Summary: Churches should be a place filled with gentle and loving people who wouldn’t be a place of anger and conflict. But too often, churches are known as places of conflict and pain. How should a Christian leader deal with this issue?
OPEN: In Winchester, Ohio there’s a church called the Bethlehem Church of Christ. It’s been in existence for over 150 years, and over the years different events have been recorded in their “history” book. One of their recent ministers was reading back over the different entries in this book when he ran across the following item from the year 1840:
“We had fighting right here at home. The Democrats and Republicans were so bitter against one another, it broke the church up.”
One eyewitness reported a fist fight over the issue: “Two of our best men fought to a finish. One wanted to know if the other had enough. He said he had, so he let him up.”
(Tom Claibourne, Restoration Herald. Sept. 07)
A fist fight on the church property?
That hardly seems right, does it?
You wouldn’t think such a thing would happen at church.
These people are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ.
They should be the kindest, gentlest, most understanding people you’ve ever met. (pause) But they aren’t always.
ILLUS: According to a survey conducted in 2004, preachers from across the nation were asked what topic they felt hadn’t been properly covered in their Bible college training and the top answer was:
Conflict management - 31%.
(John C. LaRue, Vice President of “Online Services for Christianity Today International”)
Now, why wouldn’t Bible colleges cover that topic?
Well, in a PERFECT church, you wouldn’t expect to have a lot of conflict. But throughout my life, I’ve heard of churches that have had:
· Power struggles
· Church splits
· And people who would come to church for decades and wouldn’t talk to one another. Who wouldn’t shake hands with each other. I’ve even heard about a church that had people so mad at each other that they would sit on opposite side of the church building and would refuse to ever sit on the same side of the aisle as “those others”.
Why would this happen?
Why would Christians act like that?
Well often times it occurs because of something the Bible calls “the root of bitterness”.
Hebrews 12:15 warns the church to “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”
That’s what has happened here in Numbers 16.
There’s a whole of bunch of really bitter people in the camp of Israel and their anger has reached the boiling point.
What’s made them so bitter?
Well, for one thing, a couple of weeks before (according to Numbers 13 and 14) they had been on the verge of entering the Promised Land. To prepare for the invasion, Moses selected 12 spies and then sent them into Palestine to scout out the territory.
Two of the spies (Joshua and Caleb) were excited by what they saw, and said God had given them a great gift. They looked the beauty the land and at the bountiful crops of its fields and said
“If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us.” Numbers 14:8
But 10 of the spies came back filled with fear. All they could see were powerful giants, imposing city walls… and death. And their doubt and despair infected the rest of Israel so that the people refused to enter the land.
So, God essentially said “Fine, you don’t want to go in… you don’t have to. You’ll spend the next 40 years in the wilderness and when you’re all dead, I’ll let your kids go in your stead”
Hearing this, the people suddenly changed their minds and literally rushed across the border into Palestine... but God didn’t go with them. And they ended up being chased out of this wonderful land with their tails between their legs.
Now, that was about a couple of weeks ago. And there are people who are still angry about what happened… and they blame Moses.
There’s a whole laundry list of complaints they have against Moses and Aaron, but the one criticism which lies at the heart of it all is: “… you HAVEN’T brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey or given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards…" Numbers 16:14
“It’s your fault Moses (they say) You broke your promise!”
And so now they’re upset.
More than that, they’re mad. They’re angry. They’re filled with the root of bitterness… and it’s eating them alive.
So they form a “committee of the concerned” and select some leaders to confront Moses.
Now, most of these folks are Reubenites. Reubenites are from the tribe of Reuben, the first born son of Jacob/Israel. According to the culture of that day, the 1st born of a family was the leader. He was the person who was entrusted with taking care of the rest of the family in case of difficulties.