During a debrief of a young premed student upon finishing a one-year mission experience he stated, “I know what the most infectious disease in the world is.” We, of course, asked, “What is it?” His answer was not at all what we expected.
He was not referring to the statements of people who see the glass half empty. He was also not referring to constructive criticism meant to lead to better things as learning happens and new strategies are tried. He was referring to negative comments made by people who know some of an issue and decide to assume the rest and then choose to condemn others…others who typically are not there for the dialogue. This kind of negativity is a cancer in human relationships and effort. It is not a respecter of faith, gender, or any other thing that may divide, or unite, us. It has no purpose except to place blame for difficulties not understood, devaluing others in the process.
We have seen this happen in kingdom work in two major areas. The first area, and maybe the most shocking, is in negativity expressed toward a different culture, or people group. Often the negative comments are made by those who have sacrificed much to provide ministry to that people group. Nearly always the comments made relate to differences from one culture to another and they often reflect a lack of knowledge about, or a misunderstanding of, the culture. If a minister of the gospel has these kinds of negative feelings toward the culture they are serving, what positive outcome can there be? By God’s grace, lives are still changed.
Remember Paul’s comments in Philippians 1:15-18 (NIV)?
It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.
The fact that God breaks though in these situations is not an excuse for those of us who allow this kind of negativity to enter our minds and pass through our lips. We need to stand against it within ourselves and from others for God’s glory.
The second place we see this “disease” is between mission workers themselves. Did you know that the major cause of a kingdom worker leaving the field is conflict between them and someone else on their ministry team? Conflict between people is not unique to the body of Christ. It happens everywhere and for everyone. What makes it a cancer is when it is not dealt with in a loving, honest way. We internalize our hurt, or frustration, and it soon becomes bitterness. That bitterness is then expressed, not to the individual in question, but to others in the circle and the disease spreads. Rumors and stories grow. Finally, separation seems to be the only alternative, though it is not. It is just the only one acceptable for those involved.
Our guess is that nearly all of us have been involved in some way with the disease of negativity. What can we do?
The Bible gives us some remedies for this ailment. One is found in 1 Corinthians 12 and 13. In chapter 12 Paul tells us that we all have different things to bring to the family of God and that we should respect each other for that, even in our disagreements. He follows that up with chapter 13, the love chapter. Let’s look at a couple verses just to refresh our memories. (NIV)
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
Another passage of scripture which is similar, and also from Paul, is Philippians 4:8 (NIV)
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.
Please join us in a renewed commitment to not allow this kind of negative thought and talk be part of our life or work. We are to represent Christ, to actually be Christ to others, and these things have no place in that mission. Let us, instead, put our energies to loving each other selflessly and to thinking of each other in true, noble, pure, lovely and admirable ways!
We are praying for you. Please pray for us too!