The Art of Getting Along
By Jill Briscoe
Harmony is concord or agreement. Another word for harmony is "peace"–and making peace is often very hard work. For example, it took a few hundred diplomats to work out a peace agreement in May 1983 to end the conflict between Israel and Lebanon that began in 1982. Then it took thousands of soldiers to enforce and maintain the peace. The same principle is true for believers: achieving harmony is hard, but being a peacekeeper once a truce is declared is even harder. It’s a spiritual art.
The testimony of a community of believers often hangs on the ability of its members to live in harmony and to keep the peace once it is made. Paul appeals to leaders and followers alike to be sensitive to the Spirit’s directives and to become ambassadors for unity.
The Spirit’s most difficult work in the church is to promote harmony among its members. The art of "keeping the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace," in Ephesians 4:3, requires believers who are characterized by humility, persistence, and a passion for the body of Christ. We give God honor when we pursue harmony.
Sadly, other human beings are our biggest obstacles when it comes to practicing the spiritual art of harmony. Sometimes it seems as though the church would be a great place if we could get rid of the people! But how do we do church with people? How do we get everyone to love or even tolerate one another? How do we bring the Baptist and the Episcopalian together? The Methodist and the Presbyterian? The Lutheran and the Catholic? And how do we achieve harmony beyond the wall of the church in all creeds, classes, and groupings of people? Between Jews and Arabs, for instance? Between men and women? African-Americans and Caucasians? How do we respect each other’s traditions and cultures without reacting defensively and adopting a segregating mind-set instead of an inclusionary one?
Paul knew of only two ways: to ground all relationships in the one relationship all believers have with the Lord Jesus Christ, and to rely on the power of the one Spirit who lives in all believers to maintain unity.
If our fellowships are going to be places to which unbelievers want to come, they must know that we would like to have them there–even if they are not like us. Many churches consciously try to be seeker-friendly by incorporating contemporary music and drama into worship and using different ways to attract young adults. This is a good thing. We just need to remember that there are also middle-aged seekers and old seekers who would be helped to feel comfortable by hearing a familiar hymn from their childhood perhaps. Rather than allowing music to become a source of serious grumbling and discord in churches (which it often is), we should think in terms of what makes visitors feel welcome–no matter what their age or cultural background is.
Paul writes, "Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life" (Phil. 2:14-16). In other words, Paul urges, "Don’t whine." Christians can and do whine, and if you are a whiner, don’t bother trying to share the word of life with unbelievers. They won’t listen to you.
I like the way J. B. Phillips translates this verse: "Do all you have to do without grumbling or arguing." God became frustrated with the children of Israel in the wilderness mainly because they grumbled and argued with Him for forty years. Maybe you’ve experienced a church full of grumblers and arguers, and you are frustrated too.
Discord within the body of Christ is a key reason why many people don’t go to church. As a follower of Christ, does the fact that our lack of unity drives people away from church bother you? It should. It bothered Paul, and he always tried to be part of the solution.
Unity Isn’t Unison
Unity is not unison. What encourages people here may not encourage people there. But there is a common unity that allows for diversity in the church body. Paul talked much about unity in diversity. "Everyone doesn’t need to do things exactly as I do," Paul reminds us. "There is one Spirit but many ways of doing things" (see 1 Cor. 12:4-11; Eph. 4:3-13). The unity we have has to do with the things we believe. It takes the Spirit to help us allow for diversity–for welcoming and embracing other people who do things a bit differently. Oh, to delight in diversity–but a diversity that is unified. Ask God to give you a generous spirit to affirm people who do things a little differently from the way you’ve always done them before.
"Never act from motives of rivalry or personal vanity," Paul advises, "but in humility think more of each other than you do of yourselves. None of you should think only of his own affairs, but should learn to see things from other people’s point of view" (Phil. 2:3-4, Phillips). Harmony happens when everyone works at putting other people first. It is essential for Christian community and for defending the gospel.
Am I a "Peace at Any Price" Person?
Unity and harmony among believers were foremost on Paul’s mind, in his prayers, and on his agenda. Paul worked just as hard at the spiritual art of bringing such unity and harmony into the church as he did at preaching the gospel where it had not yet been heard. Are unity and harmony foremost on our minds? Or do we run a mile at the first hint of trouble? Are we "peace at any price" persons, or are we belligerent fighters who take pride in causing rifts and divisions ourselves? He encountered complaints and arguments throughout the fledgling churches he ministered to. And not just between Jew and Gentile. There were fights between Gentile and Gentile. Even in his beloved Philippian church, Paul discovered trouble between disciple and disciple, leading woman and leading woman (see Phil. 4:2).
I would love to ask Paul, "How do you play peacemaker and counselor, and how do you help mend fractured relationships?" He would tell us it’s an art–a spiritual art. It takes practice to become a skilled peacemaker, and it takes the Spirit of unity and harmony, working though His people, to mend fences and to turn enemies into friends. But the Spirit doesn’t do it on His own. He chooses to work through the very people who can cause trouble themselves. Transformed people. Christian people. Ordinary people such as you and me.
Even people who are "peace at any price" people realize that peace in the end is "made" and doesn’t just happen on its own, and they can choose to surrender to being part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
So how are we to get a long with people in the church? Ephesians 4:3 commands us to "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." It starts by developing the spiritual art of harmony–in other words, by becoming a peacemaker. It’s being able to promote love and unity through the bond of peace for the sake of the Body of Christ and Christ Himself. What are you doing in the middle of your disagreements, conflicts, and intolerances to promote harmony? Ask God to give you a generous spirit to affirm and love people who do things a little differently than you do–that’s what the spiritual art of harmony is all about!