Subtitle: “Decide which hills are worth dying on, and which are not.” Recently, I had the privilege and opportunity to speak to a group of pastors on the subject of “What I Wish (as a Pastor) I Had Known, Understood, Believed and Lived 30 years Ago.” I narrowed my list down to “12 Lessons” (out of 50 that I began with). I thought I would share with you one or two of these each week for the next few weeks. Even if you are not a pastor, I think you will find that most of the principles that I will be sharing are applicable to all of life…your personal life, family life and ministry.

Let me also say, these are very specific to me as a person – my personality style, my background, my natural “bents” that I have in how I tend to live and make decisions. I realize that for others who have very different personalities and backgrounds, these may not apply in the same way.

This week, I’d like to share with you the first lesson in my list of twelve (these are not in order of importance).

Number 1: Decide which hills are worth dying on, and which are not.

The longer I live, the fewer “hills” I find that are truly worth dying on. You will save yourself a great deal of unnecessary pain by learning early on which battles are worth fighting and which are not.

Early on in my ministry years, I tended to see everything (and when I say “everything,” I mean everything!) in very black and white terms – even the smallest of issues, matters of opinion and personal convictions. I unnecessarily alienated many people over the years and hurt relationships and friendships because I was determined to show that I was “right!” I so deeply regret my immaturity and hard-headedness, mixed with zeal-without-wisdom (although, of course, I thought I had wisdom).

One of the biggest problems that we typically have early on in ministry (or life) is that “we don’t know what we don’t know.” We think that our perspective is “thorough and complete,” when in fact there are gaping holes in our understanding of both Scripture and people.

This is why it is so important to learn from those that have “been there, done that.” To learn from those that have demonstrated “wisdom, maturity and godliness” in life and ministry. To learn from those that you respect because you have watched their life and ministry over the years and have seen the outcome “of their way of life” and therefore should “imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7 ESV).

This is the essence of the book of Proverbs – “My son, learn from me…”, or it could be translated, “Young man / woman, learn and listen from those with greater wisdom and understanding…you will save yourself a great deal of unnecessary pain if you do so.”

If you’ve ever heard the statement, “He won the battle but lost the war,” or “He won the argument, but lost a friend,” you know what I’m talking about. This is especially true when raising teenagers. You may win the argument “hands down” and make your case “rock solid,” but you just alienated the son or daughter that you love so deeply. If you don’t determine which hills (issues) are worth dying on and which ones are not, you will harm your relationship with your teenage son or daughter and push them away from the very faith that you want them to embrace.

When you do have a discussion or disagreement, always permeate it with “humility and civility.” This principle also applies in marriage. A corollary to this principle would be “major on the majors, and minor on the minors.” Satan loves nothing more than to get Christians to “major on minors, and minor on majors.” If Satan can get Christians to argue, fuss and fight about “peripheral issues in life and ministry,” he has successfully taken our valuable time and attention away from the bigger, most important issues in life – the glory of God and a lost and dying world that needs the message of salvation.

Having said that, let me say what I don’t mean: I don’t mean that we simply throw doctrine to the wind and just “love everybody.” Sound doctrine is at the heart of the Christian faith! There are issues that are central to our Christian faith (major doctrines) that we never compromise, and there are issues that are peripheral to our Christian faith that we need to allow for “wiggle room.” We must also remember what the Apostle Paul said about the issue of personal convictions in Romans 14…

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:1-4 ESV)

Listen to these wise words from Proverbs…

“It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but a fool is quick to quarrel.” (Proverbs 20:3)

“Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.” (Proverbs 10:12)

“A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.” (Proverbs 15:18)

“Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.” (Proverbs 17:1)

Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.” (Proverbs 17:14)

Whoever loves a quarrel loves sin; whoever builds a high gate invites destruction.” (Proverbs 17:19)

I shared this in last week’s post as well, but I feel this is too important to leave out of this topic of choosing your battles wisely. Carl F. H. Henry was once asked, what causes you the most concern today as you view the Body of Christ?

“I suppose the needless competition and conflict, the lack of coordination and cooperation-which are really reflections of sin, compromise, and self-seeking at the expense of the whole body. These blunt the cutting edge of the Church as the regenerate Body of Christ in the world. I think evangelicals tend to institutionalize their differences swiftly, and then those differences contribute to conflict in the evangelical community. I am not interested in the least common denominator of evangelical commitment, but I do think that we need some sense of our commonalities and of what we ought to be doing together. We must not simply emphasize our differences.”

It breaks my heart when I see churches, denominations, Christian ministries and missions organizations who are so “territorial” and “unwilling to work with fellow believers.” I’m convinced the world looks on and says, “Why should I follow your God when you can’t even get along, when you divide over every little difference, when your unwilling to forgive those that have hurt you and when you can’t even seem to love one another?”

Francis Schaefer said…

“Biblical orthodoxy without compassion is surely the ugliest thing in the world.”

He also went on to say…

“Through the centuries men have displayed many different symbols to show that they are Christians. They have worn marks in the lapels of their coats, hung chains about their necks, even had special haircuts.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of this, if one feels it is his calling.  But there is a much better sign-a mark that has not been thought up just as a matter of expediency for use on some special occasion or in some specific era.  It is a universal mark that is to last through all the ages of the church till Jesus comes back. What is that mark? Loveand the unity it attests to-is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with that mark may the world know that we are indeed Christians. (from The Mark of a Christian by Francis Schaeffer)

“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.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love…. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:7-8, 20 ESV)

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV)

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8 ESV)

“And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…” (Ephesians 5:2 ESV)