Have you ever noticed that within the Christian community (and even outside of it) there is a wide range of differing stances that people have on topics such appearance, music, education, dancing, drinking, dating, etc.? Each person and family has their own reasons behind the standards they have. These standards which are often influenced by regional culture, are not based merely on whim, but come from a conviction based off of scripture or the teaching of a pastor, spiritual teacher, or mentor.
With that being said, have you also ever noticed (very sadly!) how much division and judgement there can sometimes be over these standards? People disagree, churches split, friendships end, and families are divided; the culprit? Differing standards.
Or is that the culprit?
Could the culprit in actual fact be, the inability to look past one’s self and accept and love someone else despite disagreeing on standards? Could the culprit be not realizing that God has each individual at a different place? Could the culprit be in some cases pride?
I can’t answer those questions for anyone else, but, I can say that for me personally, the answer to those questions would have to be a “yes”.
I’d like to share a little bit about my background with this topic of convictions and standards. When I was a very young girl, our family had some pretty strict standards; appearance and music were two of the biggest. Daddy had a “uniform” that he wanted all of us to wear in public that consisted of khaki pants and blue polos for the boys, and skirts and polos for the girls. At home, we wore split skirts or culottes, and jeans were only allowed in the occasion of handling the horses or gardening. T-shirts for the girls were mostly off limits except for working or cleaning. Music was limited to classical and hymns.
These standards on their own, really aren’t necessarily bad, but the attitude that we had accompanying them definitely was. Anyone, who didn’t carry the same standards as us for dress, obviously were not as enlightened as we, or else were just in rebellion to something that (in our minds) was such a black and white topic. With pride, and self righteousness, the amount of judgement, I can now see looking back, that I carried in my heart towards others at such a young age, amazes me. At the age of 14 though, our world was turned upside down when our home was destroyed in a tornado; taking with it, my sisters and I’s carefully curated wardrobe (interesting enough, the boys still had clothes, as did mommy and daddy). That tornado proved to be a turning point for our family and the start of the process that God used to change my parent’s hearts and convict all of us of the burdens called legalism and judgement that we had been carrying around for so many years. There are too many additional details to go into here, but suffice it to say that since that time, instead of having a list of rules, we have been trying to find a balance in these areas; which quite frankly takes a lot more vigilance.
The emphasis I want to make here though is not so much about the change in our convictions, and therefore our standards, but rather the change in our hearts.
By God’s grace, my attitude towards other people has gone from judgmental and self-righteous, to an attitude of love and acceptance of people no matter their personal convictions and standards. I now understand that you can love and respect someone as a person, and not agree with them. I now hold the opinion that if someone else isn’t convicted in the same way as I, then who am I to judge where God has them?
Each of us, are at a different spot spiritually based on a number of different factors. I don’t believe God spiritually grows any two people exactly alike and at the same pace. Sometimes, God calls different people to different standards and ways of living life. Because I now wear jeans on an almost daily basis, doesn’t mean that I am now “right” and my friends who still wear skirts on a regular basis are “wrong” or vice versa. Because when it comes to certain areas of standards, the only “right” and “wrong” is whether each person follows the convictions God has placed on their heart.
I know what it’s like to be on both sides of the “standards coin”. I know what it’s like to judge and to be judged; neither side is a good place to be, but what I’ve found, is that the “judger” really is causing more harm to themselves, then they are the person they are judging; over time, it can lead to pride, being calloused towards others, and even bitterness. In addition, I believe that carrying an attitude of judgement can blind and distract us from our real purpose in life.
We are all on this journey called life together, and it would be a shame to spend the bulk of that journey squabbling over standards, while failing to focus on and fulfill the two greatest commandments.
“And he said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like unto it is this, Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments the whole law hangeth, and the prophets.” Matthew 22: 37-39 (ASV)
When standards differ, what if, we resisted the urge to try and prove who is right and who is wrong, and instead just accepted the fact that God has each of us at a different place? What great things would we as Christians be able to accomplish together, if we set aside our judgements and differences, and instead focused on our commonalities: Jesus, and the commands He stated as being the two greatest? What if, we were to seize the opportunity that our differences create, to strengthen and encourage one another in each individual’s pursuit of God?
What if, we were to choose love, above all else?
And that concludes the sum of my thoughts for this week…. er, for this post; hopefully not my thoughts for the rest of the week. 😉