. When the apostle Paul pleaded with Euodia and Syntyche of the Philippian church to be “of the same mind in the Lord,” (Phil. 4:2) he was asking them to put aside their differences and restore their unity. These two women were most likely leaders of the Philippian church, as it seems unlikely that a small spat between two unheralded church members cannot be resolved by the Philippian church leaders themselves without needing Paul’s intervention. This is especially so when Paul characterized them as having contended by his side for the gospel.
But Paul built up to that appeal by first laying the foundation for unity in chapter 2:
“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:1-4 NRSV).
Willing to not win
There is no unity without humility. Humility is the first step towards unity and reconciliation because you need to be humble enough to admit that there might be some truth or some goodness in the other party’s position, and that, perhaps, there is the possibility that you might still have some mistaken notion in yours, and that peace and reconciliation for the common good is more important than you having your way. Humility is being willing to lay down your own ambition or pride. It is being willing to not win an argument. It is being willing to not “come out on top.”
To underline his point, Paul points to Jesus’ great act of humility:
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8 NRSV).
Jesus gave up his divine status in order to bring reconciliation between us and God. Are we willing to give up our privilege and power in order to bring peace and unity? Or do we proudly and stubbornly hold onto our agendas and demands?
We live in a world where humility is increasingly rare, and selfish ambition, ego, pride and self-aggrandizement are elevated as virtues among celebrities and politicians. Is it any surprise then that unity and peace are also becoming rare commodities?
For Christians, humility may be the first step, but there is an immediate second step right after: the realization that God has already united us in Christ. We should be encouraged by the fact that we are already united in Christ. We should derive comfort from the fact that we are already united in Christ’s love. We are already united in our common sharing of the Holy Spirit. If we are unwilling to recognize these basic truths of each other, despite our differences, then we will never find tangible unity.
To practice humility and to recognize God’s uniting work among us can only be good for our spiritual growth. Yet I rarely find it among many Christian pundits on the internet these days. But for the sake of the church, I hope we recover these virtues.