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Confronting Conflict with the Gospel #17: Do It Now!

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Philippians 3:12 NIV

An email I received reminded me of the harsh absurdity of conflict in the church. Ron disclosed how he had been led to start a church years before. The core group prayed hard and worked hard, joining him in sowing the gospel to their community. Ron tells what happened. “We started with a core group of about 40 people and by the time we had our launch service 112 people showed up. Over the next two years we purchased 40 acres of property on a major highway, built a building and moved into it 4 months before the church’s 3rd anniversary. The church exploded in growth. Seven years from our launch, we were doing 3 services averaging between 700-750. People were regularly committed to Christ and being baptized. Then it happened. A man met me in the hall between the two Sunday morning services and asked me to meet him in the choir room after the 2nd service. I offered to meet in my office to which he replied, “No, we will meet in the choir room.” After service I went to the choir room where there were about 40 people, most of them a part of the core group who helped launch the church. The man who invited me to this meeting, unceremoniously handed me a paper and pen and said, “Pastor, this is your resignation letter and we expect you to sign it immediately.””

You never know when conflict is going to show up and what it will look like. It could be rabble rousers who have joined your church fellowship, bringing their discontent with them. But it more often can be wearing the face of some of your closest friends who have come to the parting of the ways with you.

This is certainly true for the Philippian church. Paul speaks about how Syntache and Euodia contended by his side for the sake of the gospel in the past (Philippians 4:3). Now their conflict had risen to such a level that Paul sees the need to reteach them a basic gospel truth that he undoubtedly instilled in them when he brought the gospel to Philippi on his second missionary journey.

“I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Paul uses himself as an illustration as he does in other letters (e.g. Romans 7:7-25, Galatians 2:18-21) to give emphasis to his point that who we are to become in Christ is the goal of our journey. He clarified that goal in Romans 8:29, saying that God had set His will on conforming us to the likeness of Jesus. The character of Jesus as the last Adam—Adam as Adam would have been had he not eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil—that is who we are to become.  Paul wants them to know that now is the time to lean into that truth and realign their lives with the order of the day—becoming like Jesus instead of wasting their lives in conflict.

Conflict exposes our unfinished spiritual business. This is true whether we are the ones that start the fight or the ones who were drawn into it. We are not yet who we are to be. Instead of seeing that being transformed is what makes our lives meaningful, we find ourselves seeking our worth in other ways, such as by always being right, indulging in unforgiveness, and creating division (“No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.” [1 Corinthians 11:19 NIV], as Paul ironically put it about another church’s conflict).

I teach pastors and their congregations how to address unfinished business. All of us have unfinished business which holds us back in this pursuit of that which Christ Jesus took hold of us. Moving forward with Christ requires us to learn by the Spirit what it is in our heart that does not belong there and surrender it into God’s hands. He alone is able to make us holy and blameless, to keep us from falling, to lavish on us all wisdom and understanding. I emphasize that believers, including church leaders, need to be taught to pursue intimacy with God in order to continue growing in grace.

But a lot of them don’t. And won’t. They see the point of the training, but they never quite find the time to initiate the discipling process—so many other responsibilities. Or, they make this training just for attenders who are obviously broken—troubled in their marriage, depressed, or openly addicted.

But I have never been called into a church conflict that involved the obviously broken members. It is inevitably the pastor and the leaders who are in conflict. Their unfinished business is acting out. Had the pastor sought to deepen their collective understanding of the transformational gospel and how to pursue intimacy with God, this conflict could have been avoided.

But the pastor did not feel the urgency. And would not until the crisis of conflict showed its face. I encourage you and your church to take a different course. Spare yourselves unnecessary sorrow. Instill these truths NOW in your life and in your leaders’ lives.

Final Note –

Even during the current pandemic quarantine I am teaching people online how to surrender their unfinished business to God for healing and freedom. You can do it too. Set up some discipleship classes or one-on-one mentoring with your people online!