A sad but true fact—all of us know of too many stories of churches that became so embroiled in conflict and disagreement that things happened that would be downright silly if they were not true—
- In one church, a leadership disagreement got so heated that a deacon’s wife whacked one of the elders with her purse! I’m not sure, but I think elder-whacking is wrong for most people. I hope I’m not giving anyone any ideas.
- After one church spent a long time in prayer and preparation, one congregation decided to begin using a praise team in worship. Not everyone was happy with the elder’s decision (if you can imagine that). On the first Sunday for the praise team to lead worship, someone went through and cut every mike cord with a pair of scissors. I hope I’m not giving anyone any ideas.
- An elder of a storefront startup church in our area became so angry after a meeting that he stormed out, and returned a short time later with a gun. He shot the preacher dead and then burned down the building. Boy, I really hope I’m not giving anyone any ideas!
We sometimes talk about restoring the NT church. We may have done a better job of that than we realize— every church we know about in the New Testament had unity problems! In fact, the reason that we know about churches like Corinth and Galatians is because they had these problems. Paul wrote his letters to help these churches solve their problems. So if there were any “problemless” churches in the first century, we wouldn’t know about them!
I heard one preacher suggest that Philippi was a church that had no real church problems. What book was he reading? Sure, Paul talks about joy a lot in Philippians, but he never really accuses them of having any! Three of the four things Paul tells the church to do in Philippians 2:2 are about having the same mind. Why? They weren’t of one mind. Hey Paul tells Syzygus, the loyal yokefellow, to step between two warring sisters and help settle them down. What are the chances that ol' Syzygus got whacked with a purse?
Philippi had the same church problem that my church has—it was full of people that want to have their own way. I look back at some of the rough spots that we have had here, and I have to admit that I was not always on the side of the angels. Sometimes I wanted my own way too much. After all, I was more consistent in my exegesis and smarter, obviously, because I knew how to say “exegesis.” What I wasn’t smart enough to see is that God was giving me a chance to do the Christ thing and lay down myself as a sacrifice. If I would have done that, I would have been walked on. But I might have also given the Spirit the space to do His holy work on the hearts of others.
I’m beginning to understand that the church will not have unity until we desire it more than we want to be right and have our own way. How do we do that? Paul gets us a long way down the road in what he says in Philippians 2:3-11 (NLT)
3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. 5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,to the glory of God the Father.