How to Win the War of Us vs. Them

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August 15, 2022

We’ve all seen it. Maybe you have the t-shirt or the hoodie.

Detroit vs. Everybody

A Detroiter named Tommey Walker started the clothing brand back in 2012.[1] At the time, the city was beginning to go through a renaissance. Still, the only story capturing national news was the scandals and corruption surrounding then-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Tommey was frustrated that the dominant narrative being told was that Detroit was a cautionary tale, a once great city now derelict, dangerous, defunct, and destined for complete irrelevance.

But Tommey and so many in our region saw a more complex story. There were glimmers of hope, progress, and change. He wanted to remind people of who they were and who they could be.

So, the slogan became a symbol for the knocked-down-but-not-out, overcoming, persevering, against-all-odds attitude and mindset he felt. Ten years later, the brand has exploded. Today, “vs. everybody” has gear for… EVERYBODY, which really bothers people in Detroit. So many people in our city took such personal ownership of the idea that seeing some other town, team, or tribe wearing their version of the brand made them angry.

What is it about the US vs. THEM mentality that resonates so deeply with people? Why are we so quick to identify who is with us and against us?

The Christian story reminds us that the instant humanity fell into rebellion against God’s way, division and disharmony became natural parts of our world. Our rebellion distorted the nature of God’s design and introduced what was unnatural, aka evil, into the equation. Now, it’s natural for the world to be divided against itself. It’s natural to put all our allegiances on pedestals. It’s natural to showcase all our differences. It’s natural to build a culture that exasperates and glorifies our individuality so that we are lifted up, and others are pushed down. Ever since our first parents in the garden, humanity is still clambering, crawling, and clawing all over each other to get to the top. The created are still attempting to replace the Creator.

This is exactly the nature of the problem that the Apostle Paul addressed to the church (the group of Christ-followers) in Corinth in the 1st century. And Paul wants these Christians to know that what is natural in the fallen world is unnatural in the kingdom of God.

But, in the Corinthian church, like in every church, it’s so easy to slide right back into the natural way of the world. And when we do, the world will not see Christ. It will see itself — nothing more and nothing less — and the light of Christ will be hidden from them! So, Paul writes to answer a critical question for them,

How can we experience unity despite our differences?

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” — 1 Corinthians 1:10(ESV)

Paul is careful how he begins his challenge. He doesn’t give them a command. He makes an appeal[2], a passionate encouragement to his brothers and sisters in Christ. He uses loving, familial, and relational language to bring up his concerns. He doesn’t jump down their throat. He doesn’t berate them or belittle them. When you disagree with someone, how do you speak? How do you sound? Paul speaks truth in love in the name of their mutual Lord Jesus Christ!

And instead of splitting apart based on their own affiliations and allegiances, in these verses, Paul is pleading with them to be united in the same mind and the same judgment. He is telling them to all take the same side. And this is going to hit close to home, but Paul is intentionally using their own “political language” to make the point.[3] He’s saying you support the same side… the same party.

Ultimately, Paul is telling them that as Christian believers who are called together in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, they all share in the same grace and fellowship that was given to them by Jesus. (1 Corinthians 1:4–9) And if you are under HIS name, then following Him means imitating the same self-giving, sacrificial love to “the others” (the “them”), even at a cost to yourself. That is the Lord’s way. He’s NOT calling them to uniformity in every detail of doctrine — that’s not what the Scripture is saying to us — he is calling them into a noncompetitive attitude that sets aside all hint of power play.[4]

Because there is only one Christ, God’s people are not divided! Because there is only one Christ, our allegiances and loyalties do not need to be at war with one another. There is only one Lord worthy of our praise. There is only one name that will cause every knee to bow. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:5–6) There is no competition. There is no other team.

The Christian story makes it painstakingly obvious that when we set up kingdoms in competition with God’s kingdom, destruction and death are always the end. There’s only one king, and there’s only one kingdom that rules and reigns in a way that leads to life. But, it’s not an earthly kingdom. It’s a heavenly one. Jesus came to show us that kingdom… how it works, how it’s led, how to be a part of it.

There is a very real US vs. THEM war going on, but not in this church. And while God’s kingdom is very much at war against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12), God’s kingdom has already secured the victory… the end has already been written!

So, here we are, in between two worlds, surrounded by division. How can we experience unity despite our differences? Turn to the one and only Christ. When you look into the faces of the people around you who are in Christ, there is no division because Christ is not divided!