“Conflict in the Church, and How the Church Should Deal with It”

Over the last couple of months, I posted a few devotionals on Acts 6:1–8:4.  I don’t plan to repeat what I said there, but there’s an additional point I’d like to make today, from the account of Stephen and the early Church.  

It seems as though lately, we have only been hearing about, thinking about, and talking about Conflict.  Not too many months ago, we were consumed with conflicts surrounding the upcoming November Presidential Election, and then came the Virus, as well as the ensuing Conflict over who to blame for it, and then the conflict over what to do about it.  Should we stay home, should we go to church, should we shut down virtually all human community?   And then, just as Virus conflicts were beginning to resolve, came the Unjust-Death of a man named, George Floyd, a death that opened up old wounds for so many, wounds that have never been healed.  And so, we find ourselves, still, in Conflict. 

So, as Christians, as the Church, where do we fit in?  Whether it’s a personal family conflict that you are dealing with, an internal Church dispute, or that which is gripping our Nation, conflicts over Race and Police, God’s word speaks to our handling of Conflict.   

In this passage, we’ll look at how Stephen and the early Church dealt with these issues, as well as principles that apply to us today.  

How do you deal with conflict?

Normally, I’ll have three points in a message, but today, I have only one.  So, Jumping right in—

It Takes Faith, Wisdom, Grace, and the Holy Spirit, to Reach Christ-like Reconciliation, in Conflict  >(Acts 6:1-7)

Now in this passage, the conflict the Church is dealing with, is an internal congregational problem.  We don’t know if this conflict was caused by intentional prejudice or favoritism, by appeasement of the loudest voices in the congregation, by incompetence of those charged with the ministry of distribution, or perhaps even by oblivious misunderstandings on the side of the Hebrews, and over-sensitivities on the side of the Hellenists.   

Regardless of why and how this Church Conflict began, the spiritual nature of the apostle’s solution, reminds us of the spiritual nature of all Conflict, as well as the spiritual solutions they require.  Acts 6:1, 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.  

Now, the Hebrews, mentioned here, are Christian converts from a Jewish background and Jewish culture, and the Hellenists are Christian converts from a Jewish background and Greek culture.  They are all Jewish converts to Christianity, they are all members of the Church, and the conflict is centered around the complaint that they are being treated differently, and resentments were beginning to emerge.    

Now notice here that the Church was experiencing rapid growth, the gospel was being preached, people were coming to faith, and then the problem of favoritism was exposed and came to a head, threatening the Church’s unity and gospel mission. 

So, what was the problem?  It seems that those responsible for the distribution of the Church’s resources were favoring the Hebrew widows over the Hellenist widows, and it began to cause a division in the Church.  

After a quick read, this may seem like a pretty simple problem to fix, “All we need to do is to find some people in the Church who can administer the resources equally and fairly to all in need.  It would only require some simple math and basic organizational skills.”  But the apostles realize that this is not that simple. Why?  Because this is not a mere physical problem, but is instead, it’s a spiritual problem.  As a matter of fact, and you should remember this, 

All of our Conflicts are, fundamentally,” Spiritual” in nature, no matter how physical and tangible they may seem to be.  

Remember what Paul said in Ephesians 6:12— We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 

Whether we’re dealing with a conflict involving an evil co-worker, or a godly church-member, whether it’s conflict with an over-reaching government, or regarding racial injustices that began long before our birth, they are spiritual problems, and they require spiritual solutions.  

We Must Apply Faith, Wisdom, and Grace, to Every Conflict, notice how the apostles respond to this congregational conflict—

6:2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples (this is the entirety of the Church) and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 

Notice what’s happening here.  There were already people in place to “Serve Tables,” but they were not rightly equipped.  My guess is that they were the logical people for the job but were spiritually immature.  They were probably great leaders in the secular realms, likely having excellent management skills outside the Church.  So what went wrong?  

We cannot know for sure, but what the Twelve are saying here, is that it is spiritually mature men, like the apostles themselves, who are needed to do this job of “Serving tables.”  

They aren’t making light of the work, in fact, they are elevating it.  The attitude here seems to be that the apostles would do the work of serving tables, themselves, if they only had the time.  You need to remember, they are not serving the tables of just anybody, they are serving the tables of the Body of Christ.  

So, they call a meeting of the Church, and say—

6:3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute (that’s seven men with godly reputations)full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we (the apostles) will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

Now it seems to me that they are dividing out a portion of their own responsibilities, which are no less requiring of spiritual maturity.  They’re handing off the serving of tables to a group of godly, spiritually mature, men (who will later be called, Deacons).

And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit… as well as six other godly men.  

So, to deal with this church conflict, notice what it takes to not just stop the complaints, but to fully resolve the issue.  The Church is directed to appoint men of godly reputation, full of the Holy Spirit, full of God’s wisdom, and full of faith, and this is to ensure that this congregational conflict can be dealt with in a Christ-like manner.   And as a result, the apostles and the Church, will no longer be distracted from their God-given purpose of preaching, teaching, praying, and making disciples.  

So why are such spiritual qualities necessary to settle such a seemingly practical conflict?  

Notice how Jesus settles a conflict among His disciples:

> Luke 22:24–27  A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.

Now consider that scene for a moment: We may laugh about that, we may ask, “How ridiculous can these disciples possibly be, with all that they had seen, with all that they had experienced being in the presence of Jesus?”  But from a real-life perspective, we do the same thing?  

Don’t we want proper recognition for what we do, for what we achieve, and for what we sacrifice?  Clearly, from a human perspective, one of the disciples should have been regarded as the greatest. One of them worked harder, one of them sacrificed more in life, then the others.  One of them loved Jesus the most, one of them, from the perspective of Man, was the greatest disciple.  

I don’t know which one, but the fact that they were arguing about it, indicates that at least two of them had reasons to believe that they should be more recognized than the others.  

But notice, Jesus doesn’t deal in the perspectives of Man.  

 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them, are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you.

Now, that’s interesting.  He’s saying that in the economy of Man, of which we all are very familiar, those who rule over people are called benefactors, in other words, they are regarded as being “Good,” having good positions, but that is not the case with you, with disciples of Jesus.  That is not the case with the Church.  Something else is regarded as good.  In the Kingdom of God, there is a different pathway to honor.  

26 … Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For (in the economy of Man) who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

The human solution to the disciples’ argument, would have been for someone to lay out all of the points made as to why one of the disciples should be more honored than the others, and determine who has the most in their favor.  But Jesus enters the conflict, He rejects the terms of the conflict, and addresses the real cause of the conflict, which is the disciples’ pride, their unwillingness to serve one another, their lack of love of God, their lack of love of neighbor.  The resolution to this Conflict would be repentance, humility, love, and the serving of one another. 

Let’s look at another one.  

Luke 12:13–15, Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

This man that came to Jesus, expecting Him to abide by the simple terms of the argument.  Terms that he and his brother had already set, viz., that the inheritance should either be divided amongst them, or it should not be divided.  But instead, Jesus does not want to arbitrate the conflict, He wants to resolve it.  He doesn’t want fairness; he wants reconciliation to God and to each other.  Jesus identifies the spiritual problem causing the conflict, it was Covetousness, which is idolatry.  

It’s likely that neither of these brothers imagined themselves to be idolaters, but this is exactly what Jesus reveals, Idolatry was the source of the conflict, This was the real problem, and it would not be settled by merely arbitrating terms of the inheritance.  The resolution to this Conflict would be repentance, humility, love, and the serving of one another. 

In both of these examples, those involved expected the conflicts to be settled by Jesus weighing the facts and determining which of them were right, and which were wrong.  But Jesus rejects their terms, and addresses the actual cause of their disputes, viz., the depravity of their hearts.  

We must understand that the true resolution to our conflicts, will not be found within the terms that We set, but instead, by obedience to the terms that God has set, the commands that God has commanded.  This is why logic fails when trying to resolve so many conflicts.  Godly Resolution requires Faith, Wisdom, and the Spirit of God working through us, this is spiritual maturity.  And without Repentance, Forgiveness, and Love, Conflicts may simmer down, but will never be fully resolved.  

We can see this very clearly today.  We have so much conflict in our country, so much unrepented sin, so many unresolved grievances, and we may be tempted to pick a side, to try to help settle the conflict by yielding to the terms set by others.  

Clearly there are precious human beings that are painfully wounded, those who have been subjected to terrible injustices.

How should we respond?  In 2 Corinthians 1:3–4, we read,  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in anyaffliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

We may not be able to settle the conflicts of the world today, but we can comfort those who are afflicted, those who desire comfort.

Settling this conflict gripping our country today is not as simple as picking a side and camping out on our preferred moral high ground.  But if we are to try to help those stifled by this, or any, conflict, there are are some questions we must ask, and answers we must discern: 

  1. What are the heart issues on all sides of this division?  
  2. What are God’s terms in settling this conflict?  
  3. What has God said in His word concerning issues involved?
  4. Where is repentance needed?
  5. Where is forgiveness needed?
  6. What is needed for Christ-like reconciliation? 

These questions are not easy to answer.  Likewise, the conflict in the early church was not as simple as deciding how much of the daily distribution should be given to the Hellenist widows verses the Hebrew widows.  For this dispute to be settled in a Christ-like manner, the heart issues would have to be addressed, and for this, the Church would need to appoint godly men, full of the Holy Spirit, full of God’s wisdom, and full of faith.  Anything less would not produce Christ-like reconciliation.  

Now, notice what happens.  There was a conflict that could have caused a permanent division in the Church.  This conflict could have resulted in a Hebrew-Christian church, and a Hellenist-Christian church.  But because godly, spiritually mature, men were appointed to “Serve tables,” the conflict was settled rightly, not merely, fairly.  Christ-like reconciliation was reached, and notice the result—

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. 

When the Church gets conflict right, we honor God, because getting conflict right means getting our hearts right.  And as we can see in vv.1-7, the scene begins with the gospel being faithfully preached, God moving in the hearts of the hearers, and the Church growing.  The Church then falls into conflict, they settle the conflict rightly, and the Church continues to multiply.  

In settling conflicts, we don’t need logic, we don’t even need fairness— we need God’s Grace.  

The most important thing we can do today, to have the greatest impact during this time of conflict, is to pray.  To pray that we, as God’s Church, may be conduits of God’s grace, of God’s comfort, of God’s peace, of God’s wisdom, and that we may faithfully preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Furthermore, search your own hearts.  Do you harbor hate, resentment, fear, anger?  Do you have things in your heart to repent of, do you have people to forgive?

Jesus came to this world, in order to settle mankind’s greatest Conflict, the conflict of our sin against our Holy Creator God.  Jesus came, not to heal the healthy, but the sick.  Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”  Luke 5:31–32

Do you want to help those who are suffering in this world?  Do you want to help settle the Conflict?  The greatest conflict is the one between Man and God, and as believers in Jesus Christ, you are equipped to help settle that.  Be the disciple that God has called you to be, preach the gospel, make disciples.  

Jesus came to this sick and hurting world, a world devastated by the effects of sin, and in desperate need of a Savior.   He lived a perfect righteous life, and then suffered the greatest injustice this world could ever know.  As Holy God become man, He was crucified on a cross in order to redeem mankind from the bondage of sin and death.  

God, the Father accepted His death as the just payment for the sin of the world.  

If you do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, Let Christ settle that great Conflict in your life, let Him reconcile you to God the Father, and with a repentant heart, turn from your sin, and receive His grace.  

Trust Jesus today.

~ by James M. Winslow on 2021/04/12.

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