|Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq. Wars, terrorism, strikes, murders, divorce, splits in the church. Open the newspapers any day and practically every page will include stories of arguments, disputes and fighting.When sin entered the world arguments, disputes and fighting began. Adam blamed Eve. Cain murdered his brother. The history of the world ever since has been one of conflict of all kinds.
When people turn away from God, they start fighting one another. We see the breakdown of relationships wherever we look: broken marriages, broken homes, broken relationships at work, civil wars and wars between nations. Sadly, the church is not immune. Right from the start there have been arguments, disputes and in-fighting.
How do we avoid arguments? How do we deal with disputes? How do we stop fierce fighting?
1. How to avoid arguments
Proverbs 18:17-19:2As always, Proverbs is full of practical advice.
Yet words can also bring destruction: ‘Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose’ (v.21, MSG). As Joyce Meyer writes, the words we speak ‘carry either a life-giving force or a destructive force.’ We can do great good or great damage with what we say.
Whether we are married or not, what we need are really close friends. The second part of this proverb reminds us that while friends come and go, ‘There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother or sister’ (v.24b). These are the sorts of friends we need in our lives. Ultimately, of course, Jesus is the friend who sticks closer than a brother or sister.
2. How to deal with disputes
Romans 14:1-18If only the church in the last 2,000 years had followed Paul’s instruction: ‘Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do … Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God’ (vv.1,10, MSG).
There are certain matters over which Paul was willing to fight to death – the truth of the gospel (that Christ died for us, vv.9,15). The life, death and resurrection of Jesus (v.9) and the Lordship of Christ (v.9) are examples of non-negotiables.
However, Paul writes here that there are other things that are not nearly as important. They are ‘disputable matters’ (v.1). They are secondary areas. He gives various examples such as vegetarianism or thinking of one day as more sacred than another.
No doubt we could list many other issues where Christians today are divided about secondary matters. Some Christians abstain from alcohol. Others do not. Some Christians are pacifists. Others are not. How do we deal with disputes about secondary matters?
He goes on, ‘Who are you to judge someone else’s servants?’ (v.4). ‘Then let us no more criticise and blame and pass judgment on one another’ (v.13, AMP). We must allow people to have different views from our own without judging them for it.
We should give others the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are seeking to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord (vv.7–8).
‘If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love’ (v.15). ‘So be sensitive and courteous … Don’t eat or say or do things that might interfere with the free exchange of love’ (v.21, MSG).
Secondary matters are important, but not as important as what unites us all: ‘For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (v.17). This is what really matters. Let us not get caught up in arguments about secondary matters, which divide the church and put off those outside the church.
We need to follow the words of the medieval writer Rupertus Meldenius, ‘On the essentials,unity; on the non-essentials, freedom; in everything, love.’
3. How to stop fighting
1 Chronicles 9:1b-10:14‘The Philistines fought against Israel … The fighting grew fierce around Saul’ (10:1,3). Saul was attacked by the Philistines and died as a result. We find this account in 1 Samuel 31. However, the writer of Chronicles adds an explanation: ‘Saul died in disobedience, disobedient to God. He didn’t obey God’s words’ (1 Chronicles 10:13, MSG).
As we look back at the book of Samuel we can see that the real problem was that Saul became jealous of David. David can pretty well be considered an innocent party in the matter. He did everything he could to submit to Saul and to be on good terms with him. Saul would have none of it. He was out to get David. This internal dispute weakened Saul and made him vulnerable to an attack from outside.
We see today how internal disputes among the people of God make us vulnerable to attacks from outside. Jesus prayed that we may be one in order that the world would believe (John 17:23).
‘He who finds a wife finds what is good.’
What more is there to say?
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