“Satan always hates Christian fellowship; it is his policy to keep Christians apart. Anything which can divide saints from one another he delights in.” – Charles Spurgeon
“Ten little soldier boys went out to dine. One choked his little self and then there were nine.”
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie revolves around this poem, and one by one each guest is killed off by the poem. An invitation by U.N. Owen brings each victim to a large house on a secluded island. When what appears to be an accidental death is announced to be murder, the search begins for the killer. However, there is no one on the island, but the ten. After more are murdered, a statement breathes fear into the scene, “Mr. Owen is one of us.” Eyes dart around the room, and suspicion shadows everyone’s thoughts.
Suspicion is a key element in mystery writing. It divides, and creates fear, and distrust between people.
In our churches, suspicion can easily creep in and divide. We need to recognize the situations where suspicion divides and breeds distrust among us as we strive for unity in the church as we make disciples of all nations.
Suspicion of New Believers
Kanye West. Many different thoughts come to mind when we hear his name. But what about his publicly stated conversion to Christianity and his Christian album, “Jesus is King”? When the album first came out, my Facebook page exploded with comments ranging from, “Praise the Lord,” to “We will see how long this lasts,” to “I am sure he is just wanting to make money; he is faking.” The last two comments were the major theme on my newsfeed.
What this reveals is suspicion. People were (and still are) suspicious over the conversion of Kanye West. Is there someone you personally had a hard time believing they trusted Christ as their savior? Was your inner thought, “how long is this going to last?”
Do these thoughts cultivate unity, growth, and trust in the body of Christ? Or are these thoughts ways to push people away and divide the body?
Colossians 1:9-12 instructs us on how to react to the news of new believers. First, Paul says he heard the news of the Colossians’ faith. He probably did not plant the church there, but he wrote to them when he heard of their faith in Jesus. The first thing he did was to not stop praying for them. Did he give them a theology test? Did he wait for obvious fruit? He was excited about their new faith, and he dedicated them to constant prayer.
Paul’s prayer was very specific. It was not just gratitude over their faith. He prayed for their advantage in three specific ways. First, the new believers would be filled with the knowledge of the will of God and with wisdom found in the sphere of God’s Word. Second, Paul prayed the new believers would walk worthy of the Lord. This walk for the new believers is to be seasoned with good works and a growing knowledge of Jesus Christ. Finally, Paul prayed the new believers would be filled with power and strength found in God, in order to live patiently while giving thanks to God.
These three points of Paul’s prayer is to the advantage of the Colossians. He was not waiting for them to mess up, or leave the faith, or have a bet with Timothy on how long the church would last. He heard of their faith, and began praying for their advantage of growth, knowledge, and good works for the glory of God. When was the last time we prayed this for new believers instead of betting how long their decision would last?
Suspicion of Struggling Believers
Sharing our struggles and burdens with each other is a wonderful thing to be done in the church (Galatians 6:1-2). It provides encouragement, accountability, and growth. However, have you heard someone’s struggle and your eyes widened? Was it a new member to your church who just came out of an immoral lifestyle? Was it someone who asked for prayers as they struggle with substance abuse? Was it hearing of the couple that is struggling through their marriage?
What was your first reaction to that confession of a struggle? Did you pull your kids closer? Did you text, “did you hear?” Did you begin putting space between you and that person with the only comment, “Praying for you”? Were you suspicious their struggles might rub off on you?
What do those thoughts do to the body of Christ? In I Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul gives a list of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God. The list is quite blunt and some of these things if mentioned today in our churches might cause one to blush. “And some of you were like this.” Paul gets to the point. There were people in the church that struggled and most likely continued to struggle with the things mentioned. Did he tell the Corinthians to avoid or be careful lest they catch that sin too? No. Throughout Paul’s epistles, there is a constant theme of fighting with and for each other. The goal is to see people repent, restored, and walking again with Christ together with the church. He knew everyone sinned. In fact, Paul talks bluntly about his struggles in Romans 7. Yet the primary goal is seeing people be reconciled to God and walk worthy of the Lord.
A baby doesn’t begin waltzing after the first steps. Then why do we expect any Christian to have it all together? Why are we suspicious of struggling believers? What makes their sin struggle any different than yours? Wouldn’t you want someone to fight alongside you? Suspicion of struggling believers only isolates them to suffocate in Satan’s silence. Instead of suspicion or gossiping, why not go up to that person and ask, “How can I encourage you? How can I keep you focused on Christ and his Word?”
Suspicion of Other Believers Outside our “Camp”
In The Wizard of Oz, Dorthy, Toto, Scarecrow, and Tin man are walking through the woods. Dorthy turns to the group and asks, “Do you think we will meet any wild animals?” After a quick exchange the group exclaims, “Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!”
Sometimes we say the same about other believers. We look outside our Christian circle or “camp,” and we ask what we might find there. “Calvinists, evangelicals, covenant theologians, and contemporary music, oh my!” While this may be a humorous illustration, it actually happens. When we come across believers who may not be from our background or our circles, we tend to “test” their views. We want to know what they really believe, and then try to correct them. We tend to hold those from another Christian circle in suspicion of do they really believe the Truth. Then, if they do not meet our standards, we tell others to avoid and be suspicious of certain people.
The disciples ran into a similar situation in Mark 9:38-41. John races to Jesus and says, “We met a man trying to cast out demons in your name. So we tried to stop him, because he was not apart of our group.” Jesus looks at the disciples and says, ““Don’t stop him, because there is no one who will perform a miracle in my name who can soon afterward speak evil of me. For whoever is not against us is for us.”
Have you ever looked at another believer with a different view on an issue and thought, “They do not quite know the truth like I do.” Then, you tend to avoid them or tell others about this person’s faulty views. A lot of the views we fight over do not matter in the long run. Ever heard of the dispensational and covenant theology debate? Guess what? These are both man-made systems for organizing Scripture. Both have their pros and cons. Even in regards to the church music issue. We get suspicious if a church uses drums or traditional music styles. What does that do for the unity of the body of Christ? Are we really going to divide the church because of music?
Paul does divide in Galatians 1:6-10. He states that no other Gospel should be preached. Implicitly he says to avoid it. In Romans 16:17-18, Paul warns the Romans to avoid and separate from those who cause division by their teachings which are contrary to the Gospel. We need to be suspicious when teachings in a church or Christian group goes against the Gospel and what God has revealed. We need to separate from false teaching. But, is using a drum or teaching a certain view contrary to the Gospel? II Timothy 1:13-14 charges Timothy to hold onto the doctrine that was taught. This applies to us by holding onto what is found in Scripture. Let’s not get over dogmatic about man-made books and traditions. What is most important to the church? The Gospel and the faithful teaching and preaching of the Gospel
And, how have we slandered the name of Christ due to suspicion of other believers outside “our camp”?
Leaving Behind our Suspicious Minds
In one of his songs, Elvis sings, “We can’t go on together with suspicious minds, and we can’t build our dreams on suspicious minds.”
When suspicion is apart of our Christian walk towards others there will not be unity. Our churches can go on in unity with this mindset. Most of the time we think of I Corinthians 13 as being an encouragement to couples on their wedding day. But, that is not the context of the passage. Paul is using this to describe the attitude and actions of the church when working together.
“[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” With new believers, we believe and hope for their growth and pray for their advantage. With struggling believers, bear all things and endure with them and alongside them in order to see God glorified through the disciple transformation into the image of Christ. With Christians outside our circles, we believe the best about them, and encourage them to pursue Christ. I Corinthians 13 is first for the church.
How are we doing with suspicion in our own lives and in our churches? Satan will do anything to keep Christian fellowship from happening, and that includes breeding a toxic, suspicious mindset in us and in the halls of our churches. When suspicion reigns as our mindset, we cannot go on together, and we cannot build on the purpose of the church. We need to go on together without suspicion to make disciples of all nations for the glory of God in Christ.
Who do we need to reconcile with because we have tainted our view of them because of suspicion?