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Confronting Conflict with the Gospel #19: What do the Mature Understand?

All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Philippians 3:15-16

The lead pastor retired and left the church in the hands of his well trained staff and elders. The intercultural congregation was growing and looking forward to increasing their gospel impact. Except . . . it came out that a key staff person had not been baptized in the way the church’s doctrinal statement required. Although he had been ministering effectively among them for a number of years, it became such a red-hot point of contention between him and the elders that the elders decided to skip congregational input and determine the outcome themselves. They were, after all, biblically responsible for the doctrinal health of the church.

I was called by one of the attenders for counsel. I had the unhappy task of telling him what was coming before the events unfolded. The church leaders had already become emotionally attached to one solution—that staff person had to go. It was of small importance to them to listen to outside advisors or to the members of the congregation who had profited from his ministry, or even to God! And so he went. And what followed was regrettably typical. Many long-time attenders went too. And then, one by one, so did the leaders who initiated the conflict. Today the congregation is a husk of what it was.

I believe many believers entertain a wrong conception about the word ‘mature.’ Maturity is an element we expect to see in our leaders, maybe in ourselves. But what is it exactly?

A number of Christians are inclined to think of maturity as being biblically or doctrinally knowledgeable. Mature people know their Scripture. Therefore, they are the ones asked to lead the congregation in its mission. Maturity might include an age component, with the sense that life experience has taught the person insights into how life in Christ should be lived.

But these ideas are not what Paul has in mind as he concludes his guidance for the Philippi congregation on conflict. He recognizes that not everyone thinks about standing together in unity the same way as he does. But they should if they are truly mature. Then he adds a tagline that reveals something of his definition of maturity. “And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.”

To be mature means you are listening to God, to hear what He has to say on the subject, to understand life according to His glory. If you do not have the level of maturity needed for your situation, God will show you. This meaning of maturity indicates a person who is intimate with God, who knows God and is not merely someone who knows the Bible. All of us probably know one or two who ‘know the Bible’ but are tremendously divisive.

Intimacy with God opens us up to emotional, mental and spiritual recovery within from the effects of the Fall. One effect is our tendency to carry on open warfare with others, even our closest family members (e.g. Cain and Abel). Intimacy with God changes our assumptions about who is in charge of us, even why and how we are to go about resolving conflict.

Define your own maturity in terms of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:23 (NIV): “I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” According to Jesus, unity was part of the good news, erasing the disunity caused by the Fall.

Here Jesus brings together the two essentials of maturity.

  • The unity of the Father and Jesus, both of whom live in us in the person of the Spirit. Growing mature should increase your desire to reflect the glory of God in your life by being in unity with other believers.
  • Our unity is a testimony to the world of the reality of Jesus’ mission, who made a way for us to experience the love of the Father. And not just any kind of love. Agape love. The love that is produced by the will of the lover rather than the worth of the one who is loved. The love that is at the heart of the New Covenant, in which God has forgiven our sins and remembers them no more. Through which each of us have moved from being just a servant of God to being His friend.

I hope you can now see that being mature challenges our emotional attachments to conflict solutions that deny our unity. Yes, fellow believers can be cantankerous, stiff-necked and extremely annoying. They can plant their feet and not play well with others. They can offer endless debate over doctrinal differences that are centuries old without thought to the impact on the fellowship.

But the mature are looking to Jesus for our clues of what to do in moments like this. They avoid allowing their emotions to create an outcome that will put an uncrossable abyss between them and those the Father loves. Seek to be counted among the mature. Listen to God if you have not arrived there yet.


-Steve Smtih