Believing the Best
Good morning. My name is Matt Nestberg. I have the privilege of serving as a pastor here. Thank you to all those of you who are joining us online. And I would say it’s good to see you, but it’s good to see me, I guess. But I’m glad that you’re worshiping with us. Today we are going to be looking at 1 Corinthians 13:7, because as we wrap up our series today on “Jesus & Politics,” talking about loving one another is a big part of that.
Historically, Christians and churches have a reputation for disagreeing somewhat un-amicably with each other. We have a storied reputation of disagreeing with each other. In fact, almost every New Testament letter addresses Christians disagreeing with one another in the Church and how you handle that. It kind of starts, I think, probably in the Book of Acts, Acts 6-7, that area, where they began to disagree on how to care for widows. And then you have Acts 10 where you have the eating meat controversy, which was resolved in Acts 15, and so on. Then you get into Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Philemon, Timothy. They all address divisions among Christians and how we handle those things. It’s all over the New Testament. And then by the time you get to the end of the New Testament, all divisions between Christians have ceased, and we haven’t had any more since, right? No, in fact, that’s not the way at all. Churches and denominations have fought for centuries since the New Testament.
One amazing group of examples that I recently read is in a book that came out recently called “Winsome Conviction: Disagreeing Without Dividing the Church.” This group of examples involves the Mennonites, and it’s so diverse. It’s such a long list. And some of it’s funny, at least from our perspective. I wanted to share it with you to show how good we are at dividing.
The Mennonites, agree on baptism, and they agree on communion, that it’s a sacrament. But other questions about what is or is not sacramental in the church began over foot washing, exchanging holy kisses, and having love feasts, all of which resulted in church divisions. Controversies also arose over using ordained versus lay ministers and over the style of the colonial coat that a minister must wear.
A division arose over keeping written minutes in church business meetings or having written constitutions. Churches split over whether worship should take place in houses or in church buildings.
While all agreed that young men who were drafted to serve in the military must turn that down and not serve, divisions arose over whether they could do community service instead or whether they must go to prison. And new factions were created.
When it came to transportation, divisions occurred between those who used automobiles and those who used horse drawn buggies and whether if you had an automobile, it should have chrome bumpers or black bumpers. And more divisions happened.
In farming, a division arose over using tractors rather than horse teams, and if you have a tractor, whether you’re required to have steel wheels or could you have rubber wheels.
And there was a division over head coverings for women and whether or not head coverings could be bonnets or regular hats.
And then one of the earliest divisions in that community was over the practice of shunning, which essentially means they divided over the proper way to divide.
Now, we’re not Mennonites, but before we cast stones, we’re probably closer to Presbyterians or Baptist. There are more Presbyterian denominations and factions than Mennonites. And the Baptists, they’re varsity. Everybody else is junior varsity when it comes to divisions, and Baptists show us how it’s done. But you know what, after all, we’re Protestants. It has “protest” in the name. That’s who we are. And so, we protest about almost anything.
Now, this is the last week of Wisdomfest where we’ve been looking at “Jesus & Politics,” and as Allan Sherer said, all of your questions will not be answered. They will not. And I know that’s frustrating for some people. When we started to get into this series, we knew that five weeks was just simply not enough to answer every question that people have on their hearts. And so, rather than keeping things at 50,000 feet, we’ve tried to bring it down to 20,000 feet and sometimes a little lower. But knowing that it was only scratching the surface. And that will be the case today; it’s not going to wrap everything up. But I know that Peter is working on some follow-up resources and material to continue that discussion. He even told me after first service he’s working on something that he’s hoping will take place this fall. That would be a great follow-up opportunity to have these discussions.
Today as we wrap up “Jesus & Politics,” my assignment is to answer: How do we move forward together? How do we not be like the factious history that we Protestants have and not create more factions over politics, American politics? And it’s a tough thing, because the last year of our lives in America has raised the question, not how can we, but can we? Can we move forward together?
Jesus, in John 17, prays that high priestly prayer where he prayed that his people, those that come after him, would be one as he is one with the Father. And that’s a great prayer. But is he just talking about heaven, because there ain’t a lot of that on earth, it doesn’t seem sometimes, and especially over the last year.
And to be honest, as I spoke with many Christians and read many Christians, I got discouraged on this issue about us moving forward together. And I think a lot of you are with me based on the survey that Peter asked you to take. On question 5, which asks: What was the most discouraging political experience you’ve had in the last five years? About 23% of you or about 1 out of every 4 said, “The way Christians have interacted over social media.” So, at least about 1 out of 4 of you, and maybe more, are with me. I put that, too. That has been so discouraging! People who claim the same King interacting the way we have with each other.
I can’t, in addressing this, cover everything. I can’t answer every objection, and I cannot remove every stumbling block, but I am going to try to do one thing. I’m just going to try to do one thing that I hope will benefit the church, our church, because this is our church at our time in history.
And here’s the other thing, everything I say today, you already know. I bet you that anything I say today, you’re not going to go, “Oh, I didn’t think about that.” I bet everything I say, you’re going to go, “Yeah, I know that. Yeah, I know that.” But I say these things as a reminder. As Christians, we need to be reminded of the same things. And every time, as new challenges present themselves, we need to remember. Peter says that, the apostle. In 2 Peter, he said,
“I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.”
Peter is saying, I’m reminding you of things. And I would say that about us, Church. You are established in the truth that you have. And we need to be reminded. So, these are reminders. I’m going to begin by reminding you of the principle of love. I’m going to start small and then try to expand it. So, here we go. Are you ready? Okay, two people are ready. In the first service only one person was ready. Now we have two. In third service I’m going for at least three.
1 Corinthians 13 is the wedding chapter, right? It’s the marriage chapter. Here’s a question for you. How many of you either had 1 Corinthians 13 read during your wedding ceremony or you have been to a wedding ceremony where 1 Corinthians 13 was read? Yeah, it’s a lot, it’s a lot. 1 Corinthians 13 is often used as kind of a marriage, a wedding chapter because it talks so much about love. And so, people read it, and it’s kind of a wedding chapter.
I’m kidding. It’s not a wedding chapter, but it is helpful. In fact, verses 4-7 give a helpful description about what love looks like, how it looks in action in real life, how you can act or live in love towards the person you love. So, it’s got all kinds of great material in there for sure. But today, the thing that we’re looking at was one part of one verse, just one little part. “Love believes all things.” That’s the one thing, if we can get this one part.
I’m going to define it this way. I’ll say it this way. Love believes the best. Love believes the best about the object of my love. Love believes the best about them. It’s not blind belief in something that’s obviously not true. The Greek word has to do with trust and confidence. It’s optimistic about that person. Believes all things. I’ll define it this way: choosing to believe the best when I could believe the worst. That’s what “believes all things” is. It’s aligned in verse 7 with “hopes all things.” In verse 7, you have four descriptors. The outside two go together and the middle two go together — believes all things and hopes all things. That’s those optimistic belief in good, hoping for good. They go together with the object of my love. So, we’re not talking here about clear and obvious sins. My spouse is committing adultery, but I’m going to believe the best. That’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about believing the best about them, and it happens all the time in marriage. You have so many opportunities.
Let me give you an example. My wife is Katie. When Katie says something to me, she comes to me, and she says something that sounds manipulative. Now, manipulative is not a compliment. Katie is not manipulative as a person, but if she comes to me and says something that just drips in my opinion, from my perspective with manipulation, I can respond one of two ways. I can say, “Why did you say that? That was so manipulative. That was so passive aggressive. Why don’t you just talk to me like a man? Why do you have to go around and manipulate? That is terrible. I hate it when you do that.” You know where that conversation is going? I do.
Or I can say, “Hey, babe, you are not a manipulative person. I know you and that’s not your character. However, what you just said to me felt that way to me. It sounded that way to me, but that’s not you. That’s why it’s so weird. That’s not you. Can you help me?” Now, do you see the difference?
We’ve had those conversations. Occasionally I get it right. When I get it wrong, sometimes I just miss it or sometimes we’re in a bad spot, and I just want to burn her, unfortunately. I just want to be right. But in those moments that I get it right and I actually … You know what that is? It starts with a “g” and ends with “race.” It’s grace. When I actually act in grace, she’ll go, “Oh, I can see why you say that. That’s not what I meant. Here’s what I meant.” Sometimes she might go, “Actually, I was trying to manipulate you. I’m sorry.”
Either way, there’s so much grace that’s present. In the presence of grace, it’s okay to say, “I actually was sinning. I was wrong.” And in the presence of so much grace, you can go, “Oh, I can see why you would think that. Let me tell you what I really meant.” It’s so much better when we believe the best about the one we love! And then we act on it that way. It’s so much better. Grace abounds in those moments, and the relationship is built.
So, that’s an example that we have in marriage, but this is not a marriage series. This is about politics. So, let me widen the circle a little bit. Here’s the thing about the Bible. It has greater meaning and impact when we understand it in its context. So, let’s look at the context of 1 Corinthians 13.
1 Corinthians 13 follows 1 Corinthians 12. Yeah, it’s not a trick question. I know how it is in your church. They ask a question and you’re like, “I don’t know. I don’t know what the answer is. Jesus? I don’t know. It’s got to be Jesus, we’re in church.” 1 Corinthians 13 follows 1 Corinthians 12. And 1 Corinthians 12, do you know what 1 Corinthians 12 is about? 1 Corinthians 12 is about the church and the diversity of tastes and gifts and values and opinions that exist in the church. But every person is valued. Essentially, 1 Corinthians 12 makes two big points. And there’s a lot in there, but I’ll summarize it with two big points. Paul says no part of the body – he’s talking about the church, uses the human body as an example — no part of the body can say to the body, “You don’t need me.” No part. No hand can say to the body, “You don’t need hands.” No, every part is valued. And the second thing it says is, the body cannot say to any part, “We don’t need you.” That’s the two big points. And it’s talking about the church. Every person, every gift, these perspectives that you bring under the body of Christ. I’m not talking about in the world, I’m talking about us, as Christians, as believers, come in. And we don’t say, “No, this is a church of arms. We don’t need feet. This is a church of arms.” No, that’s not how it works. And you can’t come in and say, “You know what, the gifts and the perspectives that I offer don’t count, so I don’t need to be here.” No, no, no, no. Paul says the opposite.
And then he says, “Oh, by the way, love.” Because how important is that if you’re all not going to be arms or legs or heads? If you’re going to get the body to function together, there’s got to be some connecting joints. And Paul says you’ve got to love each other. Now it’s not just 1 Corinthians 12 and 13. It’s the thread that runs through the letter of 1 Corinthians. Look at 1 Corinthians chapter 1, it’s going to be on the screen. Paul is talking about the threats and fights that cause division. And he begins by talking about partisanship. 1 Corinthians 1:11, Paul says,
“I appeal to you, brothers … for it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’”
That’s partisanship. That’s aligning yourself with a party. And he says, Chloe — we don’t know who Chloe is — but Chloe’s got people and Chloe’s peeps told Paul that there are some problems in Corinth. And so, Paul says, “She told me. I heard this. You’re aligning yourself with these human representatives, and you’re separating from one another because you’re of this person.” It’s this party allegiance, loyalty above loyalty to my Christian family. That’s what partisanship is — party allegiance or loyalty above loyalty to my Christian family. And in this context, direct context, they picked parties — the Paul, Apollos, Cephas, Christ party. And that theme, that thread, weaves through the whole book all the way to 1 Corinthians 12 and then 13. Almost like the central material of 1 Corinthians. Now, let me stop there. That’s a good, general idea of 1 Corinthians. So, I don’t need to go back to that anymore. But here it is. For 2000 years of church history, we have struggled to maintain the unity of the church in the middle of partisan disagreement. This is not new. We have struggled with this for 2000 years.
So, how can we move forward together? Just one thing. Maybe you’ve heard the commercials on the radio about “just one thing.” I think it’s about conservation. The theory is, if everybody does one thing about conservation, then it will make a real difference. Here’s what I think. I think that if we can do one thing, the Church, it’ll show the world a better way. I think so. See, love is not just for the married 1 Corinthians 13 isn’t just for married people. It’s not a wedding chapter. If you want to have it in your wedding, knock yourself out. It’s a great chapter about love, okay. This is not about critiquing that. But it’s not limited to that. It’s about way more than that. Because the call to love is not just for your husband or wife; it’s for all Christians. Look at John 13 on the screen. This is what Jesus says.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
How are people going to know that we’re different from them? How are people going to know that our King is Jesus? How are people going to know that he is the one that we worship and follow? What is going to be the thing that screams, there’s a better way? If we have love for one another. John 15 says, Jesus again said,
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you … These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”
And 1 Peter 2. This is Peter writing in the context of political discussions. He talks a lot about politics and our relationship to government in this direct passage. And he says this,
“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
I love it! “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” You don’t have to love the emperor; you don’t have to love the President. You don’t have to love the Congress or the Senate. You’ve got to honor them. But you have to love each other. We have to love each other. It’s not an option for God’s people.
So, what’s the one thing? The one thing is this, what if we believed the best about other Christians with whom we disagree over political matters? I’m not just going to say to you, love other Christians. The one thing; what if we believed the best about other Christians, even when we disagree with them?
Let me be more specific. Let me try to apply this about believing the best in these disagreements. Here’s how I would .. what if we did this. In these disagreements, what if we refused to dishonor the one with whom I disagree? What if we refuse to dishonor the person even though we disagree? What if we believed the best about them? What if when they expressed a conviction or a policy thought, we didn’t think that they were sellouts of the faith? But what if we believe the best?
Do you remember last week, Peter’s four Ps? If you name them you get a 1% discount on your tithe this week. I’m just teasing. Passages, principles, policies, and priorities — remember that? Passages, principles, policies and priorities. It was great. Now passages is the Bible. Principles are convictions that are derived from the Bible. And I bet you in general, maybe not to the “T,” but I’ll bet in general we’re going to agree on the passages. Peter and other people preach the passages, and we’re here listening to God’s Word.
And we agree on, I’ll bet pretty much we would agree on the principles. In some sense, as you see churches gather as churches, the passages and principles are our tribe, how we view those things. You probably agree mostly with everyone in this room on the passages and principles. And then it gets sticky. Because then it gets political. What policies begin to flow from those principles and passages, we’re going to have a divergent view at different times. And then what priorities those things should take, we’re going to diverge at different times. There’ll be large agreement and some disagreement, even though we all started with the same passage and the same principle. And then we have different opinions. Because not every Christian arranges the priorities in the same order. And this can lead us to believe the worst about the person who doesn’t have the same priorities that I do. Right? And we’re talking about our brothers.
Let me give you an example. I mentioned before that I meet with some African-American pastors, a group of pastors. About half of us are white and half of us are black. It’s pastors, and we meet together, have breakfast once a month, and talk about race. And we have talked about everything. In 2016 we talked about politics. Remember 2016? By comparison, it seemed so peaceful. Remember, there was no controversy in 2016 by comparison. Man, those were the good ol’ days. Anyway, in 2016 the question was, can I vote for Donald Trump, and you vote for Hillary Clinton, and we’ll be okay? Can we do that? Because Donald Trump is being very open about being pro-life (at least in the context of the Republican Party) and Hillary Clinton representing the Democrat Party, not. But Hillary Clinton and the Democrat Party making a lot of pro-racial equality statements and Donald Trump not so great at that. The question is, can I vote for Trump and not be a racist? And can you vote for Clinton and not be a child killer? Or do I have to believe that about you? Because we’re both Christians. We both have the same Spirit of truth in us. Or are we going to fight?
I’m not talking about disagreeing. We disagree. That was the whole point of that conversation. We had a great conversation, as you can imagine. And at the end of it, most people in the room were like, “Yeah, we still love each other. We’re going to be together, of course. That’s not ultimate. Politics are not ultimate. We’re going to be in community for eternity.” And there were a few people, in all honesty, who were like, “I’m not there yet. I can’t get there. I want to because I know what the truth is. I know where I need to be, but my heart is going, “Ahhhhhhh!” That’s okay. That’s okay. The wrestling is good, wrestling for something better. But that was a great conversation. Can we do the same? Can we believe the best about someone else?
Let me give you a couple of examples. What about the biblical priority of caring for the poor vs. the Republican priority of limited government and not expanding government assistance for the poor. That seems to go against each other. Now, I realize that according to our survey, 70% of the people in this room are Republican. So, I start with a Republican example on purpose. Does that mean that every Republican in this room hates the poor? Because they might go, “Yes, I know we’re supposed to care for the poor, but I’m against this.” Does that necessarily mean that Republicans are violating Christ’s command to care for the vulnerable? And the answer to that is, no, that is not what that means. It is not a one-to-one direct line comparison. It’s not. It could mean that, but that’s not what that makes it mean that. It could mean the person doesn’t care for the poor, but just because somebody votes Republican does not mean that.
How about to flip the coin on the other side? How about defending the life of the vulnerable, the unborn vs. the Democrat platform that supports a mom’s right to unilaterally terminate a pregnancy? If a Christian votes Democrat, does that mean that they hate the unborn? It could mean that. They could hate the unborn, but your Christian brother doesn’t. Your Christian brother loves that, too. And then we’re in this place as Christians, what are we going to believe about them? What are you going to believe about a Christian who votes Republican? I’m talking about Christians, not the world, Christians. What are you going to believe? That they hate the poor, that they’re racists? What are you going to believe about a Democrat who’s a Christian? That they hate the unborn?
Or are we going to believe the best about our brothers and sisters and talk to one another? See, every Christian doesn’t prioritize policies in the same way. One Christian leader I listen to said,
“Everybody does not prioritize major policies in the same way. Now they definitely should care. They definitely shouldn’t add to the iniquity. But people can be faithful and have different priorities than you do. That’s a hard truth that we don’t like to accept.”
And so I would say, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 14, be convinced in your own mind. Know what you believe. Don’t live in an echo chamber. So many of us go to echo chambers to get confirmation for us. “Hey, this is what I think on this issue.” “Well, I think that, too.” “Well, we must be right.” Rather than, “This is what I think on that issue.” “That’s what you think? Have you thought about this?” Oh, that person’s an idiot because they don’t agree with me.
The story goes, in the 2020 election, John Piper — you may have heard of him, he pastored in Minnesota for years — he put a blog post out — I read it — about why he was not going to vote in the 2020 election, why his conscience wouldn’t let him do it. It was great. It was compelling. Wayne Grudem, who’s a well-known, systematic theology guy in the same circles, decided to write a rebuttal of that position and published it. It was very kind and very gracious. But before he did, he called John Piper and said, “Hey, I don’t agree with you, and I want to write a public letter responding publicly to you and here’s what I’m going to say.” And you know what Piper said? “Hey, here’s another argument that would boost your argument.” He gave him another point against himself.
Who does that? When somebody says, “I’m going to disagree with you,” who says, “Yeah, but you could also say this, because that’s true too.” No one does that. But that’s a person that’s not living in an echo chamber. That’s a person who goes, “Huh! I’m going to take seriously what you’re saying to me.” Now, as far as I know, he still didn’t vote. He didn’t change his view, his actions. But he was challenged, and he was willing to receive it. It was actually great. Both perspectives were great.
What would it look like if we all did that? What would it look like when somebody questions our viewpoint on politics? It’s not a personal threat. But we actually said, “That’s my brother! He loves me. We’re going to spend eternity together.” I’ve got news for you. Some people that voted Democrat or Libertarian or didn’t vote or voted Republican, depending on your perspective, you’re going to be with them forever. Forever.
Be fully convinced in your own mind, but do that in a way that refuses to dishonor the one with whom you disagree. Instead, believe the best. 1 Peter 3:15 says,
“Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” We love that verse. Be ready to give a defense. And then he says, “Yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
Don’t just defend yourself, do it with gentleness and respect. He says earlier in the same chapter,
“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”
When somebody reviles you on Facebook, you don’t revile back. According to that, what if the North Hills Facebook page looked like Christians who disagree but refused to revile? Who, that if somebody does get out the line and revile, what they get back is a bless. What would that look like? Can we show a better way? How about this wisdom from Proverbs.
“A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle … [and then at the end of the chapter it says] Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.”
Death and life are in your tongue and mine. We will sow life and reap it or we will sow death and reap it.
Now, I’ve got to tell you, as I’ve spoken to Christians about this issue and listened and tried to learn and see a way forward, nearly everyone responds, when I share these things — “Believing the best, loving one another” — you know how every Christian responds? Nearly every Christian says, “I completely agree with you. It’s the ____ (fill in the blank) that are the problem.” I completely agree with you. It’s the conservative Christians that are the problem. I completely agree with you; it’s the progressive Christians that are the problem. I completely agree with you; it’s those that are on the left of center, the right of center, the Democrats, the Republicans. If they would just get there, it would be great. I agree with you, but it’s them. And it doesn’t matter the political perspective, we all say the same thing. I agree; but it’s them. It kind of sounds like the Pharisee going to the temple to pray, and the tax collector coming, too. And the Pharisee saying, “God, I thank you that I’m not a Democrat. I defend the unborn. I vote for evangelicals when they run for office. I thank you so much that I’m not like that guy.” Instead of beating our chest and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
Someone asked me this question: Do you feel you share more values and have more in common with Christians who vote Democrat or non-Christians who vote Republican? The reason that question for me is because I usually vote Republican. I almost always vote Republican. So, the question is, do I, me, feel like I have more in common, more shared values, with a Christian who normally votes Democrat or with a non-Christian who normally votes Republican? And I had to think about that because I know the right answer. But I had to think about it.
This thought from Ed Stetzer resonates with me. He says,
“Our values as Christians come from a Holy Spirit-led understanding of Scripture, not a political platform. Our leader is Christ, not an elected official. Our family is the Church, not a political party. We can easily agree with this while reading a blog, but are we living the principle out in the Church and public spaces? Is our unity found in our political ideology, or in the faith that has been passed down through the centuries? Is our identity found in who we are in Christ, or is it found in who we pulled the lever for last November?”
In other words, are we political conservatives who happen to be Christians, or are we Christians who happen to be politically conservative? Are we politically progressives who happen to be Christian, or are we Christians who happen to vote Democrat? It matters a lot what order you put those in. What are we first and primarily? Who is our King, and who is our brother, and who is our sister?
It’s very difficult to live like a Christian. In these times and what we face, it’s very difficult. And in this one thing, it’s difficult to love our brothers and sisters and to believe the best about him or her, especially when so few people are doing so. It’s odd. If you can believe the best about your brother or sister when you don’t agree with them, you’ll be the oddball.
And I can’t speak to everyone else, but I can speak to us at North Hills. Can we show a better way? Can we show a better way where we have a church that varies on some viewpoints in politics, but we are one. We are pursuing believing the best. Can we show something better, can we live something better? Can we believe the best about another brother or sister even when they’re wrong? I hope that we can.
Let’s pray. Lord Jesus, I ask that you would help us to do that one thing, and continue to convict my heart and show me the areas where I don’t believe the best about my brothers and sisters. And Holy Spirit, I pray for our church at North Hills. I pray that the reviling that happens, swirls all around us over political issues, that you would strengthen, give your people resolve as we seek to not do that, but to return blessing when we are reviled, to give blessing back. It’s hard. Even as we have serious and hard conversations and disagreements, that those would be just saturated with love, with believing the best about someone else. Thank you, God. We love your people. I love your church. You died for us, you gave your life so that you could make us one in Christ. We love you. We worship you. Amen.