So what if the church isn’t acting like Jesus? What if you have been hurt, betrayed or wounded by church members? When we get mistreated do we have a right to withdraw from the body, withhold ourselves and back-off from serving others?
I admit, at times, I have reacted that way. A few years ago we took on serving a man with mental illness. Through time he became part of our family in every way. We moved some of his relatives into our home so they could relocate to the area. We held nothing back emotionally or financially from them. Eventually they turned on us. They began calling us false teachers and started a campaign to destroy the work we do. Letters were written across the country to any church or person that they thought had any fellowship with us. They wanted our support cut immediately. An internet assault followed. Public rants about personal issues they were privy to got displayed in the internet. We were betrayed.
The thoughts of regret immediately started swirling through my head. There were warning signs. We should have known better. I shouldn’t have given so much of my heart. But then it hit me. What I was saying was, if I would have known the outcome I wouldn’t have served them. That is just plainly against the ways of Jesus.
Before the crucifixion who sat at the table to eat with Jesus? Who’s feet did Jesus kneel to wash? Judas. Jesus served him knowing that he was his betrayer. So if I claim to be one of Jesus’ followers, I better follow Him all the way.
But that isn’t to say that we won’t have legitimate conflict in our churches.There will be disputes even among children of God. James says,
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. James 4:1-2
The letter that Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus deals with some pretty major conflict in one church. They were dealing the unification of Jews and Gentiles. The only similar cultural divide that we Americans could identify with is the division between blacks and whites. Let’s go back to Alabama, 1960. Let’s say segregation ended abruptly. What if white Christians and black Christians were thrown into the same church? Would you expect there to be some hostility or tension at best? Absolutely. Churches in America still aren’t totally integrated, so I suspect the integration of Jews and Gentiles was not a smooth transition.
Eph. 2 captures the division and the plan for unity.
Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.
For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.
He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.
So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.
Jesus death of the cross ended hostility and brought peace to unite all people. Obviously that doesn’t mean that we won’t make mistakes and allow division to creep in. But we are also told how to handle those divisions in Col. 3:12-15.
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.
When you feel like crawling back into your shell or just giving up on the church, remember how Jesus treated his enemies. When you think your conflicts are too big to be resolved think of the church in Ephesus. When you want to respond defensively or in anger remember how much you have been forgiven.
As members of one body you are called to live in peace.
Next week we’ll talk about what to do if your church has abandoned truth. Jesus warned that He can remove our candlestick. What then?