Did you know that 42,000 people were once killed because they couldn’t say this word (shibboleth) correctly? (Judges 12:1-7) While that may be interesting trivia, what in the world does it have to do with anything? Well, it seems to me that in our age, we have our own little shibboleths.
We met a fellow not long ago at a farm supply store. He came over to us and started asking us questions about our religion. The questions usually follow a typical pattern: are you Amish? Mennonite? Quaker? Mormon? Catholic? Apostolic? Dutch? We informed him that we were Christians and, while he was intrigued, he seemed a bit skeptical. He informed us that he and his family were homeschoolers who had just moved to the area and were looking for “like-minded fellowship.” He asked to meet us at our home sometime, insisting that he wanted to know “where we stood on the Bible.”
We invited him on a particular night and he and his wife arrived, without their children. Though we offered food and drink, he said he didn’t know if he or his family could share a meal with us since he didn’t know where we stood on the Bible. He proceeded to pull out a list of over thirty questions related to various doctrinal issues, and began to grill me on my “Biblical correctness.” While I hate this kind of thing with a passion, I decided to try, for the sake of a possible relationship, to answer his questions and hopefully get a chance to learn more about his family. One by one his questions were fired with a honed skill that I could tell had been developed over many events just like this one. His wife sat quietly, not saying anything and not looking at anything in particular except, perhaps, a general section of the floor.
In between being interrogated I managed to learn that “because he has such a passion for the Word” he had effectively cut his family off from virtually every relationship they had. “Apostasy is running rampant in the Church today, and we won’t stand for it!” he declared. His wife still didn’t look up or change her expression. I made it to about question seven (after having been given a temporary pass on a couple because the verses I used to defend my beliefs were unfamiliar to him, and he needed a chance to study up to refute them), before I inevitably answered “sibboleth” instead of the “shibboleth” he was looking for. Immediately he stood up, slammed his “official” Bible closed with an air of authority and motioned to his wife that it was time to leave. “I’m sorry this didn’t work out,” he declared. “I was really hoping we agreed on the Bible!”
On the way out the door his wife turned and thanked us for our hospitality, and commented, “I’ve never seen anyone make it all the way to number seven before! And, thank you for not throwing us out. I can’t remember the last time we visited somewhere and the hosts did not ask us to leave.” I’m sure this man hasn’t reached 42,000 yet, but he’s working on it.
There are little things we look for in others to see if they are one of us, to see if they “pass the grade” so to speak. Things like doctrinal beliefs, lifestyle similarities, or personal preferences. Quite often, we completely assassinate relationships with people who say sibboleth on certain matters, instead of pronouncing the ideas as we do.
I’m certainly not calling for a relativistic ecumenism, or an abandonment of Biblical doctrine. By no means! It just seems odd that we have become so good at using the “Sword” to kill relationships with God’s people.
Eph. 4:2-7 says, “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith,one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
We certainly need to protect our families from false doctrine and worldliness. But, as Spirit-filled believers we need not be afraid. We stand on the Word, and we live lives of holiness before our Creator. We don’t compromise and we don’t back down when the world makes its demands. But, our hearts should be filled with love and compassion for people, especially those within the household of faith. Paul tells us how we are to represent our views to those who disagree with us. “Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” (Phil. 3:15)
We aren’t to quarrel with people. “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Tim. 2:23-26)
What kind of an example are we setting for our children when we interact with those who disagree with us? Are we teaching them through our example how to be gentle, meek and gracious? Or, are they learning how to get hot under the collar? We are to give an answer for the hope that lies within us, but we are to do it with meekness and fear. (1 Pet. 3:15) “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Prov. 15:1) Our goal should always be peace and fellowship with the saints. “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Rom. 14:19) “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Rom. 12:18) “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” (Phil. 2:2)
It is possible that even as you are reading this, you are getting worked up. If so, I would suggest that you may have an angry and quarrelsome spirit, and you need to seek the Lord to help you become more Christ-like. When you meet someone with whom you disagree, your emotion should be love, not anger. “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.” (Rom. 14:1)
I want my children to remember me as a man who loved God, and loved God’s people. (1 John 1:9-11) I don’t want them to remember me as a thin-skinned, paranoid, Bible-thumping weirdo who put relationships to death the moment someone said “sibboleth.” I’m praying for grace in this area and perhaps you should too. We need to somehow learn to be gracious absolutists.
“Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Rom. 15:2, 5-7)
Israel Wayne is an author and conference speaker and the Director of Family Renewal. He is the author of the books, Questions God Asks and Questions Jesus Asks. He is the Site Editor for ChristianWorldview.net.