Summary: Church conflict takes many forms, but most church conflict has one root cause... ungodly wisdom at work in the body of Christ.
1. Illus. of Danny C’s church
• Talked with a guy about his church. He was high on his church. He couldn’t have been more excited about fellowship and what was going on there!
• Then he made a strange statement. He said, “We have a unique ministry here. Most of our members are people who had just about given up on church!”
• When I looked at him quizzically, he explained, “they had been burned one too many times by conflict and controversy. They had just about decided that they were going to have to try and serve God without going to church!”
2. Church conflict was not invented in the 21st century. As a matter of fact, it is as old as the church itself!
Acts- the infant church is in conflict over the gospel being preached to Gentiles.
1 Corinthians- conflict over everything from who was the best preacher to meat sacrificed to idols.
Philippians- Couple of ladies named Euodia and Synthche were going at it like cats and dogs.
1 John- early church about to split over the doctrine of a group of false teachers called Gnostics.
3. While there may be many reasons for conflict in the church, James says one big reason is Christians who operate in the wrong kind of wisdom. You need to understand that there are two kinds of wisdom available to every Christian (see vs 15)
There is a heavenly wisdom (the ability to make godly choices in our daily life). This formula for this kind of wisdom goes like this: Christian + fear of Lord + scripture + obedience = heavenly wisdom, the ability to make godly choices in our everyday life.
But there is another kind of wisdom. When we fail to follow the formula for heavenly wisdom, by default we will operate in ungodly wisdom. Ungodly wisdom is at the root of most (not all, but most) church conflict.
4. Text: James warns the early church that ungodly wisdom would produce conflict and confusion.
5. Today: Turmoil and confusion are the result of Christians operating in the wrong kind of wisdom.
6. Why does ungodly wisdom produce conflict and confusion? Two reasons.
I. UNGODLY WISDOM PRODUCES CONFLICT BECAUSE OF HOW IT OPERATES
1. Vs 14. Two attitudes always reveal the presence of ungodly wisdom: bitter envy and selfish ambition. These two words describe how ungodly wisdom operates.
2. Bitter envy (NIV- jealousy).
Envy/ jealousy is a neutral word in the NT. For example, in 2 Corinthians 11:2 Paul talks about a “godly jealousy.” In this case, James uses a modifier which means bitter or grudging. The envy James is referring to is not godly- it’s ungodly!
At its heart, what is envy? It is the desire to have what belongs to someone else. If I am envious of your car, I’m really saying, “I wish I had that car instead of him.” If I’m envious of your physique, I’m saying, “I wish I had that physique, not him.”
Envy in the church is most often centered on one of three things: recognition, authority, or admiration. “I want to be recognized for what I’ve done, I want to be the one making decisions, I want to be looked up to and admired- not that other person."
Illus. of “king of the hill. Push other guy off hill, and get on it yourself. That’s the essence of bitter envy. Whatever the name of the hill: money, recognition, authority, or whatever, I’ve got to push you off and claim that hill for myself.
Ungodly wisdom operates in bitter envy.
3. Self-seeking (NIV- selfish ambition).
The kissing cousin of bitter envy is called self-seeking. Bitter envy is when we want what someone else has, self-seeking is how we try to get what that other person has.
Self-seeking translates a single word in the Greek,It is a political word, used to describe a politician out gathering up votes for himself by unfair or unscrupulous means (B.A.G. pp 309).
Do you see the attitude James is describing? Self-seeking is when we try to elevate ourselves or our cause by gathering the support of other people in the church, often by falsehood or manipulation.
You’ll see Mr. or Mrs. Self-seeking gathered in a huddle in the corner of the church, or on the phone with some honest but gullible fellow church-member, or going door to door, “sharing his heart.” The constant refrain of Mr. and Mrs. Self-seeking goes something like this: “I think so-and-so needs to be done. Can I count on you? Are you with me on this?”
Illus. of pastor friend (Charles). Leadership there wanted to start a radio ministry. Since it would require a fair amount of money not in the budget, it was going to require a congregational vote. Became a hot topic, with some strongly for it, and some strongly against it. When he walked into sanctuary, he saw faces of people that he didn’t even know were members of his church. It was obvious that those opposing the radio ministry had been canvassing the membership roll, making sure they had enough bodies there to get their way.