Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful (Colossians 3:12-15).

Today we continue our reflection on ‘unity’ as we discuss the question ‘is it possible to have differences without discord?

In our previous reflections the point was made that there will always be differences among people because we come from different political, social and economic backgrounds, which influence the way we understand and interpret various situations. Our experiences are not the same. Our challenge is to love each other while accepting difference.

Discord can be avoided if we change our negative attitudes of bigotry, selfishness, self-interest, feelings of superiority and pride. Where these are present difference becomes a crisis and not an opportunity for growth.

It is important to remember that the truth is not limited to one set of ideas or thoughts. When we fail to recognise this we treat each other unjustly and the ‘neighbour’ becomes an enemy. If I am right you are wrong. If what I believe is the truth, then what you believe is wrong and you need to be ‘saved’. This approach to difference has given rise to all kinds evil in the name of truth.

The presence of differences need not lead to discord if we “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Discord raises its ugly head when people fail to love each other. Paul’s ideas about love can help us to overcome discord:

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).

A spirit of humility is essential for avoiding discord. Humility saves us from manipulating people and insisting on our own way. It allows us to see the other person’s point of view and to respect his or her opinion. Humility honours others and not ourselves. “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4)

Humility is a characteristic we associate with Christians. Paul advises us to make it a part of our lives: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12, NIV). The Bible associates humility with other positive characteristics such as doing good, being considerate and peaceable. Humility also implies that we should be willing to take advice and not try to have it our own way. Peter shares these thoughts in the advice he gives to the young men: “In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud   but shows favour to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5-6, NIV).

We are to have a positive humility which focuses on the essentials and not on non-essential rules, observances and regulations, that add no quality to our relationship with God and others (Colossians 2:16-22).

Forgiveness is a necessary requirement if our differences are not to lead to discord. At times we shall offend the neighbour as we pursue our values and beliefs. At times others will hurt us and cause us pain as they too pursue their interests. In these situations forgiveness fosters reconciliation and promotes unity. In any relationship forgiveness has an important role. We are to follow the example of Jesus Christ and be ready at all times to forgive if relationships are to be sustained. We should give heed to advice of the author of Ephesians: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” Ephesians 4:25-32).

How can we avoid discord when the differences relate to our conscience? How can discord be prevented when the differences surround our understanding of human sexuality, women’s role in worship, forms of worship, dress codes and the like. How can we accept differences without violating our consciences and beliefs? It calls for a measure of tolerance and respect. Can we be in fellowship with persons whose values are different from ours? Yes.

We should carefully study Paul’s instruction when he was confronted with similar questions:

As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions. One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand (Romans 14:1-14).

Finally, discord can be averted if we have open minds. Entering into conversations with closed minds does not promote unity where there are differences. We must learn to listen. We are sure that we are right and the other person is wrong. We doubt the other person’s sincerity. We must enter into conversations to understand the other person, listen to his or her story and learn about them. At the end we might still disagree but we can still see the person as our brother or sister.

If we listen with a spirit of humility we will discover that there are many ways to please God and at the same time love our brothers and sisters through our differences.

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