When two people who love each other, decide to live together…they don’t usually think about the times they will quarrel. Or the times they will want to be apart. Or even the times, they will consider hurting one another! They know it might get tough at times, but they never really think about the many ways their love will be tested!
Now, imagine three people, who love each other and make a commitment to build each other up. They will most likely fight, more often than the couple first considered, if they live in close proximity. There will be a greater likelihood for disagreement, miscommunication, hurt feelings and so on. But if they really love each other, and if they are mature, then will be able to resolve all their differences, and have respect for those issues that they agree to differ on.
Now, multiply the three people by a hundred! The opportunities for grievances, arguments and misunderstandings are magnified! There might even arise small inner groups and divisions, among those who have greater unity, and those who do not share their understanding. There might be unspoken authority or even a defined leadership, to ensure that peace is maintained.
If they really love each other, when someone is offended by another, you would expect that if they were mature, they would privately discuss this grievance. They would do this to promote understanding, and minimise offence. Their desire will be to restore their relationship, even at the expense of their egos. If both parties are humble, there should be a resolution without it going any further.
But in any case that the truth is hard to hear, or that one is not sincerely trying to deal with the issue, witnesses will be called in, to help them resolve the issue. But if the witnesses decide that one of them is in error, but the one feels wrongly done by, and does not agree with the assessment, it is only reasonable for the whole community to come together to resolve the issue. This is particularly important if there are inner groups, and the person considered wrong is not part of an inner circle. Maybe they are even new to the fellowship.
Jesus gave this system for resolving conflict within His Church (Matt 18:15-17), knowing that grievances will arise, and knowing that if not properly dealt with, it would result in the breakdown of the Church. He also gave these instructions, with the accompanying instructions to love each other, even as He laid down His life for them. He didn’t expect that they would have grievances daily, but that they would grow in love, understanding and respect for each other’s differences, while holding to His righteous standard.
What we know about love is that it is kind, gracious, not easily offended, doesn’t think evil of others, but always hopes and perseveres (1 Cor 13). When this is absent, more often than not, grievances keep coming, and keep getting to the point that one is excommunicated from fellowship. This is not God’s heart for us, though it is needful for ensuring that there is unity and peace in His Church, when there is a persistent offender.
What is also assumed here is that the community exists in obedience to Christ. That they really, deeply, love God and each other. That they live in expectation of His return, righteous, humble lives. That they desire truth and justice. And that they have the Spirit of God and His will in their hearts…which is that all men should come to repentance and be saved.
What do we know about the early believers? We know that they did not consider anything to be their own, but shared all things equally, in obedience to Christ. We know that they lived together, and ministered to each other’s needs, like a loving family. We know that they had leaders, but that each of their gifts were recognized and nurtured. We know that they each had a direct relationship with God, and were encouraged to be ministers of the New Covenant.
We also know that they quarreled. They had contentious arguments, and there were small divisions within them. We know that they often fell back to old ways, and were rebuked and restored in love. We know they were constantly reminded to practice pure love, and follow their leaders only to the extent that they were obedient to Christ!
What we ought to learn from this is that disagreement is nothing, but how we deal with it is everything. Are we mature? Are we loving? Are we hopeful? Are we humble? Are we listening? Are we open to the fact that we could be wrong? Are our thoughts of peace, liberty and purity? Or do we think the worst of the other person? Do we desire control, popularity or revenge? Do we wish for them to be defamed? Embarrassed? Made a scapegoat? Cast away?
Let’s not have false expectations about the Church, like those who enter marriage blindly! Let us not have exaggerated opinions of ourselves either, but rely on Christ. Let us be prepared to disagree in love, to fight to win over those we love, to resist the enemy – not by seeing him in our brother, but by considering our own hearts.
Let’s think the best of each other and inspire each other to good works. Let us apply faithfulness and courage in the face of adversity. Let us pray for one another, knowing that united we stand, divided we fall! Always remember that love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet 4:8), but the battle is easily lost, when love is easily forsaken…
“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Cor 13:13)
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