This two-month focus on the church uses key verses that express unity and solidarity . . .
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:19–21)
Sometimes people in the church attempt to create the atmosphere of spirituality or super-niceness by avoiding problems rather than dealing with them. Issues get swept them under the carpet out of a strong aversion against confrontation or fear of rejection. They might tell themselves to “mind my own business” rather than doing the unpleasant.
In the beginning of the church, the first recorded problem was Greek Christians protesting that their widows were not in on the daily care given to the Hebrew Christians. The twelve apostles held a general meeting and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
That pleased everyone and they found the seven men. At that, “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6:1–7)
Dealing with strife is difficult, but what stirs it up in the first place? In that case, it seemed to be a reaction to unfair treatment. The book of Proverbs offers several verses that add a few more motivations. None of them are very noble . . .
“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” (Proverbs 10:12) “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” (Proverbs 15:18) “A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.” (Proverbs 16:28) “A greedy man stirs up strife, but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.” (Proverbs 28:25) “A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression.” (Proverbs 29:22)
From this, I can see the following issues: hate, inability to deal with anger, dishonesty, gossip, greed, failure to trust God, and vengefulness, but I can think of others. I’ve sometimes felt like picking a fight over being insulted, misunderstood, neglected (like those widows), or simply not heard or respected. It is almost always about the sins of the other guy (as if I have none of my own).
God is gracious. He knows that I can be the cause of the problem, but not always. He gives instruction for how to handle situations like that . . .
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15–17)
This is called “church discipline” and it is not a popular topic or a common practice in most churches today. However, if ignored, that lump under the carpet can grow large and begin tripping people before a congregation does anything. Sadly, some never do and the injured people as well as those causing the problem find no resolution. This creates coldness that lasts for years, or even causes church splits.
If someone sins against me, I’m to talk to that person. If I don’t, I’m more likely to talk to someone else and soon create rifts by wanting people to take up my side of the problem.
Otherwise, I might talk to God in my frustration, but He passes the ball back to me. I’m to go to the one who offended me and get it settled, not letting the sun go down on any anger. And if I cannot do that, then I’m supposed to get over it. Forgiveness isn’t easy, but infighting has ruined relationships and destroyed the power and testimony of many congregations.
At this moment, I cannot think of anyone on my “this person hurt me” list, but people being people, it can and will happen. If I’m the cause of it, I need to deal with my sin. If someone else sins, I need grace to respond the right way, and not create any lumps under the rug.