Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Disunity & Surviving Ministry

Sometimes the people you help the most appreciate it the least.
Jesus healed ten lepers, and only one of them – a foreigner of all things – came back to thank Him (Luke 17:11-19). When Paul was a prisoner in Rome, some of the Roman Christians, instead of encouraging him, tried to make things more difficult for him (Philippians 1:12-21). Moses had so much trouble with people that one day he asked God to take his life because he’d had enough (Numbers 11).

Most people think of a heretic only as somebody who teaches false doctrine. But the word translated “heresy” in the New Testament comes from a Greek word that means “to choose sides.” This word describes someone who seeks an office and campaigns for votes by asking people “Are you with me or against me?” This kind of willful attitude causes division in the body. When we take the “we-verses-they” approach, we may become heretics ourselves; instead of solving a problem we only make it worse.

Very few Christians divide over doctrine. Most differences center on personalities, methods of ministry, allocation of resources, leadership decisions, or other non-theological matters. The big problem, of course, is we all think we have the right answer, and we’re prepared to defend our “spiritual convictions.” For instance, let a church receive a large bequest from a will, and the potential for trouble is astronomical. Everyone has their own idea of how it should be used - for a new paved parking lot, for missions, to renovate the kitchen, or to build a gym. And when you add in the implied threats such as “if you don’t do this, my family and I will leave,” you have the potential for real trouble (or what the Bible calls heresy). These are the kinds of issues that most often create the "we-verses-them" approach, or a "choose sides" posture. Division is heresy.

You and I don’t have to manufacture unity in the church because it’s already there. We are one in Christ (Gal. 3:28) and the spiritual oneness of the body is a miracle of God’s grace (Eph.4:1-6). But we do have an obligation to maintain the unity that Jesus died to create – “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Disunity is a sin and has no place in a NT church.

The Bible states, "24 And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth," (2 Timothy 2:24-25 NIV). Always follow the instruction of this passage. In the end, if quarrelsome people don't repent, they must live with the fact that they were the ones who broke unity.

William Barclay wrote, “Pride is the ground in which all other sins grow, and the parents from which all other sins come.” Among the sins that God hates the most, pride heads the list (Proverbs 6:16-17). The trouble is, pride sometimes masquerades as religious zeal or spirituality; and even the most biased or bigoted of believers can be mistaken for devoted defenders of the faith.

So what is a servant supposed to do? Those of us who are ministers of Christ should strive to minister like Christ. He helped multitudes of people who never accepted His message. When He healed the ten lepers, only one bothered to thank Him. He laid down His life for people who never agreed with Him.

In your service, no matter how painful or disappointing it may seem to you, it’s not being wasted. God is building your character while He is building His church, and what He does will last forever.