Be Slow to Judge and Quick to Make Peace: What Pastors Can Learn from Doubting Thomas

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19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
— James 1:19–20 —

In the Bible Thomas gets a bad rap. In the face of seeing Christ’s death on the cross and not seeing Christ’s resurrection, the apostle, who previously volunteered to die with Christ (John 11:16), is unable to believe. For a whole week this beloved follower of Christ is kept in the dark, and not until Jesus returns to the Upper Room does he believe. But when Thomas does believe—he offers one of the most illuminating testimonies of Christ’s identity: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

There are many lessons we can draw from Thomas’s delayed faith, but one of the most important is that faith is based on evidence. The Christian faith is not a leap in the dark; it is based on the evidential history that Jesus rose from the grave, walked on the earth for forty days, so that he could teach his disciples about the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:1–8; Acts 1:1–8). In that time, Jesus revealed himself to 500 disciples at one time, before his ascended to heaven in the presence of his followers (Acts 1:9–11). In short, God granted to those who saw the resurrected Christ.

With respect to Thomas’s doubt, his request for the physical body does not deny his faith; it ensures his faith is placed rightly in the resurrected Christ. Even today, faith is dependent on the eye-witness account of Christ’s physical resurrection (1 John 1:1–3). Thomas did not have that yet, and thus his delayed faith testifies to the need for eye-witness testimony.

At the same time, there’s second lesson to be learned from Thomas and his doubt. It relates to faith and evidence too, but it is not about believing the gospel but believing other believers. Until Jesus showed himself to Thomas, there was a division in the household of faith. Ironically, this is a division caused by Christ himself, as he revealed himself to his disciples at different times. But it is a division nonetheless, and one Jesus remedied when he returned to the Upper Room a week later.

Truth Takes Time to Perceive

Today, believers do not find themselves in the same position as the original disciples. For us, the gospel has come fully formed. Christ is exalted to God’s right hand of God, the Spirit has been poured out, and the New Testament has been finished. Hence, the transitional nature (which led to the temporary division between Thomas and the disciples) is not repeated today.

What is repeated are events in the life of the church where one member or one group come to see or understand something that others have not (yet) understood. This knowledge and belief may be a theological truth, a decision for ministry, or a situation of church discipline.

In such cases, believers may come to understand a doctrine or a situation at different times. Like runners traversing the same course, they may have different opinions on the race—not because they are on different paths but because they are looking at different sections of the course. In such instances, painful divisions can occur and tear apart the body of Christ. But unlike the division which Christ intended in the days following his resurrection, this division is not intended by Christ. Or is it?

Could it be that God plans temporary divisions in the church that cause his people to learn how to listen to one another? Could it be that various churches or individuals have different degrees of theological understanding or practical wisdom on various issues? And could it be that God wants his people not only to be at peace, but to learn how to make peace with one another?

Indeed, if we listen to the Bible, we see that God’s children are not just at peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and one another (Eph. 4:1–3), we are to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9). And pastors are to be the ones who lead in making peace in the church. Continue reading

Nine Traits of a Peacemaker

peaceIn Matthew 5:9 Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” A few verses later, Jesus instructs worshipers to leave their gifts at the altar in order to make peace with those who have something against them (5:21-26) and just a few verses later he tells us we should love our enemies and pray for those persecute us, that we might be like our father in heaven who provides the righteous and the unrighteous with sunshine and rain (5:43-45).

In short, God’s children are those who make peace. But what does that mean? James 3:13-18 gives a very clear answer. Read with me:

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

In this illuminating passage, James, who is writing to a church fractured with partiality, gives nine traits of the peacemaker. Beginning with verse 17, and couched in the language of heavenly wisdom, he gives us nine traits of a peacemaker. Continue reading

Gossip More: Because Gossiping Less Never Works

[This article was originally featured in our hometown newspaper, The Seymour Tribune].

Gossip.  It is a common disease—easily contracted, hard to cure.  Yet, the surprising solution is not to gossip less.  Just the opposite: You need to gossip more.

Let me explain.

You were made to gossip.  God gave you speech and a heart curiously intrigued by other people.  How else could talk radio, talk shows, and talking heads be so popular?  They scratch a human itch—the desire to be in the know and to talk with Gnostic wisdom about someone or something.

There is a kind of pleasure that comes from hearing something known to a select few.  We love secrets, and gossip is the pipeline for passing them, though every carbon copy erodes the secret.  Therefore, we want more.

Now, in steps the religious professional who says: The Bible condemns idle talk and God hates gossip.  Therefore, stop!  His premises are right.  God does condemn idle talk and hates any speech that tears down another.  However, knowing the law never changed anyone.

No, pernicious gossip that plagues the human race does not need to reduced or discontinued; it needs to be converted!  It needs a new object, a new secret to keep and then divulge.

Enter the gospel of grace. Nothing is more hidden and revealing than God.  No person is more intriguing than Jesus.  No secret is more fascinating than the news that sinners condemned to death have been declared innocent, set free, and rewarded because another has volunteered to take their place on the electric chair.

Indeed, evangelism is simply gossip about Jesus.  This is what happened in Samaria (John 4).  Jesus, a man of marriageable age, conversed with the town’s loosest woman at the local watering hole.  Talk about gossip!  This conversation surely evoked a few whispers.  Even more, when the woman raced off to tell her town about the man Jesus Christ, she participated in God-ordained gossip.

The result was amazing.  The whole curious town lined up to hear Jesus.  And many were saved.

Here is the point:  If you want to stop gossiping about things that will pollute your mind and shrink your soul, start gossiping about Jesus and the scandalous grace that he offers.  This will mean that you need to know him, but that is what he loves to share with all those who come curious about his secrets.

This week, don’t gossip less.  Gossip more about the only one worthy of such gossip!