When Conflicts Arise
Memory Text: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27, 28, NKJV).
The Spirit of true unity is present when conflicts arise in a Christian body, and they are handled with grace, humility, true Christian love, and the spiritual maturity to seek to “win a heart” instead of the argument, and to be surrendered enough to accept on occasion the decision of a group if it is not as you might have wanted it to be. One of the most difficult tasks of any Christian community is to maintain unity when differences of opinion arise on matters pertaining to the identity and mission of the church. These differences can lead to devastating consequences. On the other hand, to handle the issue correctly can have incredibly positive results. Mission is only ever really advanced when the Spirit is working to produce God’s desired result. Any method or approach, idea, whatever, done in the spirit of division could never “further the mission.” The mission is to lead people to Christ, and we do that, most of all, by seeking to be Christlike ourselves. He humbled himself and united with the Human Race as the Head of Humanity, the Second Adam, to redeem the human race. The results of that death are to create in us a totally new experience.
We as a church body face such issues today, and it is imperative to remember that mission is best advanced when the body is filled with the Holy Spirit and love, and commitment to Christ more than to any issue, whatever it may be. The Bible is clear that we should consider the other as more important than ourselves, and the ultimate unity of the Body as more important that our own wishes. When the Body as a corporate whole prays earnestly for God to lead and guide, and then a decision is reached, we must believe that God heard the prayer of the many who were praying, and accept the decision as God ordained. I once read in a book “To sell out the Kingdom of Heaven for power is the devil’s bargain. This is the pact that the narcissist makes.” That is why spiritual servant leadership and humility in character are so vitally needed. True humility does not seek its own way, but what is the best for the advancement of God’s work, done in the spirit and love that God desires to see in a people who are united in Christ. One could think they are right on an issue, and totally wrong in their spirit, motive, method, timing, and purposes. Truth does not need a spirit of divisiveness, conflict, and rebellion. The truth, real truth, is that God is in control, and that if we as a body “humble ourselves, pray, seek His face, and flee from our wicked ways”, God will hear from Heaven, heal us, and totally unite us in love.
A concern arose in the early church regarding ministering to widows, as there was a concern about favoritism as to who was receiving the most aid. The Early church decided how to best utilize the gifts and talents in the early church. Luke uses the same word, “ministry” or “service” (diakonia), to refer to both the ministry of the apostles in preaching the Word (Acts 6:4) and to the ministry of the deacons in distributing food (Acts 6:1). The 7 men who were to serve as Deacons were to do so in a somewhat different capacity than that of the apostles, but both were vital to the ministry and service of the early church. We are all one in Christ Jesus, in terms of our access to Him, and to the grace of salvation. However, there is in God’s plan diversity in the distribution of gifts for the various tasks and ministries needed to complete His Great Commission. I have gifts in discernment, teaching, preaching, medical missionary work, evangelism, but I have not been gifted with the evangelistic gifts of Mark Finley, or the leadership gifts of Ted Wilson. Everyone in the body of Christ has been given gifts, a calling to the ministry related to that gift, all following and consistent with the revealed will of God in His Word. My difference in calling and giftedness does not make me less in the eyes of God, for we have all sinned, and come short of the glory of God, and we all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, our lives testifying to our faith and decisions.
Peter’s vision was a classic representation of the great truth of the universal redemptive act, the legal justification, of the human race completed by Christ. We are not to consider any man “common or unclean.” The law of common was an unbiblical, Jewish concept in which defilement could come to someone by association with something that was not “acceptable” to Jewish thinking, such as association with Samaritans. But Jesus came to redeem all mankind, and thus we read a great truth in 2 Corinthians 5:15 And that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again. 2 Corinthians 5:16 Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh. What does it mean that we should not see anyone “after the flesh?” It means that God looks at people, not as they are, but as they might be, transformed by His grace, and we are to do the same. To look at people as candidates for heaven and eternity, and to choose to do everything to influence them to see the beauty of the matchless charms of Christ, and the wonderful experience of walking with Him in love. If we act selfishly, self-willed, rebelliously, choosing power over love, we rob others, and ourselves, of showing the peace that comes by learning of Christ, Who is “meek and lowly in heart.” Jesus came to demonstrate true agape, or self-sacrificing, self-emptying, unselfish love for others, and the work of Christ will be complete in us when we have heaven in our hearts, or to say “It is not I, but Christ, who lives in me.”
The Jerusalem Council is a wonderful example of how to deal with theological or other debates in the body of Christ. They prayed, they studied, they formed a decision, and the body of Christ, trusting that God was leading, submitted to that decision in faith and love. God has organized His body with spiritual leadership and layers of leadership and responsibility. I have responsibility for flocks, and I also am under authority to my own leaders, who are under the authority of those above them. You cannot be a good leader, until you are a good follower. Ellen White, in a situation in which she knew it was not God’s will, nevertheless went to Australia, trusting that “all things work together for good.” In the case where a large body has prayed and earnestly sought God’s will, in some cases more than once, once a decision is made, discussion should cease, if we really trust in God, and that He is never leading us other than where it is best for us to be led. It took some level of trust from the church at Antioch to send representatives to Jerusalem in order to seek the best solution to their conflict. However, after hours of discussion between the apostles and elders, James, the brother of Jesus, who appears to be the leader of the assembly, made a judgment about what should be done (Acts 15:13–20). Clearly the council decided that Gentiles do not need to become Jewish converts, obeying all aspects of the ceremonial laws, including circumcision, in order to become Christians. The early church received the decision with faith, joy, humility, love, and courage.
Acts 15:30–35 tells the response of the believers in Antioch to what was decided in Jerusalem: “The people . . . were glad for its encouraging message” (Acts 15:31, NIV). We see here in Acts a powerful example of how the early church, through submission to the Word of God, along with a mind-set of love, unity, and trust, could under the guidance of the Holy Spirit avert what could have been a major crisis of unity.
Ellen G. White, “A Seeker for Truth,” pp. 131–142; “Jew and Gentile,” pp. 188–200, in The Acts of the Apostles. “The council which decided this case was composed of apostles and teachers who had been prominent in raising up the Jewish and Gentile Christian churches, with chosen delegates from various places. Elders from Jerusalem and deputies from Antioch were present, and the most influential churches were represented. The council moved in accordance with the dictates of enlightened judgment, and with the dignity of a church established by the divine will. As a result of their deliberations they all saw that God Himself had answered the question at issue by bestowing upon the Gentiles the Holy Ghost; and they realized that it was their part to follow the guidance of the Spirit. “The entire body of Christians was not called to vote upon the question. The ‘apostles and elders,’ men of influence and judgment, framed and issued the decree, which was thereupon generally accepted by the Christian churches. Not all, however, were pleased with the decision; there was a faction of ambitious and self-confident brethren who disagreed with it. These men assumed to engage in the work on their own responsibility. They indulged in much murmuring and faultfinding, proposing new plans and seeking to pull down the work of the men whom God had ordained to teach the gospel message. From the first the church has had such obstacles to meet and ever will have till the close of time.”—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 196, 197.
The work of the church ultimately is to “give glory” to God in all things. We are to see ourselves as “nothing” apart from Christ, (Galatians 6:3), and realize that the issues in the Great Controversy and its resolution is to be paramount to us all. The Great Commission is something we are all a part of, regardless of our position, gifts, talents, education, opportunities. The finest Christian I ever met was an Indonesian man by the name of Budimartano Adinata, who I met while conducting a series of 1888 meetings on eastern Java. He quietly worked to translate writings into Indonesian, and seemed to me to be the humblest of men, and very spiritual. He was killed by a gang of Muslims, but his witness lives on in my heart. He was a lover of Christ, respectful of human authority, while walking in the dignity he had as a believer. We should all seek to remember to not even “put on the appearance of evil”, in our emotions, actions, tone of voice, body language, motives, etc. We are to reveal Christ, not our own self will, self-desires, power, authority, etc. None of us lives unto ourselves. We all have an impact on each other’s minds, and I am earnestly praying that we as a Church unite in the great work, love each other in the unity in diversity God desires, and find in the work the harmony and peace God promises.
If we have individual conflicts with people, we are to go to them, privately, and if possible, seek peace and reconciliation. If we have conflict in marriage, we are to submit one to another in love, and the man is to be willing to love his wife, as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it. If we have conflict in the Body of Christ, we are to seek to maintain unity, and to humbly submit to authority. That does not mean one has to compromise in his/her own life if one feels differently on a moral issue, but in the case of the work of the Church, we can and should trust that God is in control. Yes, we know that the church will “appear about to fall” and there will be many apostasies from the truth. Yet, we all remain, ourselves, the “chief of sinners” in need of a Savior, and we are not to take the attitude of the Pharisee. “Thank God I am not like other men.” Even if we are right on an issue, we are still called primarily to find a way to the heart. God is trying to reach the “heart” of the SDA church. My earnest prayer is that we will listen to Him, and open the door to our Creator, Savior, Best Friend, Lover, and Guide into all truth. We need to be sanctified in character, more than intellectually “right.” I would not want to be “right” and all wrong in the spiritual area of my life. May God bless us all, that we seek true unity, which is unity with the heart of God.
One of the major signs of the end of the world is in Revelation 11. "And the nations were angry." Satan does not care how you get to being angry, just so you develop that character trait instead of the love God desires so much for us to have. When the character of Christ is perfectly reproduced in His people, then the end shall come. Choose this day, not only who you will serve, but what character you wish to emulate. We have a very obvious choice in the last days. Love or Power. Choose wisely, for time and eternity.