Monkeys in the trees

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There has been a lot of talk about the freedom we have as Americans in the wake of Sept. 11. In a widely circulated Romanian newspaper editorial, the author credits freedom with bringing together a nation of people with diverse opinions, backgrounds and cultures. Indeed, we have experienced a welling and moving sense of community.

Freedom from a tyrannical, oppressive or controlling government is a precious thing. Being able to say or print what we want, practice the religion we choose or share the same rights no matter our race are incredible freedoms. We have the choice to use those freedoms responsibly or selfishly. We can abuse them, or—as many have done in the wake of the attacks—we can use them to work towards building our community, giving unselfishly and helping others.

This idea of using our freedom to build community resonates with me as a Christian. If we can experience this kind of community because we are free politically, how much more can we experience community because we are free spiritually?

In Christ, we share a community that plunges deeper and wider than a local or national community, because the freedom we share goes beyond freedom from tyranny and oppression. As followers of Jesus, we share the most important freedom of all—freedom from sin.

What does this mean? It means that at the very core of who I am, Jesus resides. It means that, as I abide in him, the Kingdom of God expands in me, healing my life and spilling over into the world around me. It means the voices of sin—pride, lust, selfishness, anger, anxiety and so much more—are “mere monkeys in the trees,” as a good friend says. Their chatter and noise, however loud and distracting, do not define me anymore. I am re-made, perfect by Jesus’ presence. He defines me now.

This freedom from sin, like the freedom we have as citizens of the U.S., must be used responsibly. The temptation of political freedom is to misuse it. We face the same temptation with spiritual freedom. Sin has been removed from “my inner being” but it is still at work in the “members of my body” (Rom. 7:22-23). We can still be pulled by the power of sin. Those monkeys in the trees can end up on our backs.

So what do we do with our freedom?

Paul tells us that the “only thing that counts” in regards to our freedom “is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6). He goes on to exhort the followers of Jesus, “Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal. 5:13-14). “Make every effort,” he says elsewhere, “to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).

This admonition to love and live in unity is imperative. As in any community, believers come to the table with a variety of opinions on how to live our lives and go about God’s work. In other words, we disagree. We differ on everything from how to worship in our local church or run a national ministry to how we as Christians should respond to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

So, what do we do when we disagree? As followers of Jesus we are called to live in unity and love even when we disagree.

Disagreements in themselves are not sin. In face, many times they are healthy. They are evidence of heartfelt struggles to understand God’s will and purpose for our lives and his work. But if we allow disagreements to lead to fights, quarrels, hate, anger, pride or broken relationships, they’ve become sin. We need to keep monkeys like that in the trees. As Rolando Mireles says, we need to keep our disagreements “resolvable under the basic principles in Scripture. “Jesus is our center, and we must abide in him. We must live responsibly with our freedom.

A few years ago, MBs adopted a simple one-page statement, “Agreeing an disagreeing in love: Commitments for Christians in times of disagreements.” Basically, this statement—based on Scripture—says that we accept conflict as a normal part of our lives, affirm that God walks with us and commit to prayer. We go to each other in a spirit of humility, quick to listen and understand and slow to judge. We must be willing to negotiate and, if needed, be open to mediation. We must also trust in the community—turning the decision over to others if we can’t reach an agreement or reconcile together. And we believe in the solidarity of the body of Christ.

Paul says our love for each other must be sincere, that we must be devoted to one another in brotherly love, and to live, as much as it is up to us, in peace with everyone (Rom. 12:9-18). He goes on to ask God, “who gives endurance and encouragement,” to give a “spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:5-6).

That is the reason we seek unity—that he might be glorified.

Regardless of how you believe worship should be done, a ministry should be run or how we should respond to the Sept. 11 attacks, as Christians we are called to express our faith in love and live in unity. We are called to glorify God.

This doesn’t mean we can’t disagree—in fact, we may never agree on some things. But it does mean we choose to keep the monkeys in the trees. We keep our disagreements “resolvable under the basic principles of Scripture.” We choose to live as disciples of Jesus. We choose not to sin in our disagreements.

If we listen to the voices of the monkeys, their chattering will drown out the voice of God. When this happens, our community begins to fray and shatter, and our witness to a hurting and confused world is blemished. Jesus told us that it is by our love that the world knows we are his disciples (John 13:35). The world needs to see that love. That love is our witness.

Jesus is at our center. He has freed us from sin and invited us to union with him and each other. We are free now to be an expression of Jesus in the world around us. Keep the monkeys where they belong—in the trees.

Carmen Andres served as Christian Leader editor from 1998-2003.


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