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About this series
Relationships Under Pressure
Keeping it Together When the World's Falling Apart
In this series, Chip takes a biblical look at some of the many reasons why even our best and closest relationships suffer hard times. He addresses topics like why we fight with those we love, why we all struggle with anger, how to resolve inevitable conflict, that the only person I can genuinely control is me, and finally, that the art of speaking the truth in love is a gift - and goes a long way toward building great relationships that last. This series will help you understand the beauty of grace in the context of a world full of selfish, broken, petty people - including you! So, join Chip and get on the solution side of keeping it together when the world is falling apart.More from this series
How important is harmony? Let me show you.
First of all, the very last night Jesus was on the earth, you know what He prayed about? He didn’t pray about strategic planning, He didn’t pray about provision for the disciples. The last time ever recorded when Jesus was alive, He is alone with the Father, He is at the Mount of Olives, the other three guys are asleep, this is what He prayed, “My prayer is not for them,” verse 20 of John 17, “I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message,” that’s us, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.” Do you see what’s at stake?
Verse 22, “I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one.” Is that amazing? “I in them and You in Me, may they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.” How important is harmony? It’s the strongest prayer in the Bible.
According to Jesus, it was the last, most important thing He asked the Father for while He was here. But that’s not all of it. Not only Jesus prayed for it but Scripture commands it.
The New Testament is rippled with command after command after command about our relationships in unity and harmony with one another. Romans 12:16, “Live in harmony with one another,” it’s a command. And then it adds, “Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” By the way, the problem with harmony is in that verse too. It’s usually our pride.
Romans 14:19, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” Romans 15:5 and 6, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus,” why? “so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Ephesians 4:3, “Make every effort,” how does that sound? “Make every effort,” do whatever it takes to do – what? “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Philippians 1:27, “Whatever happens,” the apostle Paul writes, “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, then whether I come to see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know.”
Here is a guy that is on death row and what is he asking, what is he pleading, what is he commanding? “That I may know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.”
In chapter 2 he writes, you know, “If,” and it’s in the clause in the original language it means, really, “since,” because he raises them up and says, these are so obvious. “If you have any encouragement” from being united with Christ, obviously the answer is we’ve got tons of it; “if any in comfort from His love,” if you ever get any comfort from God, oh you get tons of it; “if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then…”
In other words, if God has ever done anything for you, at any time, deeply in your heart or in your life, “Then make My joy complete by being,” here’s our word again, “likeminded, having the same love, being in one spirit and purpose.”
You getting the idea? I mean, this is strong. This is really strong. And there’s a lot at stake. How important is living in harmony? Number one, Jesus prayed for it. Number two, the Scripture commands it everywhere. Number three, the early Church practiced it. They heard these words and the early Church thought that what Jesus prayed and what they were told was not some sort of idealistic, “Well, no one can really get along at that level and God doesn’t really expect it to happen.”
You know what the early Church thought? The early Church thought, “God said it. We need to obey this.” The early disciples, His early followers said, “There is nothing more important on the heart of Christ than us getting along with one another, from the heart, authentically, sincerely, and genuinely.”
Notice what happens. The early Church in Acts 2:46. It says, “They continued to meet together in the temple courts, they broke bread in their homes, and they ate together with glad and sincere hearts,” very interesting word. It means it was legit. They weren’t going through the motions. They weren’t just being polite to one another. They met, they shared, they shared life.
In fact, as the favor continues throughout the early Church, it’s growing, expanding, it’s grown to eight or ten thousand members by chapter 4 at least. And in verse 32 of chapter 4 it says, “All the believers,” thousands of people now, “were one in heart and mind, no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power, the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.” Listen to this, verse 34, “There were no needy persons among them, for from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales, put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as they might have need.”
That’s taking it pretty radically, isn’t it? That group said, “Caring for one another, living in harmony, one mindedness, in agreement really matters.” And when they practiced that, the world was transformed.
Notice verse 47, after describing the unity of the early Church it says, “Praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And then the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” You see this pattern all through Acts, all through Acts, all through Acts, all through Acts. Even when there’s conflict, and they resolve the conflict, and then there’s unity again, there’s this little phrase, “And the Lord adds to their number daily.”
I want to tell you something, this isn’t one of those, “Let’s live in harmony, let’s join hands around the table and sing Kumbaya.” This is a passage that says, “At the deepest level, when your background and your background are totally opposed, when someone injures you, when someone wounds you, when someone treats you terribly,” Jesus said, “Unity in the body of Christ is a nonnegotiable.” You do whatever it takes, as far as it depends on you, to make it right. Why? Jesus prayed for it.
Secondly, Scripture commands it. Third, the early Church took it literally, radically, and practiced it. And as we see, their practice answered Jesus’ prayer, didn’t it? In order that the world may know that God sent the Son.
See? More than all the great reasoning, more than all the great books, more than all the great philosophy, the greatest apologetic on the face of the earth is believers loving one another in unity, authentically, in harmony, despite ethnic differences, socioeconomic differences, background differences, personality differences.
I mean, anybody can get along with people who are like them and agree on everything. There’s no testimony there. The power is when the world sees you and sees me interrelating at an authentic level that the only answer is, “God is doing something in those people.”
Now, I have read a number of passages, I tried to bring them hard and fast, and I hope you’re feeling a little bit emotionally like, whoo, like the wind has kind of, like we’re driving with the top down. Because we were! I wanted you to feel the force of Scripture, the force of, “Whoa, this isn’t, like, here and there.” No cute stories in that introduction. It’s just, whoo, whoo, this matters to God.
Now, what do we want to do? I mean, I’ve got all the same struggles you do. The problem isn’t understanding how important it is. What’s the problem? It’s practicing it.
So, let’s do a little research together and let’s find out what causes disharmony in the body of Christ. Now, obviously, there are lots of reasons but what I thought I would do is I would pick out about five reasons right out of Scripture. The early Church was not, like, these people tiptoeing through the tulips and, “Oh, Peter! John! Good to see you! Oh, it’s wonderful! How’s the wife? Kids? Oh, bless you, brother!”
Imagine trying to get along with a guy like Peter. They had personality conflicts, they had struggles, they had theological conflicts. Let me walk you through and give you a brief overview of what causes disharmony or conflict.
The first one is growth or change that leads to unmet needs. Whenever things change, even good change, it alters the equilibrium in relationships and it forces us to adjust to maintain harmony.
Acts chapter 6 verses 1 to 7. It’s our first example. The early Church is blowing and going, man, it’s a happening place. It gets so big, so big, so big, the early apostles took servanthood so literally that they were waiting on tables and they had so many hundreds of widows and needy people that all of a sudden, a division broke out in the Church. There were some widows who were from a Jewish background, other widows from a Hellenistic background.
Well, most of the early Church were Jews, and the Hellenistic widows were getting a little overlooked, so people were saying, “Hey, what’s the deal? We’re supposed to love one another, what about all those things Jesus said? Our widows are not getting fed like your widows.”
And the early apostles realized, “Why? Why?” Did this occur because anyone was bad? No. It occurred because the growth was so rapid that it created an equilibrium disorientation so the apostles couldn’t handle it under the present paradigm structure.
And so you have the first paradigm shift in the New Testament. And they assigned seven new people, get agreement from the people, and they take over the job of distribution of food, so the apostles can be committed to prayer and the Word. And then in verse 7 it says, “And the Lord added to their number.”
See, all I’m saying, when you grow personally it brings about change. That’ll cause conflict. That’s why moving, having a baby, starting a new job, getting a promotion, all of those things, they’re positive, aren’t they? They are growth, they will create unmet needs in structures, in relationships with people. It’ll cause conflict. It’s not bad but you need to know it’s going to come.
The second reason for conflict is theological differences. Honest differences about what is true cause disharmony and demand thoughtful research and dialogue. Acts chapter 15 verses 1 to 15, we have the first theological rhubarb in the Church. You have people from a Jewish background and you have the apostle Paul who has come to Christ, he is ministering to the Gentiles.
And he goes on the first missionary journey and he comes back and all these people are coming to Christ and God is doing miracles and things are really shaking and baking.
But there are some people from the Jewish background and they are called the Judaisers. Christians. And they are saying, “You know what? We don’t like the way this is going. You have to become a Jew first in order to get to heaven. Now, we all believe in Christ but they have to keep the Law, you have to be circumcised, you have to keep all the temple rites.”
And the apostle Paul comes home and says, “Hey, guys, get a life! That’s not what God told me!” And he says, “Beyond that, anybody who has ever kept the Law before Christ had come, raise your hand. We couldn’t do it, why should we make them try and do it?” He said, “It’s grace, baby! You can get straight to God through Christ. You don’t have to become a Jew.”
Well, man, they went at it. In Acts 15, you have the Jerusalem counsel and there’s research and there’s dialogue and Peter speaks and they reason from experience and from the Old Testament Scriptures and they come together and then there is unity.
There are going to be theological differences, historically in the Church, modes of baptism. What does the Lord’s Supper really mean? Charismatic versus non-Charismatic.
Godly people, differ on those things. Sometimes we need to understand, “What are the majors, what does the Scripture say?” And then on some of those things that aren’t as important, come to a position that, “We understand the Scripture says…” and treat people with tolerance and dignity in the body of Christ. Agree to disagree. Now, we don’t violate Scripture or doctrine but they worked that through and on the testimony of what God said, they went forward.
The third reason for conflict is philosophical differences. It’s like Acts 15 is the conflict resolution chapter of the Bible. And here you have two close, close, great friends. Even godly people, godly people can have differences about the best way to accomplish God’s will.
And that requires very hard, sometimes painful decisions to resolve the conflict. In this situation, you’ve got Paul and Barnabas. They had been on a missionary journey together and they took a young understudy, a guy by the name of Mark.
Mark started on the journey, he flaked out, they’re going to go on the next journey. Paul is the leader, he’s the apostle. He is task-driven, he is highly “get the task done” oriented. The mission is what matters.
Barnabas, what’s his middle name? Son of encouragement. So Barnabas says, “Hey, Paul, I’ve been talking to Mark and he is really going to do better this time. He’s a sweet guy, he just kind of had a bad trip. I’ve been discipling him on the side, doing a little mentoring, and he’s doing really good in Scripture memory now and we have been memorizing lots of verses on endurance.”
I’m kind of adding a little to the story. And Paul says, “Nope. He’s not going.” Barnabas says, “Paul, you don’t understand, we’ve been together, we’re friends, you’ve got to trust me on this one.” Paul, philosophical differe nce, “The mission cannot be put in jeopardy by someone that we know has already failed. God gave me the job to reach the Gentiles. That’s a baggage that we cannot afford to take. He’s not going.”
And then the Word says that Paul and Barnabas had such a schism, and we get our word for “division” or the word for “schizophrenic.” There’s such a parting and it was harsh. And they had to agree to disagree. Well, who was right and who was wrong?
Well, the Bible picks up Paul’s journeys and what he did, but it’s interesting, later in Paul’s life, he sends a letter back, part of the New Testament, and he says, “Send Mark because he is very useful to me. Tell him to bring the parchments.”
See, Barnabas was doing what God made him to do. There’s more than one way to accomplish God’s will, but you need to understand those differences. And when you understand them, sometimes you need to understand, “You know what? Even among the best of friends, maybe this isn’t the right ministry for me to team up with this person anymore. We’ve come to this level and maybe for the glory of God, we need to agree again to disagree.”
The fourth reason for disunity, disharmony in the New Testament is personality differences. Even godly people can rub one another the wrong way. These call for great patience and endurance when the amoral personality traits of another person drive you crazy.
It may even require counseling. It did here. Philippians 4:2 and 3. Two godly ladies, they both loved God, they both had been Paul’s right arm in the ministry and he asked the Church and he asked the leaders, “Will you do a little counseling? Will you help these two ladies to learn to get along?”
They are both godly, they are both used of God, but whatever it is, maybe it’s an introvert and an extrovert. Or maybe one of them chewed their ice, you know? I don’t know.
But for whatever reason, they are both godly people but you put them in the same room and the sparks started to fly. That can happen among godly people. You need to learn to endure, to care, to be forgiving, to put up with some stuff, to be forbearing. But it happens.
And, by the way, there’s nothing wrong too, sometimes in the body of Christ, everyone gets this idea that just because we’re in Christ’s body and we know we’re committed and we’re commanded to love one another, that doesn’t mean you’re going to like everybody the same. That doesn’t mean you’re going to always want to be around everyone the same.
We have had guys come through, great pastors, godly people, they have great wherewithal, God has used them in the past, and then we meet and talk and we’ll go to lunch and try and do something fun, and I’ll tell you what, if they don’t fit.
Hey, does it mean God won’t use them? Does it mean we’re right and they’re wrong? Absolutely not. But here’s what I’m going to tell you, we got a great team, and we’re going to get along with one another, and we’re not going to bring someone on who has a personality that rubs half the people the wrong way. They are going to be one of us. And you know what? I don’t think that’s ungodly. I think it’s wise. Because that personality, that fit, that background is going to be great for some church somewhere! But not here. Life is too short to spend our energy in this kind of conflict.
The final reason is probably the most basic. Carnality. Likely the most common of all sources of disunity and disharmony, plain, old-fashioned sin and selfishness are still the primary culprits in relational conflict. The answer always is repentance, confession, and forgiveness, and following God’s commands.
See, the fact is that the real reason, 1 Corinthians 1:10 to 13, the whole chapter of 1 Corinthians 3, “I have heard among you, brethren, there are actually divisions among you,” Paul says, “and I believe it because some say, ‘I’m of Paul,’ some say, ‘I’m of Peter,’ some say… ”
And at the root of it was their carnality. Paul writes and says, “I’d like to talk to you as mature [believers] but I can’t. You are so small minded, you are so selfish, you are so into the politics of the Church, you’re so into your own agenda, you’re so using the Church of God for a platform for your own ego strokes.” He says, “We are not flat out putting up with that!”
In fact, one of the strongest words, powerful, strongest statements in all of the New Testament is 1 Corinthians 3 about verses 16 and 17. And it talks about the Church there, the “you” is plural, speaking of the Church plural, and basically it’s a warning that if you mess with, if I mess with unity in the Church of God, the very hand of God will come down on you.
See, this unity stuff is real big to God because a disunified Church communicates to the world that Jesus wasn’t sent by the Father, that the faith isn’t true, and that this is nothing other than a glorified Lion’s Club, Rotary Club, or Kiwanis Group. All wonderful groups, by the way, not all commissioned to save the world, not all commissioned with the life-saving message of Jesus, fully God, fully man, resurrected.
See, we are not a social club. We’re an army, we’re a family, and we’re people with a purpose. And part of that purpose is we must live in harmony with one another.