I don’t think it’s news to anyone that our culture has become increasingly divisive and polarized in the past few years. Some of you may have seen this article, and this accompanying graphic, that describes how the gap between the median voters in both political parties here in the United States has grown wider over the past several years.
The article spoke of the political implications of the divide, but that divide has had a much greater impact. The divide has impacted us on a national level, causing civil discourse to be substituted with distrust, accusation, “cancelling,” riots, and violence. It has also affected many of us on a deeply personal level, breaking relationships, impacting friendships, families, churches, and what I would like to submit to you in this post, our mission of the gospel here in this world.
In the midst of the age that we find ourselves in, I think we all need to be reminded of the words that Paul wrote to the church in Colossians 4:2-6:
Colossians 4:2–6 (ESV)
2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. 3 At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— 4 that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. 5 Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. 6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Notice Paul’s challenge to the church, first he asks for prayer for opportunity, for a “door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ.” He prays for clarity, to speak the way that he ought. Then he challenges them to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time.” The “outsiders” that Paul spoke of were those that didn’t believe the message of Jesus Christ, who had a worldview that was opposed to our own. In the midst of disagreement and differing perspectives, the church was instructed to live wisely in relationship, and to not let opportunities that God may bring their way to slip by them.
The life of wisdom that Paul challenges us to is demonstrated in our interactions and in our speech with those that are outside our circle of faith. In contrast to the tone of this world, he tells us that our speech should be gracious. We are to speak as recipients and representatives of the lavish grace that God has shown us. It is to be seasoned with salt—tasteful and winsome and considerate to those we are speaking to. It is to be personal. He tells us that wise living requires us to “know how to answer each person” when they question us. That kind of response requires thoughtful consideration of the other and where they are coming from, it speaks to crossing the kind of divides we see happening in our culture today.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to be people of conviction. To hold fast to the truth and to let it inform our ethics, our perspectives, our worldview, and even our politics. As we walk as people of conviction, I would like to submit this for your consideration: When we let our politics rise to the place where we fail to walk in wisdom with those who disagree with us, when we fail to be gracious and tasteful, when we don’t consider how to respond to each person uniquely and individually, and instead of showing grace in our speech, we spread more of the polarized and divisive language of our age, we fail in the mission given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ and we fail to make the most of the time before us. I would suspect that the life of wisdom isn’t found on either of the hilltops represented on the graph shown above, but rather somewhere in the valley between as we seek to represent the grace of Jesus Christ with wisdom that is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)” If only our friends and neighbors, represented on both sides of that graph, could see something of the grace of our Lord Jesus in the way that we speak in a divided world.
A Coming Opportunity
I’d like to take a minute and just get really practical about this, giving an example that I think will be both illustrative and instructive. This coming June 19th is our newest National Holiday, called “Juneteenth.” Mary Elliott, a curator for The National Museum of African American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian, gives us this helpful definition:
“Juneteenth is a significant date in American history and the African American experience. The name is a play on the date of June 19th, 1865. On that day, the Union Army made its way into Galveston, TX under the leadership of General Gordon Granger, and he announced to the people of Texas that all enslaved African Americans were free.”
To put it another way, it’s the celebration of the announcement of the good news of freedom from slavery finally reaching those who still lived under its oppression. Sadly, that didn’t completely end slavery or racism in our country, but it did mark a significant milestone in our journey to see one of our greatest national sins brought to an end. While I’m not naive to the way that attempts to eradicate racism in the past couple of years have suffered from the same polarization that seems endemic to our society, I have been surprised as I’ve heard a few negative reactions about celebrating Juneteenth as a new holiday. I want to challenge those negative reactions. If we, as Christians, can’t step out from all of the divisive rhetoric of the day and celebrate something as pure, and Christian, as the release of slaves from captivity and oppression, we’ve lost our way.
I’d like to encourage us to something greater. To live with wisdom, to speak graciously, to speak to those who are outside of our camp as individuals, as people, taking their thoughts and feelings into consideration. I want to be that kind of person. Here are a few thoughts to that end:
- Juneteenth, and other celebrations around emancipation, have been celebrated by those victimized by slavery since 1866. Even though we may not have done so in the past, the point is that we probably should have. It celebrates the end of a terrible injustice and sin.
- Often celebrations around emancipation were opposed by the majority white population, restricting the use of public parks for that purpose, so churches were often the location for the festivities—and I think that’s great. I don’t know that I’ll do anything specifically to celebrate Juneteenth this year (even though beef brisket is a traditional meal for it), but I rejoice that our nation is regularly remembering the evil of slavery and celebrating it being brought to an end.
- The name Juneteenth sounds strange, almost foreign to me, but it was the name that the freed slaves chose to give to their celebrations. As such, I can joyfully embrace the name to honor those who suffered under oppression and injustice.
- Lastly, it’s a holiday that regularly commemorates something that is a perfect illustration of the gospel. Perhaps God will use Juneteenth to open up doors to the word as people remember the message of the good news of freedom finally reaching those who were still under its oppression.
I still believe God is at work in this world, and that He is still in the business of opening doors for the good news of our deliverance to be spoken to those who need to hear it. I would suspect that our neighbors have the same weariness around the polarization and rage of our day, and my prayer is that the people we come into contact with each day would see something more beautiful than all of that—That they would see and taste something of the grace of God that we’ve been given to drink of so deeply and so freely.