Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Conflict happens (Part 2)

Conflict happens! I think I mentioned that earlier. It still does.

Take the the circumcision-uncircumcision debate in the early church. The record of this debate is found in Acts 15.

Peter has taken the good news right into a Gentile’s house in chapter 10. He’s explained himself to the church in chapter 11. Paul and Barnabas have preached the same good news on Cyprus, in Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. They return to their home church in Antioch with awesome stories of God’s work among the non-Jews.

Then some n’er do wells come and spoil the party. “Unless you are circumcised,” they shout, “you cannot be saved.”

Their words brought them into sharp dispute with Paul and Barnabas. So the missionary duo and some others from the church were appointed to go to Jerusalem and confer with the apostles and elders in the church there.

When they arrived in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church. Paul and Barnabas reported everything God had done through them. Then some believers of the party of the Pharisees spoke up. “The Gentiles must be circumcised,” they insisted. [They must be] required to obey the law of Moses.” (v. 5)

So the apostles and elders met to consider this issue. Peter spoke. Paul and Barnabas spoke. The three of them showed through story after story that God had chosen the Gentiles while uncircumcised. If God had seen no need for the ritual, who were they to require it? They rested their case.

Then James spoke. “It is my judgment,” he said, “that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” (v. 19-20)

And that’s what the church did. They wrote a letter to the Gentile believers. When the church read the gracious words, they were encouraged. The fight was over. Peace reigned.

Let’s talk about that letter for a moment. In it is, in my opinion, one of the greatest statements in the whole New Testament. This phrase shows us the way to resolving disagreements, at least among brothers and sisters in Christ. The phrase is smack dab in the middle of the elders’ letter in verse 28.

Here’s what they wrote: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements…” (v. 28)

“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”

When we’re in the midst of conflict, great or small, God is with us. He is there to guide us toward reconciliation. That’s what he desires. If we will go to him, he will show us the way out.

The leaders in Jerusalem First Church knew that. They talked together, but listened to more than just the voices of men. They listened to the voice of God behind what Peter and Paul and Barnabas said. That’s how they came to agreement so quickly. It’s why their solution was so readily welcomed by the church.

When our church meets together, whether it’s on a Sunday morning for worship or on a weeknight for a committee meeting or after evening worship for a business meeting, we pray before we do anything. We bring God into our conversations that way. We bring him into our worship times. We include him in our business.

Jesus is called the Prince of Peace in the Scriptures. That’s not just a made up name. That’s who he is. He is the ultimate peacemaker. As such, he is able to do amazing things when his children make him a part of every interaction they have with each other.

Let’s read some Jesus’ words about dealing with conflict.

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony 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, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.

“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:15-20, NIV)

I think it’s a big deal, don’t you, that Jesus himself is involved in our conflicts? From the very beginning when we go to our brother privately to the very end when the church gets involved, Jesus is there, working in each believer’s heart to bring peace.

“…where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them,” is his promise for those in difficulty. So when you find yourself at odds with a brother, pray. Pray and talk with him. Bring the Holy Spirit into your problem and see what miracle he performs.

When all is said and done and peace has returned, you may find yourself saying, along with the brother you love, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to…” God will fill in the blank with something you could not have imagined when the argument broke out.

May the peace of God reign in your hearts today. (Can't wait to share more on this topic with you next week.

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