Summary: We will prevent conflicts from splintering the church, when we allow God to have the Last Word!
Out of the Box
2 March 2003
INTRODUCTION: Comedian Emo Philips used to tell this story:
In conversation with a person I had recently met, I asked, "Are you Protestant or Catholic?"
My new acquaintance replied, "Protestant."
I said, "Me too! What franchise?"
He answered, "Baptist."
"Me too!" I said. "Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?"
"Northern Baptist," he replied.
"Me too!" I shouted.
We continued to go back and forth. Finally I asked, "Northern conservative fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region, Council of 1879 or Northern conservative fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region, Council of 1912?"
He replied, "Northern conservative fundamentalist Baptist, Great Lakes Region, Council of 1912."
I said, "Die, heretic!"
Conflicts are part of life. And as we end this short series on God’s plan for his church, it is fitting to have a message on this very subject. Why, you ask?
“Someone once said, Christians are like porcupines in a snowstorm. We need each other to keep warm but we prick each other if we get too close.”
How do we keep conflicts from destroying the church? By allowing God to have the last word!
Today, we are going to witness a conflict between Jewish Believers and Peter. Jews believed they wer following Gods’ plan to set up his kingdom. As long as they beleiverd the kingdom was still being offered to the themselves, Peter’s actions were wrong. These Jewish believers were those who held to the Law of Moses (Acts 15:5; 21:20; Gal 2:12). These Jewish believers believed God’s message was to the Jew first (Acts 1-7). In that they were right. Christ even commanded them to begin in Jerusalem (Lk 24:47; Acts 1:8). And when Jerusalem fully believed in Christ, the nation of Israel would receive the Messiah and He would return to earth to take his throne (Acts 3:25-26).
The problem with this thinking was it misunderstood Gods’ Plan. For Christ commands not only to begin in Jerusalem, but to extend the message to the uttermost part (Acts 1:8), even to all “ethos” (Mt. 28:18-20). This was the same error of Jonah, and ironically, Peter was in the very town where Jonah decided to take a ship – Joppa. The irony in this account is too funny.
The Jewish believers thought they had the corner on God’s plan. But in essence their view of God was in a box. Peter’s experience with Cornelius takes the Jewish believer’s thinking and turns it on its head. In a phrase, they had to get out of their box – in thinking!
Let’s look at how a conflict arose in the early church (read vs 1-3).
1. They caught wind of the news (1)
2. They criticized the person who led this new movement (2) – notice they didn’t rejoice over the event. Legalists always strain gnats.
3. They started a conflict that had the potential of causing Northern Christians and southern Christians (3)
Let’s repeat our big idea again: we will keep conflicts from destroying the church by allowing God to have the last word.
1A. WE WILL KEEP CONFLICTS FROM SPLITTING THE CHURCH BY BECOMING INTIMATE WITH GOD (4-10)
I want us to notice how Peter responds (4). This isn’t the same man we knew from the gospels accounts. Peter has learned the lesson of thinking before opening his mouth. He’s learned the principle from Proverbs 15:1
A gentle answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger.
In the following verses, we see how Peter told what occurred to him in the first person, giving it vitality and vivid description. Peter emphasizes the sheet and the various animals on the sheet. Although Peter does not use the word, “God,” he does mention a voice he heard from heaven – a clear indication it was the voice of God. Next, Peter relates to his audience by repeating his objection to the voice’s directions to kill and eat such animals, both clean and unclean.
But Peter relates to his audience how this voice told him, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” Peter then said, this all occurred three times and then the sheet was taken up into heaven.
All this occurred, because Peter was becoming more intimate with the Lord. Intimate means: proceeding from within, inward, internal. Lloyd John Olgivie writes: “The intimacy between the Lord and I relationship we were all created to experience with God requires the opening of our innermost thoughts to the Lord just as He revealed His innermost nature to us.”
Peter was growing as a follower of Christ. He was opening his life to the Almighty and the Lord was now showing Peter more of His plan for the church. And, he was revealing to Peter a greater purpose for his existence.
Illustration: right now, we have been praying for God to show us his purpose for fellowship community. We have been asking for God to show us what He would like us to do. But this week, it has struck me that God isn’t so much concerned about telling me what to do as he is interested in knowing, do I want to know him, more than I do now? That is the key to knowing our purpose as a church, and as individuals.