Paul Prather

How to remain true to Christian teachings in a combative world

Paul Prather writes, “Joy isn’t necessarily the same as happiness. Joy is deeper. It doesn’t depend on our outward circumstances. It comes from within.”
Paul Prather writes, “Joy isn’t necessarily the same as happiness. Joy is deeper. It doesn’t depend on our outward circumstances. It comes from within.” Getty Images

Recently I spoke to a group in the fellowship hall at a Lexington church.

I’d been asked to address how those of us who call ourselves Christians might best remain true to our faith’s teachings while living in our intensely polarized society.

In my speech, I suggested it might be good for us to begin by taking to heart the words of Jesus and the apostles.

Afterward, several folks asked me to convert that talk into a column, so they could clip it, keep it as a reminder and pass copies on to friends.

Kind folks from Christ Church Cathedral, this is for you.

Here are 10 suggestions, taken from the New Testament, for behaving as a Christian ideally should:

Bite our tongues. Eph. 4:29: “Let no rotten word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

The idea is that we should never dismiss or condemn people, even when we disagree with them. Instead we’re to encourage others. That means no biting criticisms. That means no slander. That means no gossip, especially if it’s juicy.

Turn the other cheek. 1 Peter 3:8-9: “All of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.”

We’re not allowed to be underhanded or vengeful, even toward those who’ve wronged us. To appropriate a line from a former first lady, when they go low, we go high.

Lead a quiet life. 1 Thess. 4:11-12: “And make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.”

Get up and go to your job every day. Mind your own business. Talk less. Listen more.

Avoid judging. Luke 6:37: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.”

We never know the underlying causes that have brought our fellow pilgrims to any misfortune they’re in—and we don’t know that we’d handle their situation any better if faced with their problems.

Practice agape love. 1 John 4:7-8: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

Agape is the Greek word for love the New Testament uses almost exclusively. By definition, agape doesn’t depend on what mood we’re in or how we feel about the person we’re dealing with. Agape is a decision, not an emotion; we choose to perform the actions love requires, regardless.

Pursue peace. Rom. 12:18: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with everyone.”

When the crowd is disgusted and indignant, we’re to remain calm and attempt to find a path toward a reasonable solution. Christians shouldn’t be saber rattlers.

Be joyful despite ourselves. John 15:11: “These things I have spoken to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”

Joy isn’t necessarily the same as happiness. Joy is deeper. It doesn’t depend on our outward circumstances. It comes from within. Like agape, it’s a choice.

Quit fretting. Luke 12:29: “And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying.”

We’re to trust the Lord will carry us through our problems great and small. I once heard someone define worry as assuming responsibility God never meant you to have.

Remain humble. 1 Peter 5:5: “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

One of the great lessons we ever learn is how self-deceived, stupid and dependent we are. Each of us hangs by a thread. Once we’ve seen ourselves clearly, we quit looking down on our neighbors. We discover compassion toward the weak and deluded, for we’re weak and deluded, too.

Be generous to the least of these. Matt. 25:34-36, 40: “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me. … To the extent you did it to one of these brothers or sisters of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.’”

This one’s self-explanatory. Go thou and do likewise.

Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at