When Christians Collide

“Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” – Job 5:7

The familiar time-proven quatrain says it well:
To live above with the saints we love,
Oh that will be glory!
But to live below with the saints we know
…that’s another story!

It is true that when we all get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! The Day will break, the shadows will flee away and we will be face to face with Christ our Savior. Sin and sorrow shall cease and we will dwell forever in the land of “no more”, where there will no more tears, death, sorrow, crying and pain, Rev. 21.4. We will be reunited with loved ones who have gone before us in the Lord, “the spirits of just men, made perfect”, Heb. 12:23.  As the hymnwriter has said; “What a Day, glorious Day that will be”!  But until that time, a lot of patience is required to “live below with the saints we know”. While we are in this life, we will eventually have to deal with the spirits of just men (and women) who are not so perfect!  Saints come in all “shapes and sizes”- from all walks of life and from various backgrounds with a wide range of knowledge and experience (or lack thereof). Despite the fact that believers share a common salvation, they can also be as different as night and day. They may have different ideas and opinions as to how a certain project or event in the local church should be conducted. They may differ on what is the best approach to reach the unsaved, or the best way to conduct youth ministry or what topics should be emphasized from the platform or even what music style in their opinion is the best. There are as many differences as there are faces in the local church. But when “an unstoppable force meets an immovable object”, then watch out!  Sparks will fly upward – you can count on it!

To help deal with this potentiality, God has included an abundance of “one another” commands in the NT that emphasize tolerance, patience and forbearance among believers. Christians are to accept one another, Rom. 15:7; be at peace with one another, Mark 9:50; bear and forgive one another, Col. 3:13; and be of the same mind toward one another, Rom. 12:16. These are reciprocal commands, meaning that what applies to one applies to the other. In other words, it is a shared responsibility and non-compliance by one does not dissolve the obligation of the other. These commands take into account that there will always be differences among believers, yet a sacred duty in upholding the Word of God, in keeping His commandments and in doing those things that are pleasing in His sight, 1 John 3:22.

Why the Differences?

What are the reasons for differences among believers and are they all that bad? One reason for differences actually comes from the Lord. 1 Corinthians 12 reminds us: “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.” It is the same Spirit, Lord, and God who sovereignly bestow spiritual gifts, sphere of ministry and level of operation (enablement) among all believers. These differences simply highlight the manifold or multifaceted grace of God, 1 Peter 4:10. In some ways, it is what makes the Christian life so exciting! God calls different people from different walks of life, whose saving grace frames the life of the redeemed as pictured symbolically in Psalm 107. He endows each one with a unique combination of talents and abilities to glorify His Name. We are different and yet one in purpose – to glorify the Lord. It is the reason why Paul prayed that the Ephesian believers “might comprehend with all the saints what is the width, and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ”, Eph. 3:18-19. We need one another to help comprehend the range of God’s amazing grace. Our differences show the wide dimensions of the love of Christ and His power in redeeming us from the hand of the enemy. Thank the Lord for these differences, otherwise we would be all doing the same things, the same way!

But with these differences can come conflict. Some of these differences are due to personality. Some people are more outgoing than others, some are more reserved. One may be bothered when they see a jovial person always smiling; the other can be annoyed by the person who always seems to be down-in-the-mouth and acting as if a cloud perpetually hangs over his head, lacking the joy of the Lord. Despite the fact that there may be legitimate behind-the-scenes reasons for this, nevertheless, these differences can cause issues at times, issues that will eventually need to be resolved with patience and understanding and help from the Lord. 

Another reason for conflict among the saints may result from different levels of spiritual knowledge, understanding and maturity and experience. There may also be educational and social differences and different convictions about certain matters as there was in the Corinthian assembly, 1 Cor. 10-11. There some had opposite views as to days of the week or whether or not believers ought to eat meat that had been offered to idols. Today, the “gray” areas seems to revolve around music styles, whether or not it should be hymns or contemporary music selections. These differences (and many like them) can be very strong and difficult to resolve, causing much conflict in the Church.

Dealing with the Differences

How then are differences to be dealt with? What do you do when the “unstoppable force” and the “immovable object” collide, especially when both claim to know the Lord, and both quote Bible verses to substantiate their claims?  What then? Here is another reason why the Lord has supplied us with the “one another” commands in Scripture. Repeatedly, the NT emphasizes the responsibility that all of us have to work with each other in the common cause of glorifying God in the world, magnifying Christ in our lives and striving together for the faith of the Gospel, Phil. 1:27. We are to demonstrate by our mutual care and concern as members one of another that there be no schism in the body, 1 Cor. 12:25. By this, we are demonstrating in a practical way the fulfillment of our Lord’s prayer in the Upper Room that “we all may be one”, John 17:21. We can have diversity and yet maintain unity. Different, but of the same mind one toward another for the purpose of glorifying Christ, Romans 12:16; 15:5. When there is conflict, we believers are to seek the face of the Lord and the leading of the Spirit and to prayerfully open God’s Word to get light on the subject. Perhaps the problem is not with the other person, maybe it is with you! No one should be beyond the realm of teachability, Phil. 3:15. “Blind spots” are a reality.

Good Christians can and will collide at times. But if they strive to be like Christ in all their ways, seek to be conformed to His image in attitude and action and follow His steps, a lot of unnecessary hurt will be averted.  As we give preference to one another (Romans 12:10) and respond in a spirit of meekness humility, we will demonstrate that it is always good that the heart be established with grace, Heb. 13:9. As we approach our differences in this God-honoring way, we will be dousing the flame that the devil is fuelling to get blood-bought believers warring with one another instead of him.

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