There’s no need to go into details, but I saw it again this week. Christians who, in an attempt to defend what they thought was right, reacted without full consideration of the impact or consequences of their actions. Out of impulsiveness and zeal, we can launch into a response that, in the end, does more harm to innocent parties than it does to those with whom we disagree. In a desire for the right argument to prevail, we too often let words fly that carry the sting of disrespect and the undertone of hatred. Like Peter swinging the sword in defense of Jesus, we are willing to hack off some ears if that’s what it takes to win the debate.
Of course, we justify it all with the fact that we are on the right side of the argument. We want to believe that somehow excuses our hurtful words or destructive reactions. After all, every battle has its necessary casualties, right? As long as we are defending truth, the occasional innocent victim of “friendly fire” is seen as unfortunate but inevitable. Being right about something has become our form of diplomatic immunity, allowing us to respond in whatever fashion we choose without concern or accountability.
But does being right ever free us from the call to be like Jesus? Does defending the truth excuse the damage we may cause – damage to others and to the witness of Christ’s Church?
Our ultimate goal, it seems to me, is not to win arguments, change policies, or prevail in elections. We are called, as the followers of Jesus, to grow in His image and reflect that image to the world around us, inviting everyone into a grace-filled, life-changing relationship with Him. If I win the argument, but fail to reflect Jesus in doing so, then I have lost the greater argument. I can defend the truth, but if my attitude drives others away from the One who is truth, my defense is empty of purpose. I can make my point, but if I hinder the gospel, then I have missed the point.
Peter was on the right side when swinging his sword, but Jesus told him to put it away. We see in Jesus, and we remember in this Lenten season, that His kingdom does not come the way earthly kingdoms do. It does not overcome by force, it does not prevail by money, position, titles, or debates. This kingdom comes by way of the cross, the path of sacrificial love. And Jesus didn’t call us to follow him by winning arguments. He called us to be like him, to follow by denying ourselves and picking up the cross of love.
In the variety of conflicts, issues, and debates that constantly surround us, it is never enough to simply be on the right side of the argument. We have a greater call and higher purpose: to be a reflection of Jesus, even to those with whom we may disagree. As we embrace that higher call, we come to realize that the only “casualties of war,” so to speak, should be ourselves as we willingly lay down our lives in love and service to all those for whom Jesus died.