By Scott Shepherd
Worship And Music Specialist, Tennessee Baptist Mission Board
No, these aren’t hallway conversation predictions for the Southern Baptist Convention. Rather, they’re the types of questions I’m asked at home every day — at the dinner table, during morning coffee chats, car drives and a never-ending volley of text messages and Facebook Messenger replies.
The same discussions that dominate our national discourse (and, at times, fuel our Southern Baptist debates) have slipped into the Shepherd household.
And here’s the hard part: Sometimes members of my family come to drastically different conclusions. It’s challenging enough when I disagree with folks in a church or denominational setting, but how am I supposed to walk through these issues with the ones I love most?
I think the apostle Paul has a perfect answer:“Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” — Ephesians 4:1-3
These reminders from Paul are certainly appropriate for my family, but perhaps they’re equally as fitting for our Southern Baptist family as we approach our momentous gathering at Music City Center. So, let’s unpack Paul’s words a bit.
Family members recall the gospel. One little word (the word “therefore”) grounds this passage in all Paul has shared previously in his letter: We’ve been chosen as children of God; we’re redeemed and forgiven; we were dead in our sins, but now we’re alive in Christ Jesus; we are fellow citizens with God’s people, and our future is secure.
Striving toward unity with one’s family doesn’t mean we abandon these truths; it means we rest secure in and recall them often — even as we discuss and debate secondary and tertiary topics.
Family members “walk worthy.” Jesus Christ has changed us. Therefore, our lives ought to reflect this transformation. That’s why Paul urges us to “walk worthy of the calling (we) have received.”
Walking worthy validates to our families (and others) that our theological positions aren’t merely theoretical, but, rather, they impact the way we live. In any family context, nothing will undermine a theological position faster than a life that poorly reflects supposed belief in a theological tenet. As a dad, I better ensure the beliefs I profess from my mouth are observable in my every day conduct.
Family members strive for unity. Haughtily presenting any viewpoint is easy, but nurturing relationships during a dispute requires real effort. Too often, my first inclination is to do whatever it takes to “win,” so I constantly remind myself that if by winning the debate I lose the relationship, I’ve lost in the long run.
As my family discusses issues and works through our differences — most of which are not salvific issues — we are wise to follow Paul’s encouragement to give our “best” effort to preserve unity.
Family members demonstrate humility. “Consider others better than yourselves … look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3). Or, if Paul’s description of humility doesn’t persuade you, consider Jesus, who “gave away his rights” (Phil. 2:5-11) to serve others. When I embody this type of humble disposition to my family, I guard myself against the temptation to arrogantly and angrily defend my viewpoint.
Family members are gentle. Though I don’t always feel gentle when a family member offers a viewpoint that diverges from my own, I remind myself that “a gentle answer turns away wrath, while a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:13). After all, disagreements don’t diminish the need for gentleness. The more potentially divisive the debate, the greater the need for tenderness.
Far too often, the disagreements themselves aren’t the primary cause of broken relationships. Rather, it’s the harsh and cutting words, the vitriol and lack of Christian demeanor resulting from the disagreements that spoil long-term relationships.
Family members are patient. Unified families can’t have “short-fused” members. Instead, we’re to be, quite literally, “long-tempered.” God Himself is described, often in the Scriptures, as “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.”
When my kids, or my spouse, or anyone else observes me during a dispute, will they be able to use the same words to describe me?
Family members “put up” with one another. Yes, “bear with” is probably a more precise translation, but when you have four kids, “put up with” just sounds more accurate!
The question isn’t whether a family member will fail to abide by all this passage exhorts. Rather, will the rest of the family “bear with” that member when they lose their cool, grow frustrated, and make hurtful comments?
Families love one another. We have the desire to preserve our unity because our relationships are grounded in love. Because I love and treasure my family, my relationships with them are more important to me than proving I’m right and winning an argument.
Even when we disagree and share our opinions, we are reminded “above all else, [to] put on love” (Col. 3:14). Because I love my family, I desire to use even the difficult conversations, discussions, and debates to intensify our unity as co-followers of Jesus Christ.
Shepherd family (and Southern Baptist family), our communities, our state, and our world is watching us — observing our behavior and taking their cues from how we interact with one another.
So, whether we’re at Walmart or on Facebook, whether we’re sitting at the table with our family or at the Southern Baptist Convention, let’s “make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit” as we “live worthy of the calling we have received.” B&R