I’ve read and preached about Paul and Silas singing praise to God at midnight in the Philippian jail for many years, but I had a new thought lately; namely, that it should’ve been Paul and Barnabas singing in jail. These men had been partners on Paul’s First Missionary Journey. When they determined to go again and visit the new churches, the men had what Dr. Luke called “a sharp contention” (Acts 15:39). Paul and Barnabas, as far as we know, never worked together again.
Anytime sharp objects are around, people are liable to be hurt. I am living testimony to this fact. I have scars on two fingers due to handling sharp objects. Sharp contentions can do damage to people. And sharp contentions can do damage to churches.
Churches get conflicted over a variety of things.
I remember Betty who got very upset when we decided to remove two small rooms and enlarge our fellowship hall. Betty’s teacher was fine with moving her Sunday School class, but Betty angrily told me she thought she could never come back since we were removing the room where she met God. We know in our heart of hearts that a church is more than a building—a building can be destroyed but the church will live on. A Sunday School class is more than a room, too. But it’s always been interesting to me that Betty’s faith was room-centered!
Incidentally, we ended up using portable dividers and putting four classes in the enlarged room.
When churches face conflict, we must remember the priority of obedience to God and scripture, to be sure, but we must also underscore the priority of people. The church is in the people business. If we fail here, we’ve failed utterly.
Sometimes pastors joke about “blessed subtractions” rather than additions. They mean that some old codger moved to another church and the church he left is better off. I’ve never believed this. I believe everyone is valuable, and sincere believers can work out differences and remain family.
For seven years it was my privilege to stand in the pulpit of the First Baptist Church in Selma, Ala. I would look up to the balcony area and see two beautiful stained glass windows. One depicted Jesus as the Good Shepherd. He carried a lamb on his shoulders, reminding us that the Good Shepherd left the ninety and nine in search of the one who was lost. And the second window depicted the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. She was lonely and despised, but Jesus saw her as valuable to God and the kingdom.
There’s no question Jesus taught us to value every person. People are too valuable to discard.