Friday, March 06, 2015

Church strife

Christian cartoon by Ron Wheeler
Cartoon by Ron Wheeler

TODAY'S SPECIAL: 1Corinthians 1:1-17

TO CHEW ON: "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." 1 Corinthians 1:10

I got baptized at age 14 and joined our local church at that time. I'll never forget one of the first membership-only meetings I attended. Though I have forgotten what was under discussion, I remember the heated words, the tone of defensiveness even anger as different members championed their side of the cause. I was shocked. Here were people I looked up to and liked, arguing with each other and saying things I never thought I'd hear coming from their staid mouths. It was an early eye-opener into the possibilities of strife in the church.

Paul addresses that topic in our reading. He begs for the Corinthians to be united (1 Corinthians 1:10) and describes their disunity:
  • There were divisions - 1 Corinthians 1:10.
  • They were not of the same mind - 1 Corinthians 1:10.
  • There were contentions (quarrels) 1 Corinthians 1:11.
  • There was arguing over who was the best leader, people picking favorites and splitting along those lines - 1 Corinthians 1:12.
  • Further on in the book Paul mentions a law case. Church members were taking each other to secular court thus making a mockery before the world of the unity the church was supposed to represent - 1 Corinthians 6:6.
  • Paul, in referring to this disunity lumps what he sees under the label carnal - 1 Corinthians 3:3.
  • He describes disunity in even greater detail in 2 Corinthians when he lists the attitudes he hopes he won't find but fears he will when he visits them: "…contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults" - 2 Corinthians 12:20.

Any church is susceptible to these things. So what is the fix? Jesus gives it in John 17 when He prays for the unity of His followers:
" 'I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one as You, Father are in Me and I in You; that they also may be one in Us …. I in them and You in Me that they may be made perfect in one…' " - John 17:20,21,23.

According to Jesus, the secret to unity is for each of us to be in union with Him first. Paul elaborates on this, picturing the church as a body with Jesus as its head (and we know the functions of the head, how it is the brain and the control center for all body functions) - Colossians 1:18; 2:19.

Of course we also know from experience that preserving such unity in the church will take understanding and work and grace as we deal with the reality of our differences. Paul again:
"Don’t be proud at all. Be completely gentle. Be patient. Put up with one another in love. The Holy Spirit makes you one in every way. So try your best to remain as one. Let peace keep you together. There is one body and one Spirit. You were appointed to one hope when you were chosen" - Ephesians 4:2-4 (NIRV).

PRAYER: Dear Jesus, please help me to live in unity with the members of my local church body, staying united with You and exercising humility, gentleness, patience, and love as I interact with my brothers and sisters. Amen.

Scripture passages marked NIRV are taken from the New International Reader's Version, copyright © 1995, 1996, 1998, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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