Summary: Apostles, Pt. 14
NOT ANOTHER POWER STRUGGLE? (LUKE 22:24-27))
A friend told me an interesting but sad conflict in their church. Several years ago an elderly man was counting the church offering by himself, which is not a wise thing to do under any circumstance. When the church changed its policy to protect everyone involved, including the man and the church, by having two people counting the offering, the man felt slighted and was displeased. He took the treasurer by surprise one day by asking, “What degree do you have?” The sister innocently replied, without thinking too much about it: “Master’s degree in management.”
The man’s seething and stewing deep down caught most people unaware, but it came to a boiling point and a public showdown some time later, unfortunately, at a church member’s wedding. When the man was led to his wedding banquet table and discovered he was seated at the same table with the treasurer, he remarked to the treasurer, “You think you are very smart? I, too, have a Master’s degree, in accounting.” After that, he directed his venom at her husband, “What do you mean by never greeting me but staring at me these many years you see me at church?”
When the man was led to another table to prevent an incident, he discovered there were more people he disliked at the other table and returned to his original table. When the food arrived, his wife took a bite but was scolded by the husband: “Why do you still have the face and stomach to eat with these people?” With that, he marched off and left the banquet, his long-suffering wife hurriedly chasing behind.
The church is a hotbed for conflicts. Some of them are downright ugly. Many years ago disgruntled members of a mega-church sent out anonymous documents of its denomination and its findings in a church mediation dispute, leaving the pastor with a tarnished reputation. Most conflicts are for the worse, though some can have a good outcome. For example a mega-church had a disastrous fall-out about 10 years ago. The mass exodus of the young families, young adults and the young people resulted in a 500-strong church today, and the old church marched on without missing a beat.
The Chinese say, “If the house has peace, all things flourish; if the house is wrecked, the mouth won’t stop talking.”
This passage is the second conflict among the disciples spilled into the open, interestingly enough, all coming after Jesus’ disclosure about heading to Jerusalem. The first instance was the Zebedees’ brazen request to monopolize Jesus’ sides (Matt. 20:20-21). Jesus had announced his betrayal and had served the Last Supper. Now everyone wanted a piece of the pie in Jesus’ kingdom, not wanting to lose out to James and John. They wanted to be the rulers, to inherit the riches, and to reap the rewards, but Jesus had other ideas.
How should believers motivate themselves in the wake of divisions, disagreements and differences in personality and background?
Be Committed to Ignoring Competition
24 Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. (Luke 22:24)
A certain brother who lived solitary was disturbed in his mind and making his way to the abbot (Theodore of Pherme); he told him he was troubled. The old man said to him, “Go, humble thy spirit and submit thyself, and live with other men.” So he went away to the mountain and dwelt with others.
And afterwards he came back to the old man and said to him, “Nor in living with other men have I found peace.” And the old man said, “If thou canst not be at peace in solitude, nor yet with men, why didst thou will to be a monk? Was it not that thou shouldst have tribulation? Tell me now, how many years hast thou been in this habit?” And the brother said, “Eight.” And the old man said, “Believe me, I have been in this habit seventy years, and not for one day could I find peace; and thou wouldst have peace in eight?” (Macmillan Book of Earliest Christian Mediations, F. Forrester Church and Terrence J. Mulry, 16-17)
My old church asked me to write an article for their milestone anniversary. I boldly stated: “I am proud there was no church split on my shift, and no one left because of me. That is important to pastors and sensitive to me. Nowadays, church growth is overstated; keeping the church together is already an accomplishment and a success.”
Disagreements are inevitable, but divisions should be avoided.
The Greek word for “dispute” makes is its only occurrence in the Bible. It is not that hard to break down the word to know what it means. “Philo-neikia” is from two Greek words - “philos” and “neikos.” “Philos” means friend (from Philadelphia, city of brotherly love) and “nikos” (from “nike” – the sneakers) means victory, conquest or triumph. So the dispute is over who has the victory and is the overcomer, who prevails in comparison and competition, who is better and one up. Sadly, it is done among friends, brothers and associates, not with rivals, neighbors or strangers.