Summary: The importance of protecting the unity of the church and practical principles and steps for doing so.
We'd like to think that the church is immune to conflict and disagreement. After all, we're all Christians here. Right? Well, don't be naive. Hopefully, we're all striving to be like Christ. But we're also humans who sometimes fall short. We say things or react before we think. We get too focused on ourselves and hurt others.
Our desire is to live together in perfect harmony. But even the Bible says that it's sometimes difficult to get along with certain people. Romans 12: 18 says, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." This morning, I want to take a look at what the Bible says about dealing with conflict and protecting the unity of the church.
GUARD AGAINST DIVISION
Make every effort to live in unity with all true believers in Christ. In one of His final recorded prayers before going to the cross, Jesus prayed for the unity of those who would believe in His name.
John 17: 20 - 23, "I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in Me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as You and I are One -- as You are in Me, Father, and I am in You. And may they be in us so that the world will believe You sent Me. I have given them the glory You gave Me, so they may be One as We are One. I am in them and You are in Me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that You sent Me and that You love them as much as You love Me."
When it comes to working with believers from other churches or denominations, we don't have to agree upon everything as long as we can agree upon the main thing -- that we are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ. There are salvation issues that we must be in agreement upon. But there are also disputable matters that we must not allow to divide us.
We must make every effort to protect the unity of our church family here at TCCC.
1 Corinthians 1: 10, "I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose."
Unity can make or break the effectiveness of a church.
John 13: 35, "By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
People are drawn to environments that are loving, welcoming, and united around a common mission. But people are put off by toxic environments where there are factions, negativity, gossip, complaining, and dissension. Currently, we are blessed with a wonderful climate of unity and love. I pray that we always realize how precious that is and never take it for granted. Let's guard it and protect it! And it takes all of us to do that.
KEYS TO MAINTAINING UNITY
1 Peter 3: 8, "Finally, all of you, have unity of mind..."
A mantra that is often repeated around here is, "Keep the main thing as the main thing." In any family or organization, you're going to have issues pop up from time to time and make it easy to get sidetracked and divided over things of secondary concern. We must constantly be asking ourselves, "Is this an issue worth fighting over?" And here's how I answer that question... I ask myself, "Is this a salvation issue? Or is it merely a disputable matter?"
Romans 14: 1, Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters." (NIV)
Our "main thing" in the church is souls -- reaching lost people with the gospel -- discipling new believers to maturity in Christ -- shepherding and helping those with physical, emotional, or financial needs. We must be careful to stay focused on our mission and refuse to get sidetracked by things that are of secondary concern.
We all have preferences and opinions about the way we'd like to see things operate. But we must not allow our preferences to become a point of division. Even as the Senior Minister of this church, there have been plenty of times when I conceded my personal preference on an issue for the sake of unity. It wasn't a matter of compromising doctrinal truth, so I decided to let it go. And I ask that we all be willing to do that from time to time.
1 Peter 3: 8, "... sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind."
Sometimes we get frustrated with people because they don't act the way we want them to. They don't meet our expectations. And, while it's true that some people can just be selfish and act like jerks sometimes, often we can get frustrated with people without knowing the entire story. Most everyone is dealing with something that most other people don't know about. Often, that can help explain why they said what they said or reacted the way they did. It might not EXCUSE it, but it at least helps us UNDERSTAND it and maybe cut them some slack. The ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes is called EMPATHY and it's sorely lacking in our society today. Stop and think about how your words, your reactions, or your choices will likely affect other people. That's someone else's child, their parent, or grandchild. As an ambassador for Christ, is that the interaction you want them to remember you by? Is that how you want them to view Christ Whom you claim to represent?