The Overarching, Unifying Factor in the Community of Faith - Part 2

Series: My Preaching Bucket List

June 24, 2018
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

Last Sunday we discovered conflict has been part of church life from the very beginning.

Not long after the church was born there was a tough business meeting on the issue of whether Gentiles could be saved apart from keeping the OT law. It included heated and passionate debate. Tempers probably flared.

And not long after that, Paul and Barnabas got into it over whether the disciple named John Mark should go with them on their missionary journeys. Their disagreement was so sharp, they parted ways.

And then sometime after that, Paul confronted the apostle Peter to his face over his hypocrisy of trying to please those Christians who leaned towards the OT law.

Those were just a few examples. 

We tend to romanticize the early church, and it’s leaders, seeing them as flawless. But, again, we discovered things weren’t perfect, and conflict existed then as now.

That’s kind of hard, isn’t? It’s like when you discover your parents are people just like you. 

But if we study those conflicts, we realize that in every case, ultimately, they worked through it, staying unified and focused.

That business meeting ended with the whole church agreeing not to burden Gentiles with keeping the OT law. Paul and Barnabas and John Mark eventually reconciled, so much so that Paul said John Mark was useful to him for ministry. Peter accepted Paul’s rebuke, referring to him as a “beloved brother” in his letters.

Now that’s where then and now differ. Conflict within the community of faith these days doesn’t end up that way for the most part.

Recently on Twitter folks were asked to share what issues their churches had fought over. The responses poured in. On his blog, Thom Rainer shared some of the best (or worst depending on how you look at it):

  1. Argument over the appropriate length of the worship pastor’s beard (I think I saw a verse in Scripture that indicated it is to be no more than 1.5 inches longer than the pastor’s beard.).
  2. Fight over whether or not to build a children’s playground or to use the land for a cemetery (I’m dying to know the resolution of this one.).
  3. A deacon accusing another deacon of sending an anonymous letter, and deciding to settle the matter in the parking lot (The church could have sold tickets to this event and raised a lot of money.).
  4. A church dispute of whether or not to install restroom stall dividers in the women’s restroom (I’m calling unfair on this one. The men should have their stall dividers too.).
  5. A church argument and vote to decide if a clock in the worship center should be removed (I think this one is a timely argument.).
  6. A 45-minute heated argument over the type of filing cabinet to purchase: black or brown; 2, 3, or 4 drawers (This one is an official cabinet meeting of the church leadership.).
  7. A fight over which picture of Jesus to put in the foyer (I just want to know who took the pictures.).
  8. A petition to have all church staff clean shaven (No church planters are allowed.).
  9. A dispute over whether the worship leader should have his shoes on during the service (I vote for shoes, shirts, and pants.).
  10. A big church argument over the discovery that the church budget was off $0.10. Someone finally gave a dime to settle the issue (I have to admit this issue is ten times more important than the church missing a penny.).
  11. A dispute in the church because the Lord’s Supper had cran/grape juice instead of grape juice (Of course it should be grape juice. It’s right there in Hezekiah 4:11.).
  12. Business meeting arguments about whether the church should purchase a weed eater or not. It took two business meetings to resolve (Wow. This fight was really whacky.).
  13. Arguments over what type of green beans the church should serve (I could have resolved this conflict quickly: none.).
  14. Two different churches reported fights over the type of coffee. In one of the churches, they moved from Folgers to a stronger Starbucks brand. In the other church, they simply moved to a stronger blend. Members left the church in the latter example (Perhaps they started a new church: The Right Blend Fellowship.).
  15. Major conflict when the youth borrowed a crockpot that had not been used for years (I bet it was a bunch of crocky old adults.).
  16. An argument on whether the church should allow deviled eggs at the church meal (Only if it’s balanced with angel food cake for dessert).
  17. An argument over who has the authority to buy postage stamps for the church (The members were licking their wounds over this issue.).
  18. A disagreement over using the term “potluck” instead of “pot blessing” (I get it! The concept of luck contradicts the theology of a sovereign God. This issue is very serious. Good luck trying to resolve it. ).
  19. A church member was chastised because she brought vanilla syrup to the coffee server. It looked too much like liquor. (Beth Moore confessed she was the culprit who brought the syrup. Don’t you know, Beth, we Baptists cannot have vanilla syrup at anytime? Chocolate is fine though.).
  20. An argument in church over who has access to the copy machine (I think a calendar should be made where every church member has at least five minutes access to the copy machine each year. You can have a business meeting to vote on each five-minute increment.).
  21. Some church members left the church because one church member hid the vacuum cleaner from them. It resulted in a major fight and split (Thus the Second Electrolux Church was born.).
  22. An argument over whether to have gluten-free communion bread or not (I thought gluteny was a sin.).

It’s a shame the church is known more for fighting than sharing the good news of the gospel.

It’s not really a matter of avoiding conflict. You can to a degree, but as long as we are all a bunch of fallen people living in a fallen world, we will have troubles. That’s a given. But how did they manage to handle conflict so well back then? What allowed them to experience it but be the better for it?

There was an overarching, unifying factor that kept them focused and together. 

Today, we’re going to find out what that was.

Look with me at what Peter wrote in his first letter (remember, Peter himself knew of conflict)…

1 Peter 4:7–8 (ESV) — 7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

The overarching, unifying factor that kept the church unified and focused was love. 

Aw, man. That’s like when Geraldo Rivera opened Al Capone’s vault. Nothing but glass bottles and lots of dirt. What a letdown. Duh, of course it’s love. Thanks for telling me something I already know, Pastor.

The reason you feel let down is because in our culture love is one of the most watered down words in the English language.

Love doesn’t really mean anything. It’s overused and abused. It’s expressed more in memes and sayings than anything else (love makes the world go round). 

We say we love chocolate, or we love a good book. We also say we love someone, which you’d think would signify the highest level of love. Yet even when we say we love someone, we actually might mean we lust after them or we love ourselves because we’re using them in some self-serving way.

In the NT, when John or Paul or Peter wrote about love, it wasn’t that like that. They meant something very specific. Something bigger than what could be defined. Something completely foreign to them until they encountered it first hand.

They learned about love from a person, a person unlike anyone who ever lived. Of course, I’m talking about Jesus.

Look at what Jesus taught them…

John 15:12–13, 17 (ESV) — 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. …17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

The kind of love Jesus taught them and commanded them to live out was self-sacrificing, even to the point of giving one’s own life.

Jesus didn’t just teach them about that kind of love, he lived it. He demonstrated it in the most powerful, most surprising way imaginable…

John 19:16b–18 (ESV) — 16 … So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them.

He actually practiced what he preached! And get this…He didn’t just die arbitrarily for them. He accomplished something in his death…

Romans 5:6–8 (ESV) — 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

It’s about to get real here! This wasn’t just for them, it was for us too. Jesus loved them and us so much he gave his life so we could be set free from the penalty and power of sin and be able to have a relationship with God.

This is the kind of love that kept them unified and focused when trouble showed up. There’s no conflict or difficulty we face in the community of faith that can’t be resolved in light of that.

So now we come back to the words of Peter and they are infused with meaning…

1 Peter 4:8 (ESV) — 8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

Peter says “above all” because the overarching, life-changing, utterly unifying factor in the community of faith was and is love.

We are to love one another earnestly. That means we are to stretch ourselves, put ourselves out there because that’s what Jesus did for us. 

Jesus is living proof that love covers a multitude of sins. If he loved us like that, then we should love others the same, especially those who are our brothers and sister in him.

Peter lived by that. That’s why he accepted Paul’s rebuke and never looked back.

Paul lived by it. That’s why he forgave and accepted John Mark…

Ephesians 5:2 (ESV) — 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

The apostle John also lived by and taught this truth…

1 John 4:7–11 (NLT) — 7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.

Conclusion: This impacts me more than you all. There was a time in my ministry when I didn’t live this out, and I’m the Pastor.

As I look back I realize I gauged people on how well they supported me and the direction I led the church. If they were on board, they were in. If they weren’t, they were out.

I took any negativity or criticism personally. And I cared more about myself than I did others. I didn’t realize this at the time. Now I do. 

God have mercy on me; I wrote a lot of people off back then.

Not to try to make myself feel better, but I’ve come to understand average church folk do the same. If someone clashes with another’s personality or disagrees with them politically, theologically, or whatever, they write them off. They do church under the same roof, but they aren’t living like brothers and sisters in Christ.

Here’s what I’ve learned, the hard way:

I must refuse not to love people. It’s not an option.

You see, there’s no sin committed against me by my brothers and sisters any greater than the sins I’ve committed against God. And God, through Jesus and his unthinkable sacrifice, has forgiven me of them all. How can we not forgive each other in light of that kind of love?

As I said last week, nothing’s happened. But like my Celica, the longer we’re together the more we’re going to become aware of each other’s faults. And the more aware we become of each other’s faults, the more we must cover them with God’s love demonstrated through Jesus.

Love covers a multitude of sins.

We’ll spend one more Sunday on this. I want to flesh out what living by love looks like.

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