Lucia's Blog: THE PERILS OF FEUDING LIKE THE HATFIELDS & THE MCCOYS: THE GOSPEL PRESCRIPTION FOR GETTING ALONG
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Isaiah 55:8-9

Isaiah 55:8-9

Thursday, November 16, 2017

THE PERILS OF FEUDING LIKE THE HATFIELDS & THE MCCOYS: THE GOSPEL PRESCRIPTION FOR GETTING ALONG

"Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.  2 I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.  4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!  5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand."
Philippians 4:1-5


My heart is broken over beloved brethren stumbling into oblivion because of conflicts over personal matters and matters of judgment. Such matters ought not to destroy our love one for another, nor should it quench the zeal of our faith. Churches are broken up and splintered. Sometimes they do not survive. I began a study of Romans 14 in the hopes of finding some divine help. The Lord is of course infinitely wiser than we are. He knows us so well. If we would just be true and faithful to Him and His counsel, we would find joy in "the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace." Let us take a look at God's point of view.

Paul's love for the Philippian brethren in this letter is evident because of the way he addresses them. Notice how he concludes his letter to them, "therefore, my beloved and longed- for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved."  Paul wanted these brethren to "stand fast" in the Lord.  He reminded them that their citizenship was in heaven and that they were to continue strong, steadfast in their faith, and not be compromised by false teaching.  They were to stand firm like true soldiers, especially in the midst of conflict, without giving in or quitting.  The same message must be applied to us today since we are to stand firm in the Lord and His Truth, knowing that our labor is not in vain, (1 Cor. 15:58).  We are not to be moved or shaken by any false doctrine or led astray by this world's pleasures and the deceitfulness of sin.  We must stand fast in the Lord!

The Philippian brethren were Paul's joy and crown because they were the result of his labor.  Remember, Paul's efforts in Philippi established a church there, (Acts 16).  The conversion of these faithful brethren to Christ brought joy to Paul.  Indeed, Paul knew his hard work and effort was going to be rewarded on that Final Day if they remained faithful to the Lord.  As 1 Corinthians 3:14 states, 
"If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward."
In Philippians 4:2-3 Paul proceeds by saying, 
"I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life."  

Evidently, Paul is begging these two women (Euodia and Syntyche) to do what was right before the Lord.  They were to be united in harmony, or "of the same mind."  This applies to all Christians today as well since we must seek peace and unity with one another.  Consider what 1 Corinthians 1:10 has to say, 
"I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment."  

These two sisters in Christ were not of the same mind, for there was division between them.  These two women were members of the church in Philippi and were apparently having a quarrel or disagreement.  Unfortunately, the Bible does not give us the details of their disputes even though the brethren there seemed to be familiar with the conflict between them.  Euodia and Syntyche were in conflict.  It was negatively affecting the church, for there could be no peace while they were quarreling.  Paul appealed to the brethren at Philippi to help them set aside their personal differences, so that they might be in harmony with each other, ("be of the same mind in the Lord").  Paul exhorted these two sisters to seek the good of the church instead of their own personal and selfish interests.  I believe this was not a doctrinal dispute but rather a personal conflict between them since Paul did not rebuke either one of them for false teachingNotice that Paul pleads with them to get along as true children of God.  Isn't it sad that these two sisters are mentioned in the Bible only in the context of being in disagreement or conflict!  How sad to be remembered only as one who is quarreling with another!!  The saddest part is that they had labored with Paul in the Lord's work, the Gospel, (Phil. 4:3)!  Hopefully, they repented of their quarreling and were at peace with each other, being united once again.

Today, the church needs to be reminded unceasingly of this Truth, that we may get along with each other in Christ (brothers and sisters).  It is so easy to get upset with one another and develop grudges if we are not careful.  It is so easy to lose sight of how vital it is that we be working for the Lord.  Instead, we are busy fighting, quarreling and arguing with one another over matters that don't amount to a hill of beans!  Why is it so hard to pursue peace and unity based on our faithfulness to God's Word and love for each other?  Why is it so crucial for us to elevate our opinions, always expecting to get our own way?  Why is it so hard to strive for humility and obedience toward God, that we might be unified and in harmony with one another?  Why is it so difficult to be "true companions" and work to keep the peace among ourselves?  

It is indeed very distressing to see conflict in the family of God.  It is painful for us as members of the body of Christ to see churches split, brethren divide, friends divide, brethren accusing or charging one another, brethren having their feelings hurt by other Christians.  Those who are self-righteous don't make it easier to resolve these conflicts!  Such conflicts in the church produce deep scars in the body of Christ.  Jesus, in His High Priestly prayer, prayed that His followers would be one like He and the Father were.  He asked His disciples to "love one another."  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus urged his followers to be reconciled to their brother, before approaching His altar, if they remembered that they had something against another.  They were to leave their gift at the altar and go and reconcile with their brother.  Jesus wanted them to understand that it is difficult to worship Him when we are at odds with each other.  God demands that we get along!!

When there are disputes in the church, why must everyone take sides?!  Groups usually form off to one side and start talking about the others.  Every conversation turns into a conflict.  Every little disagreement is like a match waiting to flame up and ignite a firestorm.   Pressure builds to dangerous levels.  Christians judge one another wrongly without righteous judgment leading to all sorts of problems in the church.  Often, we let the beast in us have his way without doing or saying anything that would be in harmony with our faith.  To make things worse, we bring out the beast in others by getting them to take sides.  In doing this, many churches split and are left crippled by a spirit of divisiveness. They forget that the Lord demands that we not regard one another with contempt, (Romans 14:1, 3, 4, 10).  Instead, we must accept one another just as Christ has accepted us, (Romans 14:1, 3, 15:7).  We must not condemn one another when we differ on matters where the Bible does not give specific commands!  Wouldn't it be wonderful to always get along with one another?  Wouldn't it be wonderful to never disagree, fight or say anything unkind about one another?  Wouldn't it be wonderful to never complain or criticize one another?  We must get along despite our differences!  Getting along with each other does not mean that we compromise the Truth.  But it does demand humility and humble servitude, (Romans 12:18).  

It is interesting that Paul mentions in Philippians 4:3, the "Book of Life."  It is also mentioned in the Book of Revelation.  You see, those Philippian brethren who were faithful had their names written in the Book of LifeGod keeps a record of those who are alive, those who have been born again of water and the Spirit, those who have been raised from the dead, raised up from the practice of sin, to walk in newness of life, (Romans 6:3-4; John 3:3-5).  It is vital that we remain faithful and stand fast in the Lord always so that our names may not be erased from the Book of life.

It is vital that we have the proper attitude to make the best of every difficult situation or conflict.  A poor and negative attitude will show bitterness and sourness even in the best of circumstances.  Attitude is one thing that we have complete control over.  In my study, I want to stress the importance of pushing for unity based on love, striving to be of the same mind in the Lord, even in the midst of disagreements and disputes.  Real unity can only be accomplished when we are of the same mind and judgment.  We as soldiers of Christ are on the same team, facing an enemy that is set for our defeatIt is essential that we remind ourselves of our spiritual war and that in this war or fight we must, as Christians, be allies and not enemies.  We must remember Jesus’ words to us, 
"Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand."  (Matt. 12:25).  
Can't we see this application when it comes to our differences?  Like soldiers on the battlefield of our souls, we cannot afford to be distracted by ongoing disputes.  Such distractions will put us at riskWe must remember that our enemy is Satan and not our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Don't ever forget that!

So the question at stake is: 
  1. How are we to push for unity, leaving behind our differences, misunderstandings, and hurts? 
  2. What action are we to take to handle any given situation?  
  3. What is the right approach when disputes or disagreements arise?  
  4. How can we learn to live at peace with one another?   
It is my fervent prayer that this lesson may prosper you and me by letting the Word of God change us in the way we handle conflict among ourselves.  May the Lord help us to be peacemakers rather than troublemakers.  May He help us to become gentle in heart rather than abrasive. May we always remember that the world is watching us and that we must resolve our conflicts so that the Gospel might not be hindered.


I.   WHERE DO CONFLICTS ORIGINATE?

It is unavoidable: conflicts will happen.  Take for instance Eudoia and Syntyche, who were faithful followers of Christ.  Paul speaks highly of them as those who labored with him in the Gospel.  They contended at his side.  And although these two sisters were faithful in Christ, they still had some old ways about them.  Their personalities clashed.  They still let their feelings hurt and provoke each other.  Aren't we all guilty at times of being easily irritated and getting our feelings hurt?  The truth is that even among Christians there will be times when some are wrong and need to be addressed. Often, this leads to hard feelings, “rubbing each other the wrong way.”  But Christians must learn to resolve their conflicts and differences without parading their dirty laundry before a watching world.  We must learn to resolve our differences or disputes in a Christ-like and godly manner.

In James 3:13-18, we learn that earthly wisdom is self-seeking and lacking in meekness.  On the other hand, heavenly wisdom shows kindness toward others and good works.  In chapter 4 we see the consequences when one is led by earthly wisdom.  This chapter starts out by saying, "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?"  In this Scripture, James is talking about strife and quarreling as well as the origin or source of verbal conflicts and arguments among us.  Notice how he answers this question with another question.  "Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?"  (4:1).  You see bickering and quarreling originate in our own physical desire for pleasure, that is, getting and having things our own way!  The truth is that selfishness is the cause or source of all conflicts.  Although the word "selfishness" is not in this verse, the concept definitely is.  When someone desires to have something, they will try to get it at any cost, and thus conflict is unavoidable.  There will be conflict unless everyone surrenders to that person's desires.  Indeed, this is a powerful truth!

  • Those Who Divide Brethren:
God has not been silent on this matter.  God has repeatedly warned His children about sowing discord, strife, quarrels, hatred and contention among brethren, (Prov. 16:28; 6:12, 14; 6:16,19; 10:12; 26:26; 20:3; 13:10; 17:14, 19; 26:21; 28:25).  Our godless culture loves to manufacture and provoke endless controversy, argument, and divisive issues.  Men take pleasure in starting strife and stirring the pot.  Even when we teach the Gospel in all gentleness, (2 Tim. 2:24) and love, (Eph. 4:15), it is still received with overwhelming disagreement and vituperation.  It is sad that there is division instead of love and unity among brethren.  Instead of fighting and devouring one another with divisive quarrels, why not work out our differences for the furthering of the Gospel and for the salvation of the souls of so many that are traveling the path of eternal tragedy?!  Jesus condemned the Pharisees for neglecting the weightier matters of the Law:  justice, mercy, righteousness, and faithfulness.  They focused on the minor and trivial matters, (Matt. 23:23).  We must be the salt of the earth and help build up God's kingdom of righteousness through evangelism, edification, and benevolence for the saints.  We must pray to God for wisdom to be builders and not brawlers, (John 6:27, “labor for the food that endures to eternal life”).

Division in the Lord's church is a terrible crime.  Those who are guilty of sowing discord, conflict, controversy, and division will be abhorred and rejected by God, (Prov. 6:16-19).  God has always wanted His children to get along and be united, (Psalm 133:1; John 17:21; 1 Cor. 1:10).  God is not the author of confusion and division, (1 Cor. 14:33).  Division results when men cease to walk in the Light and choose to walk in darkness, (1 John 1:7).  Disrespect for all divine authority causes division among men, (Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 5:24).  Envy, jealousy, greed and carnality cause division, (Acts 20:30; 2 Peter 2:3; 1 Cor. 3:3-4).  Many souls are lost when there is division.  Since many refuse to walk in the Light, they cannot have communion with Christ.  Therefore, His blood cannot cleanse them from their sins, (1 John 1:7).  All division is of the flesh and results in death, but the mind that is set on the Spirit is life and peace, (1 Cor. 3:3; Rom. 8:6).  Indeed, the church is crippled when there is division and strife.  Those who belittle all divine authority cause division because they lack love for God, His Word, and His church.  

Division, strife, and conflict have always been around.  The church which the Lord purchased with His own blood has not been immune to this.  Just look around and notice the religious confusion today.  Although Jesus established only one church, (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 4:4; 1:22-23), man has created many today and all this because of division, strife, and disagreement.  This religious confusion has brought such change since the earliest times when the church of Christ was built. It continues until today when we have hundreds of churches that started as the product of selfishness.  How?  Through men and women wanting to do and have things their own way without respecting the authority and Lordship of Christ.  So, when they didn't get things done their way, they chose to leave their original group to start a new one.  Does that sound familiar?  We still have this problem today!  Everyone seems to be drifting like sheep, every time someone disagrees with them or every time that they don't like the way things are done in the church.  Often these have conflicts with others over personal matters, and instead of solving them the way Jesus demands, they leave and start a new group.  We forget that since the beginning of the church, there has always been only one church whose followers were merely Christians, striving to do the will of their Father.  Jesus prayed for unity among all Christians, (John 17:20-21).

The apostle Paul also prayed and preached that there be no divisions, but that all Christians should be of the same mind and the same judgment in Christ, (1 Cor. 1:10).  Unfortunately, nothing has changed, and there are still divisions among the followers of Christ.  And why?  Because men refuse to firmly follow Jesus and His apostles' teachings.  Little by little men begin thwarting God's plan for the church and start bringing in new ideas and changes that God did not authorize.  That's exactly where all religious error begins.  Man rejects what God has authorized in the New Testament and chooses to please himself in whatever form of religion, doing whatever he wants to do in worship.  As a result, conflicts arise, division result and thus many of today's denominations were born and continue to emerge.   Man's selfishness and desires to please himself have been the cause of today's religious confusion and the formation of many churches instead of one true church.  And though we all have the same Bible and Gospel that can be understood clearly, there is a lot of chaos and confusion.  God is not a God of confusion, (1 Cor. 14:33).  God has declared to us all His counsel about how to be saved, how to walk the right way, do things the right way in general and worship.  But men have not been fully satisfied with God's Word, plan of salvation and worship.  They reject God's will.  So, we have hundreds of churches instead of one.  Indeed, there can never be any unity whatsoever unless all men are willing to abandon their own selfish desires, wrong and sinful practices and start doing and obeying the Lord Christ and submit to His rule.  Men must learn to be content to preach and put into practice the teachings of Jesus and His apostles.  I don't see any other way for unity!!

Hence, we must continue to fight tooth and claw and continue to preach and teach the sound and pure doctrine, the Gospel of Christ.  We must keep preaching and teaching what the New Testament authorizes.  The Lord's church has suffered tremendously because of the many conflicts and selfish desires of stubborn men (in many cases one or two men).  This ought not to be!  We must learn to submit to one another with love in matters of indifference.  You can rest assured this will avoid all strife and unnecessary conflict!
  1. We must learn to get along and work out our differences in the spirit of love!  God demands that we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light to have fellowship with one another, (1 John 1:7). 
  2. That we agree with one another and have the same mind and judgment, (1 Cor. 1:10).  
  3. Finally, that we speak the same thing as the oracles of God, (1 Peter 4:11).  
Therefore, we must lay aside all prejudices, stop behaving like children, (1 Cor. 14:20; Eph. 4:13) and strive to show tolerance, humility, and patience for one another in love; being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  (Eph. 4:1-6).

  • Conflicts Are Costly:
We have already seen the devastating consequences of conflict and disagreements among Christians and the refusal to submit to one another in the fear of the Lord.  Somehow, many followers of Christ believe that since we're all Christians, follow the Word of God and obey the command to love one another, there will be no conflicts among us.  It is pure idealism and is not realistic.  We have already read the letter to the Philippians in chapter 4, that the church was made up of people from a variety of backgrounds.  Lydia was a businesswoman from Asia, with a Jewish background.  We also read of two women in that church that they had conflicts and differences.  As one reads what Paul is writing in this letter, he will immediately notice that Christians must learn to get along with one another.  It is vital that we do it, not only to be at peace with each other but for the sake of the Gospel.  Christians must learn to resolve and work out all differences and conflicts among themselves, since refusing to do so will be costly to the welfare of the church and their souls.  Conflict will indeed harm the Lord's work in each individual church.  Take heed!

It is interesting that in the letter to the Philippians Paul does not point out who is right and wrong.  He merely pleads with them to agree with each other in the Lord.  It is quite evident that they were to work out their conflicts for the sake of the Lord.  When Christians fight and quarrel with each other, many terrible things happen as a consequence.  Consider them.
  1. The Lord's reputation is harmed.
  2. The Lord's work (the work of each church to further the Gospel) is hampered.
  3. The body of Christ is hindered and thus is handicapped.
  4. All peace (personal) is disturbed.
  5. Conflict takes away love and moves us further from the heart of God.
In the letter to the Corinthians Paul rebuked the brethren saying,
"Does anyone of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? 4 So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, 6 but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren."  (1 Cor. 6:1-8).
Evidently, Paul is acknowledging that there will be disputes among brethren.  However, he commands all Christians to resolve their conflicts without having to reveal each other's dirty laundry before a watching world.  Brethren, we must be lights that shine in the midst of so much darkness.  We must learn to work out each other's conflicts thus seeking peace with one another.  If that doesn't work, then we must try to find an arbitrator, peacemaker in the church to help us resolve our differences in a godly manner.  When we make our conflict public, we're shaming our Lord and bringing reproach to His church (the one He purchased with His own blood).  He demands that we seek peace for His sake and the Gospel as well as our own


II.   RESOLVING CONFLICTS IN LOCAL CONGREGATIONS: 

In the early days of the Lord's church in Jerusalem, the church grew in number (believers), and the apostles continued preaching and teaching the Gospel of Jesus in the temple and from house to house daily.  The church multiplied because those who heard the Gospel Message believed that Jesus was the Son of God who was sent from heaven and whom they had crucified.  As we read the Book of Acts (especially chapter 6), we notice that the Jerusalem church obviously had conflicts.  As more and more people were added to the church, problems (growing pains) began to arise.  The Bible did not keep their failures hidden but gave us details about their failures.  You see, the Jewish widows with a Hellenistic background, who spoke Greek, were being neglected in their daily distribution.  So, guess what happened?  They complained that their widows were being discriminated against, while the Hebrew speaking widows were given preference in the daily ministry.  It is undeniable, that even the apostles were affected by church conflicts, even though they were inspired by God and who spoke for Him.  And no matter how hard we try to keep peace and harmony in the church, strife will come.

Often, disagreements in the church arise over matters of opinion rather than doctrine.  So, how can one tell the difference between the two and treat others with respect and dignity?  To answer this question, we must examine Romans 14, because it is our solid foundation Romans 14 is one of those chapters in the Bible that are often misunderstood and misapplied.  This chapter is the continuation of Paul's discussion of righteous and practical living for all Christians.  The primary focus of Romans 14 is the attitude that brethren must have toward one another when conflicts arise because of opinions or matters of indifference.  Sooner or later, there will be differences of opinion on various issues, no matter what local church you attend.  You see, differences and divisions were not new in the first century and are not new today for us.  Our goal must be that of behaving in such a way as to please God and bring glory and honor to His name.  All Christians must learn and understand how to act or behave in such circumstancesTo do that, we must develop the proper attitude and mindset toward the Word of God and other Christians.  Each Christian must learn to distinguish between matters of indifference and matters of doctrine.  He must determine the proper attitude toward others.

God thought it to be extremely important for all Christians to be aware that disagreements will arise on many various issues.  The inability to get along with others can undoubtedly cause broken homes, broken friendships, and strife. It has torn many churches apart and has set many brethren against each other.  Most of these conflicts often arise because of personal differences and matters of opinion rather than principles of Truth and righteousness. Perhaps over some minor irritation or difficulty with someone.  Paul stated, "if possible, as much as in you lieth, live peaceably with all men."  (Rom. 12:18).  Christ also declared, "Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."  (Mark 9:50).  So, it is God's will that we be in harmony and at peace with one another.  It is our duty to our God.  Before we consider how to effectively handle congregational conflicts and strife among brethren and how the apostles handled them themselves in the beginning in Jerusalem, I believe it is vital that we examine Romans 14 in context. 

  • An Exegesis of Romans 14: Getting Along Despite Our Differences
Let us examine Romans 14 before we move on with our study of getting along despite our differences.  Why?  Because Romans 14 is the most badly abused and quoted text by those who promote "unity in diversity."  They misuse it to imply that there must be unity among brethren even when they teach a variety of erroneous doctrines.  I'm not going to deny that it teaches "unity in diversity," not in matters of "faith," but in matters of opinion, (Acts 6:7; Gal. 3:25; Jude 3).  We create a big problem when we mix matters of faith with matters of opinion.  The main point of this chapter is introduced in the first five verses:
"As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome (accept, receive) him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.  5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind."  (Romans 14:1-5)

Notice that in the first verse of this chapter, Paul uses the word "opinions." The Greek word is DIAKRISIS. This chapter deals mainly with the practices of eating or not eating certain foods and keeping or not keeping certain days, practices that neither are commanded nor prohibited by the Lord. Those who quote this chapter to promote unity among brethren despite teaching erroneous and unsound doctrines are misusing it!  We must take heed to Paul's exhortation.  "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth."  (2 Timothy 2:15).

Romans 14 does not teach that there should be communion with those who teach and practice error about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Many brethren do not want to accept the pure doctrine of Christ and His apostles on this subject and thus have invented several false doctrines not to accept it.  We must stress that Romans 14 does not teach that there should be any communion with those who teach that there is one covenant instead of two covenants. This issue is not a matter of "opinion" but rather a matter of doctrine that denies that the Bible reveals two covenants or testaments.  Romans 14 does not teach that there should be communion or fellowship with those who teach that when Christ came to the earth, He emptied Himself of His divine attributes (or the use of them). This heresy must be taken very seriously since it denies the Deity of Christ.  Again, Romans 14 does not teach that there must be communion or fellowship with those who teach that the days of creation were long periods, geological ages. God's creation was consecutive days of 24 hours each. This is not a matter of opinion.  Take heed!

  • Paul's Teaching in Romans 14:
    • Romans 14:1-2:  "As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome (accept, receive) him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables."
"As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome (accept, receive) him."

Here the keyword of this chapter is to "welcome."  Other translations use the words "accept, receive."  It is obvious that there were disagreements, and quarrels among brethren over opinions. This section concludes with the same word "welcome" (receive, accept.)  "Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God."  (Romans 15:7).  

In verses, 1-4 Paul is referring to those who are weak in the faith due to their doubts about eating meat.  He is not talking about the weak in the Truth that Jesus is the Christ.  Many of the Jewish Christians were imposing the Law of Moses on others.  We must stress that Paul was speaking of receiving (welcoming, accepting) a certain brother as Christ has received, welcomed and accepted us. Would Christ have received us if we had practiced adultery? If Christ did not receive us in this way, then Romans 14 compels us to receive such. However, according to the teaching of many, the faithful brethren should receive those whom Christ does not receive. Who believes that Christ receives, accepts adulterers or fornicators who have not repented or refuse to repent? Paul has never said, "Receive the sinful brother or the brother who teaches error," rather he says, "The one who is weak in faith, welcome (accept, receive) him."

Bear in mind, this brother was not "weak" in the sense of being worldly or indifferent to the Lord, but had doubts (scruples, doubts, opinions) regarding eating certain foods and keeping certain days.  Take, for instance, the Jews who had never eaten pork or worked on Saturday, (Col. 2:14-16).  As a Christian now, he is taught he can eat everything (1 Timothy 4:1-5) and work on Saturday.  Since he was not used to not eating such meat or working on Saturday, his conscience would not allow him to do it and enjoy the freedom he now had in Christ.  So, the strong brother (the brother with knowledge, 15:1) must not contend with the weak brother over his opinions. This is one of the critical points of this chapter. The strong must bear the weaknesses (scruples, failings, infirmities) of the weak brethren (15:1). All must receive (welcome, accept) one from another, (15:7).

"But not to quarrel (dispute, argue, passing judgment) over opinions."

So, since we're told not to quarrel, (dispute, argue, pass judgment), does that mean that we must not judge, correct or rebuke the brother who is teaching or practicing sin (e.g., adultery, fornication, etc.) or doctrinal error?  Not even criticize or exhort him? If not, what did Paul do in 1 Cor. 5?  Or in this letter to the Romans (16:17)?  So, if Christians can't judge one another about immorality or other sins, how do you explain 1 Cor. 6: 2?

"Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?"

If Paul had dealt with matters of "faith," (doctrinal matters) (Acts 6:7; Gal. 3:25; Jude 3), it would have been necessary to correct the weak brother. However, since they were not matters of "Faith," "Truth" or "Doctrine," then the weak brother could or can continue to abstain from eating meats until he died, without hurting himself or risking his salvation. Of course, he is supposed to grow up and train his conscience over time, but this chapter does not talk about this. Therefore, those brethren who are strong should receive the weak brethren even though there are differences (diversity) of opinions.  
    • Romans 14:3-4:   "Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.  "Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. "

Here, the strong brethren are not to despise the weak brother with derogatory words.  As long as one's faith in Christ is strong, no one has the right to condemn him because of what he eats or does not eat.  Likewise, no one should force a brother to submit to another's belief about eating or not eating.  The Lord is able to make us stand, as long as our opinions do not interfere with our faith or obedience. We must not try to force our opinions, views or beliefs on others.  We must be careful not to lead another Christian into sinBrethren who persist in sin must be treated as publicans and sinners, (Matt. 18:17).  With some brethren, the faithful are not to even associate or eat, (1 Cor. 5:11).  So, if it were true that in Romans 14 Paul was speaking about those brethren who teach false doctrines and erroneous practices, is he implying that instead of being despised they are to be praised and exalted? Obviously, Paul's teaching or instructions in Romans 14 have nothing to do with such.  Paul is speaking only of those practices that are neither commanded nor prohibited.  Take heed!
    • Romans 14:5-6:  "One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God."

In the Law of Moses, the Sabbath was not the only day that was set apart for the people of Israel to observe.  Many Jewish Christians were still binding the Law on the Gentile Christians demanding that they keep the Law also.  These Jewish Christians were contentious over those who ate meat and demanded that the Gentile brethren observe the days set apart in the Law.  Of course, Paul was never talking about what the Lord Jesus had commanded us in setting apart every Lord's Day in worship.  Its observance was not a matter of opinion or indifference"Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind" as to whether he should set apart any other day to study, meditate and pray.  The Lord never bound anyone to do this.  Thus no one should bind his opinion concerning such matters on others.  The Jewish Christians were not authorized to force any brother to follow the Jewish holidays The Judaizing teachers were demanding that the Gentile brethren observe days, months, seasons and years.  Paul declared in Galatians 4:10-11, "You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain."  The Gentile brethren were not to submit to such demands, "Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath."  (Col. 2:16).

    • Romans 14:7-9:  "For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living."
"For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself."  (verse 7)

Many miss the main point of verse 7 by assuming that Paul was referring to our relations with one another.  And though it is true that one cannot cut himself off from all relations, ties or connections with others, this is not what Paul is teaching here.  Paul is speaking about our relationship with the Lord.  Take note that verse 7 explains verse 8.  No one can live to himself, but to the Lord, for he is the Lord's servant. "For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord."  Paul was speaking of Christians.  Christians cannot cut themselves off from any connection or relation with the Lord and live their lives as they please.  Even when Christians die, they are still the Lord's.  "Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's.  "9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living."  We are the Lord's in life and in death.
    • Romans 14:10-13:   "Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, 'As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.'  12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother."
According to this Scripture, to judge is to condemn.  You see, some Judaizing brethren condemned as sinners those brethren who did not observe the days required in the Law and who ate the meats that were prohibited.  It was a terrible situation altogether with severe consequences to the church.  Hence Paul had to rebuke them saying, "10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God... Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother." 

Eating such meats led some brethren to believe they were eating it to honor an idol.  So, his eating meat became a stumbling block for some brothers who stumbled and fell.  A Christian must not insist on his rights or liberties when it may harm his brother.  The weak brother is not to judge or condemn the strong brother. Usually, the weak brother is more problematic than the strong brother because of his strong conviction (of the weak brother) that some practices might be sinful. He gets upset when others do not believe and practice the way he judges is better in doing the will of God.  He thinks that none are doing the Lord's will.  But what the weak brother believes is not the Law of Christ.  Some brethren insist that Paul is speaking of sinful practices because the weak brother thinks they are sinful. Since when has the weak brother become the authority in the church?!   Therefore, Romans 14 is not dealing with sinful practices.  Period!
    • Romans 14:14:  "I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean."
Paul is declaring that the Law was no longer in force, that judged some things unclean and other things clean, (Acts 10:9-16).  In the matter of eating meats, the Gentile brethren were right, and the Jewish brethren were wrong.  Any brother who thought that the Lord prohibited eating certain animals as food was not to do it.  You see, no Christian should go against his convictions and thus wound his conscience.  No faithful Christian should cause another brother to go against his opinions.  We can teach what is right, but we must not encourage him to do what he believes to be wrong.  It will destroy his conscience.
    • Romans 14:15-16:  "For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil."

Verse 14 is parenthetical.  Verse 14 connects to verse 15 to clearly show that the warning against a brother by which one can grieve him implies more than hurting his feelings. We can see this when we read the next sentence.  "By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died."  That is to say, do not destroy him as a Christian.  Violating a Christian’s prejudices or beliefs does not destroy a Christian.  He will only be "grieved."  That is, he is brought to grief.  No Christian should grieve his brother by eating meat.  They were violating a brother's conscience when they were eating meat. In his mind, they were worshiping idols.  One's freedom in Christ must never be used to lead or cause a brother to sin.  In doing this, one would be destroying him whom Christ died for.  Such behavior would make us both enemies of Christ and our brother.  Thus, one can hurt his own influence significantly under such circumstances.  Evil may result from doing what one believes is legally right even though it becomes evil by causing another to sin.
    • Romans 14:17-18:  "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men."

The Kingdom of God is not about meats and drinks.  However, our freedom in Christ does not allow us to drink and eat as we please without any consequences.  Righteousness is how we treat others. It is doing right toward others.  One cannot exercise his freedom and lead another to do wrong and expect that he is treating his brother right, in righteousness.  Peace in this context implies having unity with each member of the church.  A church whose members treat each other right and are at peace with each other will have joy in the Holy Spirit.  God is well pleased with that church and will approve it because of their righteousness toward one another.
    • Romans 14:19-21:  "So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.  20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble."

No Christian should force his opinions and personal rights on another Christian to cause strife and disturb the peace in the church.  Peace is vital, and no Christian is allowed to cause needless confusion and conflict.  Christians must "pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding."  Christians are commanded to eagerly "maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."  (Eph. 4:3).  To edify is to build up one another in knowledge, faith, and righteous living.  Confusion does not build up or edify one another, for it builds up nothing but strife and divisions in the church.   Since this Scripture is encouraging all Christians to seek peace and mutual edification, does that mean that Romans 14 justifies and tolerates contradictory teachings and practices regarding important moral and doctrinal issues?  According to some brethren, that which makes for peace is what they call "unity in diversity," even in matters of "faith."  When God's Truth is at stake, a good soldier of Christ will fight the good fight.  He will contend earnestly for the faith without traditions, opinions, and customs.  A good soldier of Christ will not encourage another Christian in questionable practices.  He will not push his own opinions, beliefs, views, ideas or scruples, under any circumstances, about lesser and unimportant matters.  In doing this, he might become a stumbling block to the one who is weak in the faith and thus destroy his faith.  A Christian is the work of God.

"Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats."  (Romans 14:20).

In Romans 14:20 Christians are commanded not to destroy the work of God for the sake of food.  This will apply to any matter of indifference or personal rights.  When we (Christians) forsake or overthrow the faith of another Christian, we are destroying the work of God, and He takes it very seriously.  The phrase, "Everything is indeed clean," is applied to meats in this context.  The Law declared certain animals “unclean.”  But that law is not binding any longer.  Under the Law of Christ, no animal is unclean.  That law became evil when they ate meat in violation of their conscience to keep from hurting someone’s feelings.  According to Webster Dictionary, the word "offense" means "an occasion of sin, a stumbling block... A breach of conduct; an infraction of law; crime; sin; transgression; misdeed."  Thayer defines the word "offense" as "a stumbling block, i.e., an obstacle in the way which if one strikes his foot against he necessarily stumbles or falls; trop., that over which the soul stumbles, i.e., by which it is impelled to sin."  So, to eat violating one's conscience was to eat certain meat to cause a weak brother to eat against his convictions.  A Christian stumbles or sins when he violates his convictions or beliefs.  It becomes evil or a sin when he leads another Christian to violate or go against his convictions, no matter how innocent such an act might be. So, verse 21 shows clearly that to eat violating one's conscience is to cause another brother to stumble or sin.  And while it is true that today, eating meat will not cause anyone to violate his conscience or honor an idol thus destroying him, but if brethren in modern times use Romans 14 to justify moderate drinking of alcohol, they are raising an issue that of itself does destroy the soul.  It is wise to abstain from alcohol because it so easily causes another brother to stumble or sin.

Thus, we must never use our freedom in Christ to cause the weak brother to stumble.  That is, the strong brother is not to encourage (by word or example) the weak brother to violate his conscience.  It is vital to stress again that the issues discussed in Romans 14 (eating certain foods or keeping certain days) were innocent practices in themselves. In such cases, there is authorized liberty.  A Christian does not sin if he eats or does not eat certain foods.  He does not sin if he keeps certain days or not. However, there might be an abuse of that which is innocent and authorized. That is, it is possible that by abusing such freedoms the strong brother could cause the weak brother to stumble. In his first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 8) Paul gives a very explicit explanation of how a brother with knowledge can cause his brother to stumble.

But let's see what would happen if we were to add something else beyond what Romans 14 is implying. Let's assume that Paul is talking about immoral practices and doctrinal errors. Can the strong brother sin with a clear conscience and thus the weak brother's conscience be violated?  Or how would one apply this teaching to sin and doctrinal error? Is Paul instructing the strong brother to sin so as not to cause the weak brother to stumble? The point is that the practice of sin or the teaching of doctrinal error just does not fit in Romans 14!
    • Romans 14:22:  "The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves."

Christians are commanded not to keep their faith in Christ and His Gospel to themselves.  Our faith must be proclaimed throughout the world.  Those Christians who understood well the Gospel teaching about clean and unclean animals, that Christ had put an end to the Law, such Christians could eat any meat without violating their conscience.  "One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables."  (Romans 14:2).  The whole chapter of Romans 14 shows that such faith must not be forced to lead others to sin against their convictions or conscience.  In this case, he might eat meat in his own home in the presence of God.  One can condemn himself in what he approves if in doing it he causes his brother to stumble, or sin.  So, is Paul implying that sin or wrong doctrine is to be a private matter? Of course not!  If one believes that adultery is okay, must he then preach it and encourage his brother to approve of it? Again, of course not!  Obviously, Paul is not speaking of doctrinal error and sinful practices here! Take heed!
    • Romans 14:23:  "But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin."
It is one thing to believe something to be right and another thing to make it right.  But doing a thing, believing or assuming it is right, shows honesty of purpose.  Take, for instance, Saul of Tarsus who thought he was right to persecute the church, the children of God and that he was commanded by God to do so, but in fact he was a real sinner, kicking against the pricks of God.  Likewise, the Jews who thought it was wrong to eat certain meat and yet ate meat. They sinned against God and against their own consciencesOne must not act if there is doubt about the righteousness of what he's doing.  He will be condemned because he is doubting the righteousness of what he is doing.  One cannot go against his idea, belief or opinion of what is right without injuring his character, "because the eating is not from faith."  Again, we must stress that this verse is not talking about faith in Christ or the Gospel.  It is talking about faith in the sense of what one believes is right even though it is basically his judgment.  But of course, if we do things without being convinced or impelled that it is right, then we sin.  One may sin believing something to be right but can also sin by doubting that it is right.  For if one doubts, such an act, it is not of faithIt is vital that we understand that the laws about eating meats and observing days was not part of the Gospel, the Law of Christ.  It is undeniable that the application of Romans 14 to doctrinal error or another sin twists this Scripture. Paul is speaking of innocent practices, practices that are neither commanded nor prohibited. In such cases, the Christian has freedom or liberty.
  • So, what valuable lessons can we learn from Romans 14 about brotherly love or getting along in matters of indifference or opinion?

That we are free from the slavery of human opinions.  Hence, it does not matter if we eat or abstain from certain foods. It does not matter if we keep or do not keep certain days.  They are not matters of "faith," but matters of opinion (things neither commanded nor prohibited). They are convictions not based on "faith" but on the opinion of a brother, (Romans 14:5, 22).  They are not matters of "faith," but things neither commanded nor prohibited. Both are acceptable, (Romans 14:3).  God welcomes, receives or accepts both, (Romans 14:6).  Each one practices his belief for the Lord.

"I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean."  (Romans 14:14).  These practices indeed are not unclean in themselves.  "So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil."  (Romans 14:16).  The practices of such things are good.  "Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats."  (Romans 14:20).  All things that are mentioned in this context are clean and are not sinful practices.  And since these are things that are neither required nor forbidden, we must not contend about them and despise or judge one another.  God does not care if we eat or not, or if we keep days or not.  

Therefore, we must not cause anyone to stumble (put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother, Romans 14:13, 15, 19, 20, 21). An example of being a stumbling block would be to insist that the weak brother eat pork or work on Saturday. This would be a stumbling block to him because in doing so he violates his conscience and this is a sin, (Romans 14:23).  Our conscience is our guide in such matters since one is convinced in his own mind, (Romans 14:5; 22, 23). So, the weak brother must not violate his conscience.

The apostle Paul was very concerned that the brethren in Rome do not judge one another over matters of opinion where the Bible did not give specific commands.  There are commands that Christians must never disregard:  carousing and drunkenness, sexual promiscuity and sensuality, or strife and jealousy, (Romans 13:13).  But there are other matters that the Bible does not condemn and allows liberty of conscience.  Concerning this, Paul exhorts us repeatedly not to judge and show contempt for one another, (Romans 14:1,3,4,10).  Instead, we must accept, receive, and welcome one another, just as Christ has accepted us, (Romans 14:1,3; 15:7).  As Christians, we must accept and not judge one another over matters of indifference or opinions where the Bible has not given any specific commands.  It is crucial that we stress again that in Romans 14 Paul is talking about matters between believers who are seeking to please the Lord.  Christ is very concerned that all Christians get along with one another despite the inevitable differences of opinion among us.  When we refuse to heed this, the unity of the church is at stake and in danger.  We need discernment to determine whether a matter is doctrinal, crucial to the Gospel and vital to a Christian's spiritual health or whether it is relatively minor.  Christians often create greater divisions over minor issues than they do over doctrinal or moral issues.  We fail to be examples of love to the world.  That's sad!

Pride, fleshly carnal pride is usually the root of division over minor matters.  It is vital that we get along with one another despite our differences.  I'm often grieved when I see strife and divisions among brethren over matters or issues of opinion and indifference. The Lord expects us to learn to accept one another and work out our differences.  It is essential to understand that there will always be in every church differences among Christians and that we must carefully deal with such with all humility and love. We have different temperaments.  God does not change our personalities when we obey the GospelOthers are more prone to worry and be anxious and easily bothered by things that just roll off us.  While they need to grow, we must learn to be kind and patient toward them and help them.  Some are prone to be discouraged or be depressed more than you are.  Again, we must learn to get along and accept them and help them. We must not judge them because they are not like us, for that would be acting in pride.  And though depression might not be your weakness, you still have other serious weaknesses.

Moreover, we can differ in our spiritual gifts and rather than feeling threatened by others' strengths or differences, we must learn to rejoice with them and humbly learn from them.  Remember, we are the body of Christ, and each one of us has different gifts that must be used to build up another.  The wise know that the Lord is the Judge and that there is a big difference between opinions and doctrinal issues.  Despite all this, we must strive to develop a righteous attitude of love for our brethren, especially when we disagree with one another. Remember we have been exhorted to:
  1. "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor."  (Romans 12:10).  "For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another."  (Gal. 5:13).  
  2. Strive to pursue peace always and do our best to build up one another spiritually,  in matters of opinions, (Romans 14:19).  
  3. Learn not to elevate our opinion or judgment above another's.  
  4. Have the correct attitude to be in harmony with each other.  
  5. Show brotherly love and respect in matters of judgment or indifference.  Love does not seek to get its own way, (1 Cor. 13:5).  
Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat again, lest I make my brother stumble.  Loving each other involves setting aside our rights on matters of opinion, for one knows this will please the Lord.  However, in matters of doctrine, the Gospel, brotherly love demands something different.  And though we must be gentle and kind, it does not require that we give in to the conscience of another.  For example, baptism is not a matter of indifference.  The New Testament teaching regarding baptism must not be compromised, even to please someone or to avoid offending someone.  God does not expect us to submit or surrender to false doctrine or teaching.  This why it is crucial that we distinguish between matters of indifference and matters of doctrine or faith.


III.   HOW THE APOSTLES HANDLED CONGREGATIONAL PROBLEMS AND CONFLICTS TO PROMOTE HARMONY:
  • The Apostles Did Not Take Over The Work:
The apostles would have been tempted to do the work themselves since it was not being done properly.  And since some were being left out, the apostles could have easily opted out by saying, "if you want something done right, then you must do it yourself."  The apostles acknowledged that it was not expedient (appropriate, desirable or worthwhile) for them to neglect the teaching and preaching of the Word of God to help the widows with their daily distribution.  And even though it was crucial that the widows be taken care in their daily distribution, it was also vital that the apostles not forsake the preaching of the Gospel to serve tables.  The apostles chose to devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.  So, what was the lesson we can learn from this important principle?  That each congregation must not let their leaders do the tasks that other brethren can perform or accomplish.  Each brother and sister in Christ must be willing to use their abilities well that perhaps others don't have.  Isn't it something how often brethren complain about how the elders, deacons, preachers, and leaders in their congregation ought to be taking care of a specific situation instead of them taking care of it themselves! And they should stop complaining!!   Instead of complaining, whining and throwing a fit, why don't we use our talents to take care of one another and help each other?
  • The Apostles Did Not Throw Out Those Who Raised The Issue:
Isn't it interesting that when one brings up an issue in the church, he is told, "if you do not like it, go somewhere else"!  The church in Jerusalem did not say such a thing to those who complained.  They took the criticism seriously because the matter was critical and fundamental.  It was not a complaint about an inconvenience, but rather a complaint about the mistreatment of certain widows which the Sacred Scriptures do not permit.  This is why wisdom and discernment, good and sound judgment are crucial.  Indeed, it is a great challenge to determine what issues to address and which to ignore.  It is critical that we examine every issue and complaint, to see if there is a reasonable basis for the problem and try to correct it, especially when someone is being charged with wrongdoing. To throw out those who made the complaint or brought up the issue is not the best way to resolve conflicts if we make a claim to righteous service to a merciful God.  Take heed!
  • The Apostles Did Not Ignore or Despise Those Who Brought Up The Issue:
Indeed, it is tragic when the church ignores or despises those who bring up an issue, or even perhaps controversy.  Though we may not throw them out of the church, we can still make their lives so miserable as to want to leave the church.  It grieves me to see this happening, and it happens a lot!  It breaks my heart!!  Sadly those who attempt to correct, be active and change what needs to be straightened, often become the outcasts of the church.  They're ignored, despised and frequently are not invited to any event the church might be having.  They don't want to have any more fellowship with them (they're still part of the body!).  They start sitting in their own sections inside the building because it really gets bad.  That is so sad, and it ought not to be so among us! It is not godly and righteous to treat others this way when they disagree or have differences.  You may rest assured that as a group of different people with different values, views, beliefs, and concepts; conflict, disagreement or dissension will happen.  So, what must we do as those who want to please and do the will of the Father?  We must acknowledge and accept that it will happen and also we must under no circumstances try to make others' lives miserable and in that way force them to leave. All because of our ungodly and unrighteous behavior!  Is this the way godly Christians ought to behave?  Is this our best behavior?  Take heed!
  • The Apostles Did Not Take a Vote:
Isn't it something how some churches today use this technique to handle things!  Some go so far as to call meetings and then let the majority rule.  So we line everyone up to vote with us to obtain a majority and thus have our own way.  It is amazing!!  A godly church that fears the Lord will not vote for this or behave in such an ungodly way where voting is considered.  Elders must make righteous decisions for a local church, for voting can easily lead to parties, divisions or schisms.  Take heed!
  • The Apostles Did Not Authorize a Committee to Resolve the Conflict:
The apostles did not authorize a committee to resolve their conflict.  It is foolish to create groups to settle the problems within the church, which do not have the authority to do anything about it.  The only ones who have the authority to make decisions in a local congregation are the elders. Without elders, it becomes much more complicated.
  • Those Who Were in the Midst of The Problem Did Not Begin a New Church:
When problems arose for the Hellenist brethren in Jerusalem, we do not see them starting a new Hellenistic church, apart from the Hebrew church.  This way of thinking never crossed the minds of our first-century brethren.  Isn't it something how quickly some will leave and seek other churches or begin a new church when problems or conflicts arise!  We deceive ourselves thinking this is the only solution to handling differences among us and our congregational conflicts.  I don't see the logic of this.  It is not Christ-like and does not resolve the conflicts at all.  We must work hard at getting along with one another and work harder at finding solutions to our conflicts or differences.  It gets even worse when members use the threat of leaving to blackmail the church about.  These are not true disciples of Christ, and it is not godly or righteous behavior.  We must find solutions to our problems and conflicts rather than create problems, strife, and tension among ourselves.  Take heed!


IV.   WHAT TO DO:
  • Resolving Conflicts is Hard Work, But We Must Be Determined to Find a Solution:
Do you suppose it is possible to come to a solution to our conflicts?  I am completely confident it is possible to find solutions and answers in the midst of our problems and differences.  Maybe I'm just too idealistic!   But if we're all trying to be Christlike and do our Father's will, I believe 100% that we can find a solution for every major controversy and division that might take place.  But everyone must be involved in resolving whatever conflict or disagreement we might have.  With the right attitude of heart and the fear of the Lord, anything is possible.  Christians must work at resolving conflicts so that the church can focus on the Gospel and evangelism.  However, conflict is not easy to avoid.  Many have the tendency to shrink from confrontationDue to many conflicts, we sometimes shrink from resolving them, and many Christians leave and find another church.  In the first century, our brethren did not have that option since there was only one church in each city.  We must learn to accept that it is hard work to commit ourselves to work out our problems before choosing to separate from one another.  Those involved in the conflict must learn to resolve them among themselves. 
  • Those Involved in Conflict Must Resolve The Conflict Among Themselves:
Remember, Paul commanded Eudoia and Syntyche saying, "I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord."  (Phil. 4:2-3).  Matthew 18:15 states, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother."  However, in Matthew 5:23-24 the situation is reversed.  "So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."  In both circumstances, it is crucial that one take the initiative to go to his brother.  I wonder how many relational problems among brethren would be quickly resolved if each one of them were to follow this simple rule:  to take the initiative of going to the other person to resolve the conflict or differences among them.  Many choose to gossip to others about the person that wronged them rather than going directly to that person.  It is not right or okay to talk to others!  It is gossip and slander and makes the conflict much worse.  

Most conflicts among Christians can be grouped as follows:
  1. A personal wrong (someone sinned against you or did something to offend you).
  2.  A personal clash (someone just rubs you the wrong way).
  3. A methodology difference (someone does not agree with how you are doing something).
  4. A doctrinal difference.  
  5. Often it is a combination of the above.
Sadly, many Christians are prone to label their differences of opinions as doctrinal differences because they believe they're defending the Truth.  Often, such doctrinal differences are just a cover-up for personal problems and sin (which does not make me look so good!).  Holding sound doctrine in an insensitive way and a proud manner will result in relational conflict.  One can be doctrinally right, yet sin, by the way he sees himself as correct, believing he is better than his brother.  Others will use the Truth to put another brother down for being wrong rather than correcting him gently and building him up.  To sum it up:
  1. We must be careful not to compromise the Truth, but at the same time be sensitive and gentle as we lead others to the Truth, (2 Tim. 2:24-26).  
  2. We must learn to be patient, (1 Thess. 5:14).  
  3. We must humble ourselves and be open to what God is teaching us through conflicts and learn to identify the real source of the conflict.  
  4. We must be of the same mind in the Lord, maintaining the same love, united in spirit and purpose.  
  5. However, we must not set aside God's Truth for the sake of unity.  
  6. Instead, we must have our minds geared toward brotherly love, seeking the good of others so that we can grow in the mind or Spirit of Christ, revealed to us in His Gospel, (1 Cor. 2:16). 
  7. Our goal in any relational conflict is not to put our brother in his place or to win, but rather to honor Christ by growing in maturity and helping our brother to grow as well with the Truth.  
It is vital that we go to the other person with whom we have conflict, in a spirit of gentleness and humility, seeking to restore the relationship.  If the other has sinned against you, you don't have to give him a piece of your mind.  You must make sure you are in submission to the Holy Spirit, Gal. 6:1.  Your primary motive must be that of restoring one another rather than blowing each other away.  Take away any anger and bitterness. Spend time in prayer. Be cautious about your words that you may not communicate arrogance or self-righteousness.  Remember, your manner and attitude must be gentle and not abrasive.  Be careful not to accuse someone, exaggerating how sinful he is, and above all try to understand the whole situation with sound and righteous judgment.  The most important thing in trying to resolve any conflict is for those involved to resolve it in a spirit of love, in total submission to God, seeking to work things out for the mutual good of their souls.  But when that fails, it may require the help of an outside party, a "peacemaker."  
  • When The Help of an Outside Party is Needed to Resolve Conflicts Among Brethren:
Paul calls on his "true companion" to help these two women come together, (Phil. 4:2-3).  It is often helpful for an outside party (a peacemaker) to help resolve a serious conflict and get things worked out.  The outside party must be a mature Christian who is committed to the work of the Gospel, (Gal. 6:1).  He must also be objective and not take sides (who is right and wrong).  The outside party must be willing to hear both sides of the conflict before making any judgments about who is guilty or not.  Proverbs 18:17 states, "The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him."  If there is sin or doctrinal error on one side, it is somewhat easy to resolve the matter, providing the erring party has repented and is teachable.  The outside party must be open, direct and truthful.  Imagine how these two women felt when this epistle was read in the assembly!  Here we have these two sisters in church history quarreling with each other!  Paul did not beat around the bush, but instead corrected them and others by name, (Col. 4:17; 1 Cor. 1:11; 1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17; 4:10, 14).  Often we are so careful not to offend anyone that we end up being vague and confusing.  Paul was direct, specific and truthful!

The outside party (the peacemaker) must be as affirming and as positive as possible.  Paul didn't scold these two women.  Instead, he affirmed them by letting them know how they had shared in his struggle for the sake of the Gospel, along with Clement and others as well.  He acknowledged the names of these brethren as dear to God, whose names were written in the Book of Life, (Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27; Ps. 69:28, Luke 10:20).  Indeed, Paul affirmed these two sisters as being fellow workers with him. He did this by showing appreciation for their work.  In any conflict resolution, it is crucial that we keep in mind that our chief goal is not to just have peace.  Indeed, peace is essential in getting along with one another, but there is a higher goal of resolving conflicts so that the church can focus on the cause of Christ, the Gospel.
  • Resolving Conflicts is Vital to The Work of The Gospel:
These two women in Philippians 4:2-3 have shared in Paul's struggle in the Gospel.  He said they worked together as a team.  Team members must work together.  We must remember the enemy (the prince of darkness) is out there wanting nothing more than to divide God's children into quarreling factions so that the lost cannot hear the good news, the Gospel that can save them.  We must remember we're on the same team striving to further the Gospel that saves the lost.  Thus we must focus on the cause of Christ, His Gospel.
  • Looking to Ourselves:
It is much easier to point out the mistakes, flaws, failures, and shortcomings of others than to look to ourselves.  To get along, we must search our hearts and examine our lives to cultivate those qualities that make for peace.  It will be impossible to have peace with one another when we're looking to find fault, being always irritable, hypercritical, looking for the evil in others, never seeing the good in them.  We Christians are the salt of the earthSalt seasons.  Without salt in our food, it will be hard to do it.  And just as salt is necessary to season our food, so the spirit of Christ in us sweetens and purifies us.  It develops in us a righteous attitude that others can see in us, even when they disagree with us.  We can disagree without being disagreeable.  We can differ without being antagonistic and hateful.  We can point out others' faults and shortcomings with gentleness and love rather than aggressiveness.
  • Taking Responsibility For Our Own Behavior:
Aren't we often good at spotting the faults of others but very poor at accepting our own faults, failures, and shortcomings?  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned the people not to judge others when they cannot see their own blatant sin. They have a log in their own eyes.  Would it not be simple just to ask ourselves, "what responsibility do I have in this conflict?”

Paul urged these two sisters to work out their conflicts so they might reconcile.  Both were at fault.  And it does not matter what kind of conflict we're in, we certainly may be guiltyWhy not ask yourself the following questions when you find yourself in a conflicting situation?
  1. Have I provoked this conflict because of my pride, stubbornness, and defensiveness?
  2. Have I contributed to this conflict using hurtful words, aggressive tactics, or twisting the truth of what really happened?
  3. Have I refused to give someone the benefit of the doubt and instead have concluded that I know the other person's motives?
  4. Have I hindered any reconciliation because of my bitterness, evil thoughts, or stubbornness?
  5. Am I behaving as if I had no responsibility for the conflict that exists?
  6. Am I guilty of resisting God by refusing to extend forgiveness, and seek reconciliation?
  7. Am I guilty of prolonging this conflict because of my indifference?
  8. Am I waiting for the other party to make the first move and thus violate God's command to do everything to reconcile and be at peace with the other?
Then,
  1. Be honest and address your responsibility in the conflict.  
  2. Examine your heart and attitudes and make sure you're moving forward toward reconciliation. 
  3. Remove all barriers that impede you from reconciling.  
  4. Commit the matter to God in honest prayer, addressing your responsibility in the conflict.  
  5. Let it go, that you might be able to forgive and talk to the person in the conflict.  
  6. Apologize or ask forgiveness for your wrongdoing, that you might be at peace with God and men.  
  7. Extend grace where possible and be a peacemaker, (Prov. 19:11; 12:16; 17:14; Col. 3:12-13). 
  8. Focus on the positive, (Phil. 4:8).  
  9. Lower the temperature.  
  10. Remember, "a soft answer turns away wrath."  
  11. Calmness and gentleness lead to reconciliation.  
  12. Aggressiveness and harshness lead to more entrenched battles.  Being more assertive, more aggressive, more antagonistic is not of God but rather of Satan.  Remember that aggressiveness causes others to be defensive rather than open.  It puts us in the attack mode rather than the reconciling mode.  Words can wound the heart rather than healing it.  
  13. Refrain your words and be gentle with your words.  No one can get along with others unless he is watchful with his words.  Words are powerful!!

CONCLUSION:

This has indeed been a profitable and very needed study for me.  I always marvel at God's jewels found in His Word designed to perfect us and make us more into His image.  The beauty of God's Word is its simplicity. Without the Word of God, there is no Light for us, (Isa. 8:20).  Christ is our Light, (John 8:12) that guides us to live a better life dedicated to God's service.  God's Word is a lamp to our feet that is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work, (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

I believe with all my heart that the way we handle conflicts and problems among ourselves in the local church will make a significant impact in our community.  Why do I say that?  Because unbelievers and visitors can sense when there is a problem or conflict in a local church.  It is easy to spot strife, conflict, and tension in a local congregation when harmony or unity is lacking.  There is no way to keep such conflicts and problems to ourselves without others noticing them.  Sadly, these are all hindrances and stumbling blocks for the work of the church and the cause of Christ.

In Acts 6:7 we notice that the church grew in number. She multiplied because the saints were working together in harmony to resolve conflicts among themselves.  The Word of God, the Gospel would have never spread the way it did were it not for the continuing effort of the apostles and the brethren to look out to their community to save souls.  These brethren were more concerned about spreading the Gospel and being the light to a world of darkness, than winning quarrels.  Can you grasp the intensity of this?  You should!  So why not act more like Christ and be the light of this world when problems, conflicts, and arguments arise in the church?  Remember, we have been given the Gospel to impact this world of darkness, and bring it to repentance that they may be saved from the wrath of God.  We must be mindful of how we treat one another when problems or conflicts arise.  Be like Christ at all times and always look for solutions and be willing to surrender your rights for the sake of harmony or unity.  Remember, we can remain sound to the doctrine of Christ without pushing our liberties on others.  May the Lord help us all to live like Jesus our Lord and Savior.  Let this sink deeply into your hearts!

So, to have Biblical unity, there must be doctrinal harmony and oneness of spirit, attitude, goal, and purpose.  The spirit of unity in a church is only manifest when all members are working, sharing and serving together in the Gospel.  All members must desire to share in the work of the church.  Likewise, the members must desire to serve one another.  Attitudes and proper conduct are vital for the church to practice unity and peaceMany churches have been destroyed through division and strife among members because they refused to work for unity.  It is sad to see brethren who cannot even worship together any longer.  It is tragic!  Jesus prayed for unity, (John 17:20-21).  In the beginning of the church in Jerusalem, the disciples were praised for having unity, (Acts 5:12).  Peace and unity can be accomplished only when all Christians are the salt of the earth, (Mark 9:50).  That is, each member is committed to the Truth, to work and serve one another, is patient and forbearing, and loving one another.  Love promotes peace and unity because it compels us to treat one another the way God demands.  Can there be unity when all members must have their own way and pursue their own selfish interests?  There is nothing more tragic for a local church than for its members to be selfish and self-centered.  It will destroy all unity in the church.

Truth and not human doctrine is the only basis for peace and unity in the church.  When a church puts into practice humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and love for the Truth, unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace can exist.  Unity does not compromise with doctrinal error, but we can compromise our personal preferences, differences, and opinions for the good of the church.  Wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, (James 3:17).  All local churches must seek unity based on Truth.  Peace and unity can exist when each member serves, works and shares in the Lord's work.  The Lord wants Christians, the members of the church, to work diligently, cooperating and working with one another to please Him and to have the unity that He wants.  Patience and forbearance promote peace and unity. There is no other way to resolve the conflicts and differences among us.

It is vital to rely on God's Word as our only standard of unity, rather than human doctrines and doctrinal compromise.  We must be willing to sacrifice our personal desires and preferences to maintain unity.  We must seek peace in matters of personal conscience without forcing it on others.  The Lord has admonished us saying, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others."  (Phil. 2:3-4).  The keyword here is "humility." It is key to getting along with others.  When one values others, putting their needs above ours, all relationships will prosper:  our friends, family, church, and business.  We've also been warned by Christ not to "bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another."  (Gal. 5:15).  To put others first and above our own interests and needs, we must learn to develop the mind of Christ, (Phil. 2:5ff).  Jesus did not promote Himself but rather "emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men... Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name."  (Phil. 2:7-9).  A life of service will keep our self-worth in the right place and in proper perspective.  Getting along with others does not mean to compromise the purity of the Truth, but it does require humble servitude, (Rom. 12:3, 18).

Brotherly love is crucial to peace and unity.  It is the foundation from which other things grow.  It will manifest itself in longsuffering, kindness, sympathy, compassion, respect, courtesy, gentleness, forgiveness, hospitality and such like.  Jesus said, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."  (John 13:35).  When we stop brotherly love, (Heb. 13:1), we are giving the world an opportunity to criticize and put down the Lord's church.  We give sinners the opportunity to blaspheme the Lord's church, and we will be held accountable for that.

Sadly, there are many Diotrephes in the church whose primary desire is to have the preeminence among all, (3 John 9) and hinder brotherly love.  Anyone who gets in their way becomes his enemy.  They even defend themselves as having brotherly love, but we know it is not genuine love, (1 Peter 1:22).  Often this so-called love for the brethren is nothing more than love for power.  It shows a lack of brotherly love.  The church in Corinth, (1 Cor. 1:11-12) is described as lacking brotherly love and unity.  Their lack of unity and brotherly love led to a vast number of serious divisions within the church. No wonder chapter 13 of this same letter talks about love!  This letter was written with the sole purpose of healing the many wounds and fractures that arose from such destructive factions, divisions.   These brethren were impatient, jealous, braggadocious, arrogant, slanderers, etc.  They utterly lacked brotherly love.  They exalted themselves to a higher level than others.  Their factions left no room for brotherly love, peace, and unity.  Does this not sound familiar in the Lord's church today?  Often, when there is controversy, great swelling words are produced.

Picking up and moving on to another church, when we are at odds with others will not resolve conflicts among us.  It will not get the problem resolved or fixed.  It will not please God and will bring reproach to the church.  The right thing to do is to work hard. Do some painful self-confrontation. Accept some help from an outside party to resolve conflicts and be at peace with one another.  This also applies to all conflicts or disputes with family members!  We must learn to accept, welcome, receive one another and love each other, in spite of our differences over minor matters where the Bible does not give specific commands. 

We must also remember that every time there are quarrels among brethren, there are many souls affected and God is not well pleased.  It is so sad that brethren have carried hard feelings for many years without finding a solution! Things get in the way, leaving their injuries to fester to the extreme.  My brethren, these things ought not to be so!!  We have been encouraged by the Master of love, to love one another and keep all things from getting nasty.  Remember, that discord reflects upon the Lord and His church, the church that He purchased with His own blood.  Wouldn't it be tragic if the Lord returned and found us with such disunity among ourselves?  The church cannot prosper and grow when there is division, strife, quarrels, and discord.

"An arrogant man stirs up strife, but he who trusts in the Lord will prosper."
(Proverbs 28:25)

The one who puts all his trust and confidence in God will never be hungryHe will be satisfied, prospered, enriched and blessed.  However, the one who is proud, self-centered and arrogant is always hungry thus becoming dissatisfied.  His thoughts and actions are continuously revolving around himself.  He is always craving for more attention, glory, privileges, abilities, and possessions than he has.  He feels God is unfair to him because he is not getting what he deserves.  The problem is that this man is never satisfied.  And because he is never satisfied, he becomes Satan's biggest target for strife, stirring up quarrels wherever he goes.   What a terrible thing it is for God's children to deal with this kind of quarrelsome person! 

Unfortunately, quarrels happen so much in every relationship we have.  Pride is always at the root of this problem.  We must face this giant that is pride with a humble heart, trusting and asking God for help.  This is the only way to quit striving for what we say are our rights.  We must commit ourselves to God.  The one who stirs up strife must be corrected before the damage is more extensive.  There is no other way to restore the peace.  We must learn God's character.  To learn His character, we need to diligently study the Scriptures for wisdom and understanding.  

 "In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets."   
(Matthew 7:12)

We must examine our hearts in order not to sin in the way we deal with others.  We must have an eager heart to do what is right before God.  We must be willing to use discipline, if necessary, along with our actions.  We must put on kindness rather than a proud and self-centered heart.  We must pray fervently to defeat strife and seek peace.  We must forgive, with a sincere heart, those who have wronged us.  When we do all this, we are obeying God.  We need to follow the Golden Rule.  This will eliminate all quarrels among us.  

"But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels.  The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged,  with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,  and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will." 
(2 Timothy 2:24-26)

My fervent prayer is that we put into practice these principles of righteousness to avoid the turmoil that exists among us over matters of personal judgment.  One of the ways we shine our light to the world is by the way we handle trouble among God's people.  God can change us if we let Him.  The Gospel can make us peacemakers rather than troublemakers.  We can learn to be gentle rather than abrasive.  The world is watching us.  Therefore, we must be lights that shine in so much darkness.  We must learn to work hard at resolving our conflicts until there is nothing more we can do.  So, examine your heart and the situations that keep you churning.  Examine your heart and see if there is any bitterness, or fires of resentment and take responsibility at once.  Examine your heart to see if you are at fault in some way and guilty of making a mountain out of a molehill.  Why not start mending all broken and damaged relationships? Confess your own responsibility honestly.  Explain rather than attack.  Cool your anger.  Refrain your words.  Focus on solving the conflict.  And work together toward reconciliation rather than blame. God wants us to be one in Him, work together in harmony and help each other.  And though you may not care about your relationships with others, God does.  Take heed!

May our Lord help us to resolve our differences and conflicts kindly without quarreling so that we may please Him.  May we love each other in the midst of our differences.  May we edify one another rather than destroy each other.  May we walk worthy of our Lord and His Gospel with all humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance and brotherly love.  May we bear with one another in love and maintain the unity of the Spirit as we have been called. May we grant the same grace that has been given to each one of us and according to the measure of Christ's gift. 

Please give this study a wider use by sharing it with someone who might benefit from it. May the Lord continue to bless you in Him.

Luci