Conflict in the Church
March 19, 2017 sermon
By John Maiden
Just as we have conflicts with one another in our relationships, even those as intimate as marriage, we also have conflicts within the Church. In Acts 6:1-7, Luke shows us a model example of conflict resolution in the early Church. Problem: The Hellenistic Jews felt their widows were being neglected in food distribution (Acts 6:1). Action: The disciples chose seven other men of good repute to distribute the food (Acts 6:2-6). Results: Increase of spreading Gospel and new believers multiplied (Acts 6:7).
Lessons learned from Acts 6 in church conflict:
- When conflict in the church comes, the church must be centered in the Gospel. Our church mission is the advancement of the Word of God: using us to preach, teach, and minister the Gospel to others. The church’s primary task is making disciples of Jesus Christ. Satan would love to distract us from this purpose, e.g.: too busy, conflicting preferences.
- Suggestions from Acts 6 for the church to be grounded in unity.
• The church leaders are all present (Acts 6:2 – all gathered).
• The whole church seeks agreement (Acts 6:5a- all agreed).
• The church takes action to accommodate its members (Acts 6:5b – chose Greek men).
• The church confirms and prays for resolution together (Acts 6:6) – prayer & laying on of hands).
- When conflict comes, the church must be committed to Godly leadership.
Godly leadership as shown in Acts 6, means: good reputation, surrendered and full of the spirit, and full of wisdom (able to apply God’s Word with sober and wise judgement). Poor leadership can lead to the destruction of the church.
- Results of positive conflict resolution in the church. The Gospel increased; disciples multiplied, including even many priests (Acts 6:7)
As imperfect people, we will certainly have conflict in the church. With Acts 6 as a model, will we be centered in the Gospel, grounded in unity, and committed to Godly leadership?
- What exactly is the Gospel? Try summarizing it in a couple of sentences.? Is it truly Good News?
- What do you think would have happened to the early church if the leadership had changed its focus from “The Gospel” to the “Business” of the church?
- Have you ever been part of a church that works together in unity, even in conflict? Describe.
- What is the role of the regular member in conflict resolution in the church?
- What is the role of our church leaders help keep conflict from distracting us from our main focus of the Gospel?
For personal meditation:
- Am I personally centered on the Gospel’s advancement?
- Are my daily activities obstacles or opportunities to share the Gospel?
- Am I a role player, creating unity in the church (praying & taking action by the guidance of the Spirit), or sitting on the sidelines, contributing little or stirring up trouble?
- What part of my character does God want to clean up to be truly used for His glory?
We are going to be in Acts 6, and if you have a Bible, I invite you to turn there. As you do, I want to tell you a story: A guy and a girl meet for the first time, say they meet in an elevator, like my wife, Sarah and I did. The guy gets up enough courage to ask the girl out on a first date and they have a great time. There is then dates to follow and things begin to progress along without a hitch. Next thing you know, the guy gets down on one knee and asked the girl if she would become his wife. Wedding preparations begin and go without any hurdles or arguments. The day of the wedding comes and the wedding day is absolutely perfect the man and woman become husband-and-wife and off to the honeymoon they go, madly in love. They have a wonderful perfect honeymoon, one that they dream about and think about all the time now. Then they come back home and enjoy a lifetime of happily ever after with no arguments of any form of conflict. Raise your hand if that’s how it has gone for you? Yeah, us either. There is not a relationship in the world that is more intimate and loving than a husband and wife relationship and even in the most intimate and loving relationship there is going to be conflict. It’s not far into any relationship or marriage that disagreements will come and conflict will arise. So, if conflict is inevitable in marriage relationships how much more true will it come in all of our other relationships? Conflict will come in all places, even in the Church.
I think Dave Harvey says it best in his book title “When Sinners Say I Do.” Conflict comes in marriage because it is two coming together. Conflict in the church comes because we are all sinners in need of grace in the Gospel. So, as brothers and sisters in Christ when conflict comes in to Perry Creek how will we respond to that conflict. I believe that Luke in the book of Acts chapter 6 speaks to us on how we are to ready for conflict, when it comes.
As a church, we have been going through the Book of Acts verse by verse, in a sermon series called “Launch”. I love how this church is built on the idea of expositional preaching. That is that sermons will come from what God has to say, and not the opinions of John, myself, or anyone else who preaches here. In the first five chapters of the book of Acts who have seen the establishment and growth of the church.
The book of Acts is about the advancement and growth of the church. Now as we come to Acts 6, we will see something that could distract the church from its mission and stop its fruitfulness. As the church grows, internal conflict and distractions will arise. When conflict in the church comes, the church must be centered on the gospel, grounded in unity, and committed to godly leadership.
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
– Acts 6:1-7
As verse 1 says, the church was continuing to increase in number as more and more people came to saving faith in Christ. At this point, there very well could have been over 20,000 Jerusalem Christians. As the church grows, internal conflict arises.
The Jerusalem church now consisted of “Hebrews” and Hellenists. ”The main difference of these two groups were their languages. The Hellenists were Jews who spoke mainly Greek, and the Hebrews spoke mainly Aramaic or Hebrew. The history of this is important. These Hellenistic Jews had lived outside Jerusalem for years and had adopted much of the Greek culture. As these Jews got older, they would begin to move back to Jerusalem. They did this because they wanted to be buried in Jerusalem. There was a Jewish belief that when the resurrection of believers occurred at the end times, those buried in Jerusalem would rise first. This is where the Jewish custom that is still practice today comes from, where Jews are buried today with a packet of soil from Jerusalem.
Because these Greek speaking Jews had adopted much of the Greek culture, it caused conflict with the Hebraic Jews, especially the Pharisees who were the religious leaders of this time. The Pharisees would even refer to them as “second-class citizens.” Here we have the potential for racial and cultural hostility to bring down the church. The Greek-speaking widows needed to be cared for. In fact, care for the widows was important in Jewish society, and as Paul will later say, the responsibility of the church. The Hellenistic widows were being neglected and this neglect was causing conflict inside the church. This conflict, like everything else so far in Acts has the potential to distract and keep the church from its main mission, the Word of God. In fact, this internal conflict could destroy the church.
Internal conflict can come in all kinds of forms in our church today. One of the ways that I have seen it play out is in musical preference. I use to be the college worship leader at my church in college and would sometimes help out on Sunday mornings. We were having a lot of conflict in our church and one of the main ones was over music style. Like we do here at Perry Creek, we would practice before the service to get ready for our 11:00 worship service. So, we had gotten there and had set up and we all began to practice our set for day. As we were playing, a lady came from the back of the sanctuary and began to approach those of us on stage. She began to raise her voice and in so many words began tell us how all were doing was making noise and she did not appreciate it or like it. Things in the church can get intense, very divisive, especially when it comes to our certain preferences.
At the Church at Perry Creek, we will have conflict. This is the early church at its peak and in its strongest form. Even they had conflict! We must learn to be ready for conflict and not allow conflict to distract us. The early church has seen many things that could distract them and take them out of the game. As Pastor John has mentioned, Satan will use anything to take us out of the game and stop us from being effective with the gospel.
As the church has been advancing, it has grown in the face of severe opposition. We have seen threats, imprisonment, beatings and sin. But in the face of sin and persecution, the gospel of Jesus has continued to grow and advance in Jerusalem. Now we see conflict in the church.
When conflict in the church comes, the church must be centered on the gospel
Not only in this passage – but also throughout the whole Bible – the central message is the gospel. We see the Word of God three times in this passage and that is the preaching, teaching, ministering of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is a word you will hear often here at Perry Creek. What is the gospel?
The gospel means, simply, good news. The gospel is the good news of what Jesus has done for us. The gospel is this – as God’s word tells us – Jesus left his throne in heaven and humbled himself to become one of us. Jesus came to earth and was fully man and fully human. He lived a sinless life that we could never live and then died a death on a cross that we deserved to die, because of our sin. On the cross, he bore the wrath of God and paid the penalty for our sin. Three days later Jesus rose from the dead, defeating death, and now sits at the right hand of God the Father offering eternal life to any who believe in Him.
This gospel is to be at the center of our lives and effect how we live, as well as at the center of our church, just as it was for the early church. Our main mission and personally and for the church is the advancement of the word of God. We can’t let anything distract us from that mission. The apostles didn’t.
Verse 2 says and the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. The apostles could not and would not, give up their main priority, which was prayer, preaching, teaching, and studying the word. This is no way is to suggest that “serving tables” is a task that is of less importance and a lower level task, but this was simply not the primary task the apostles had been given. There primary task was the gospel of Jesus.
What are things that could distract you from the gospel? Mark is a guy who was a member at my church in Birmingham. I never met Mark, but my pastor gave a story about him that I think speaks right to this issue and someone who many of us might can relate to. Mark was a guy who was crazy busy doing things at the church. He was on personnel teams, finance teams, buildings campaigns. You name it – Mark was there. But one day, God began to convict Mark that even though he was doing all these great ministries at the church, he was not reaching people for Christ. He was so busy doing every other ministry besides the one that mattered most, making disciples of Jesus. How easily we can get distracted by things that take us away from advancing the gospel. I know I can.
There are so many things that I can find myself detracted by – preparing for sermons, hobbies, my job. What is it for you? Is it hobbies, your job, your family, money. As we see in this passage, things that can distract us from our primary mission are not bad things in and of themselves. In fact, things like caring for widows is a good thing! But when things, such as ministries, begin to distract us from our main priority, the gospel, it is not a good thing.
Do we personally feel the urgency of the gospel? Do we feel that we are God’s chosen instruments to tell others about Jesus? It was someone who told me about Jesus that I came to saving faith in him. In the missions building at Southeastern there is a running number count of three things. Number of people in the world, number of people in the world who have heard and received the gospel, and the number of people in the world who have never even heard the name of Jesus. This number is mind-blowing. There are billons of people who are dying and spending an eternity in hell and we have been but on mission to be God’s instruments of sharing the hope that we have found in Jesus.
- World population: 7.2 Billion
- People hearing and believing the gospel: 787 Million
- People hearing and not believing the gospel: 2.6 Billion
- People lacking adequate opportunity to hear the gospel: 3.8 Billion
What are some things that could distract us from the gospel as a church?
Some things could be certain ministries or programs that distract us from our main purpose. Other things could be our preferences on how we think the church should be. Some of the differences will come because we all come from different places with different backgrounds and as the church grows, just like the just in Acts, this will only get more difficult.
As Perry Creek grows, our heart and our desire is to be a multicultural, multigenerational, church. This passage reminds us that as we grow, there will be distractions, and conflict that come along with it. One thing we will have to fight is that there will be preference issues when we become a church that is multicultural. Whether it be worship times, styles, how we dress, whatever it may be, we must lay aside our preferences for the sake of making Jesus known. Will we as a church allow internal conflict bring us down and make us ineffective? We must be a church that is centered on the gospel as we advance the gospel in our Perry Creek community and to the ends of the earth.
We have walk through that the church must be centered on the gospel. Two things that flow from that, which we see in this passage in that when conflict comes, the church must be grounded in unity and committed to godly leadership.
When conflict comes, the church must be grounded in unity
All over this passage we see how the church comes together in unity to find a solution to their problem, for the sake of the gospel. The church in this passage was unified in four ways:
- All Gathered: “And the twelve summoned the full number of disciples” (Acts 6:2). The solution to the problem is now being addressed. The disciples gathered everyone together, as this was to be a task and solution that must be done unified as one body. It is not that the Greek-speaking Jews go off and figure it out on their own, but they all come together to seek a solution.
- All Agreed: “And what they said pleased the whole gathering” (Acts 6:5a). Again, the whole church is unified in this decision as the whole congregation agreed with the apostles’ plan. The apostles did not decide for themselves who they would appoint, but the whole church did.
- All the Same: “And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Phillip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch” (Acts 6:5b) All seven of these men were selected to serve had Greek names. The was an act of unity, as the Hellenists were feeling neglected, their own men were appointed as these leaders. The men were, Stephen, played a huge role in the advancement of the gospel, as his martyr sparked the spread of the gospel outside of Jerusalem. Philip also played a major role in the advancement of the gospel, as he took the gospel to the Samaritans, as well as to the Ethiopian eunuch. Of the remaining five men, there is nothing known about then for certain beyond this passage. The Hebrew just went to extra mile to accommodate for their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
4. All Affirmed: “These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid hands on them” (Acts 6:6) Again, this is another act of unity as the church is coming together in this act to affirm these men and their ministry. It is a ceremony that visibly displays the affirmation of the church for these seven men and their ministry. This was the first time the early church practiced “laying on of hands” in the Net Testament. This laying on of hands was clearly seen in the appointment of Joshua to succeed Moses in Numbers 27:15.
In order to be ready for conflict, we must be grounded in unity. Our society today is so individualized. We are taught to always look out for yourself and do what is best for you. That is where you will find happiness and fulfillment. The Word of God flies right in the face of this. God words tells us to die to yourself and sacrifice yourself for the sake of our mission and for the sake of unity. As the church at Perry Creek, we need to come together and be unified for the sake of the gospel.
In fact, we need each other to fulfill this mission that God has called us to. How many of you have been watching the NCAA basketball tournament this week? I absolutely love this time of year. It is so much fun to watch a team come together and be unified for a common goal, the National Championship. Every single person on that team has a role that they play to help them reach that goal. A role that is often through around in sports is the role player. This player may not be the star that everybody knows, but without him or her, the goal would not be accomplished.
One of the most famous role players in NBA history was Robert Horry. Robert Horry helped the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs win 7 NBA titles. One of his most famous moments was in 2002, when he was playing for the Lakers. The Lakers were about to go down in the series 3 games to 1 as they were losing by 2 points with around 10 seconds left. Kobe Bryant drives and misses, Shaq misses the as he points is back up, the ball bounces out to Horry for the three as he hits it as the buzzer sounds.
We all have different gifts and all have different roles to play in the church, so that we can reach our goal, the advancement of the gospel in our lives and those around us!
When conflict comes, the church must be committed to godly leadership
“Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty” – Acts 6:3
These men were to also meet several qualifications:
- These men were to be of “good repute” or men of good reputation. They must be men of integrity who live a godly life and one that is an example of others to follow. They must be above reproach and meet the qualifications of an elder and deacon, laid out in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
- They must be men who are “full of the Spirit”. (Ephesians 5:18). This is a man who surrenders every area of his life to the Spirit.
- The last qualification is a man who is full of “wisdom”. These are men who have biblical knowledge and be able to apply that truth to everyday life. Men who have “sober and wise judgment”. People who lead God’s church must be people who are of godly character. Lack of godly leadership can lead to destruction of the church.
How sobering and humbling for me as I studied this sermon. These qualities are things of character and qualities all Christians should strive for. For the sake of the gospel, the church at Perry Creek needs leaders who are personally follow Jesus. Pray for your leaders, pray that we would be people who first and foremost believe and live out the gospel. That we will not forsake our first love, fight sin, and boldly proclaim the gospel in our own lives. We must also appoint leaders who meet the qualifications that Scripture lays out for us. Pray that God would give us leaders who will love Jesus, and lead others to do the same.
The word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. If it was not for the church being centered on the gospel, grounded in unity, and committed to godly leadership, the advancement of the church would not have been possible. The church could have split, or the apostles would have had to neglect their ministry. Instead the word of God continued to increase.
Even the priests who were so hostile against the Word of God (Acts 4:1) were coming to faith in Christ. These same priests who were part of arresting Peter and John in Acts 4 were even coming to faith in Jesus Christ! When the word of God is unleashed, all people can come to saving faith in Jesus. Even those that we would never think could come to faith in Christ.
Just like in marriage, the most intimate and loving human relationship, we will have conflict. When conflict comes, and we know that it will, we must be ready. We must be like the New Testament church who was centered on the gospel, grounded in unity and committed to godly leadership.