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Peace and Unity in the Church

by Sixto Yap

In my early years in the church, it never occurred to me that there would be divisions and splits in the church as I witnessed the unity and peace among the brethren and their families. But it happened, and many members were caught off guard and unprepared for the situation. Many were shocked, hurt and had life shattered as brethren broke apart – even within families.

History shows that divisions and conflict are challenges that have existed in every organization. Peace and unity are contrary to human nature. That is why in the Bible we are instructed to endeavour – that means to work hard, to strive or make effort – for unity and peace.

The Bible gives us principles that will help us to prevent or minimize, if not totally eradicate, the occurrence of divisions. The principles are applicable for all seasons, all ages, and in all occasions. They are applicable to bring peace not only in the church but even at home, work, and everywhere we go.

These principles can be grouped into three categories: avoiding behaviors that threaten peace and unity; avoiding behaviours that are enemies to peace and unity; and pursuing behaviours that maintain peace and unity.

Behaviours that threaten peace and unity

Paul identified brethren comparing themselves with each other as one cause of division. When believers classed or grouped themselves and claimed, “I am of Paul”, “I am of Apollos” or “I am Cephas” (1 Corinthians 1:12), Paul called it a carnal attitude. He stated that Christians should follow God and not any human leader.

Paul warns, “For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12).

Commending one’s self (that is to praise, to acclaim or extol oneself above another) will threaten the peace and unity in a relationship. Paul mentioned that he himself will not boast beyond measure and he advised the members that they should not look for man’s praise but rather praise from God, “Not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).

Paul further admonishes us to do things not through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind esteeming others better than ourselves.

Today we see people being mistreated because of their appearance or social standing. This attitude is described by James as being a respecter of persons or partial. That means judging by appearance, which is contrary to Christ’s instruction.

God is calling people from all walks of life and we need to welcome them. I remember Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong saying that every human being is a potential child of God in His Kingdom.

James instructed, “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or, ‘Sit here at my footstool,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4).

Comparing people leads to judging. Paul’s admonition was to not judge as each of us shall give account of himself to God. “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way” (Romans 14:13).

Jesus instructed that a person should examine himself before judging others. As Jesus mentioned, “He who is without sin among you let him cast the first stone at her” (John 8:7). If people will examine themselves first, then they will be less judgmental and will be more merciful in recognizing the human struggles in this life.

Behaviours that are enemies of peace and unity

Gossiping is defined as idle talk, not always truthful, about people and their affairs. It is repeating what one knows, or idle talk that one hears, about people and their affairs.

James, in his time, concluded that the tongue was the main culprit for gossip (James 3:6). Today people can communicate and gossip through the use of different media (e.g. text, photo messaging, internet use, use of electronic social forum, chat and more). The problem goes beyond the control of the tongue to the control of mind, attitude or character.

Gossip through technology can spread in hours if not minutes. This is dangerous and has wrecked many lives and split best friends and families – even in the church.

False doctrine and false teaching are the most dangerous. That is why the instruction was to not only avoid false doctrine or teaching but to also avoid the person carrying it. “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them” (Romans 16:17-18).

In addition, Paul had a strong instruction given to Timothy, “… that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith” (1 Timothy 1:3-4).

Today we are living in perilous time, not only physically but also mentally and spiritually. There are so many teachings around us within our reach at any time and at any place through modern technology. There is information that causes confusion and lead many astray even in the church. We must be careful of what we get and read through modern technologies available this time.

Behaviours that maintain peace and unity

Just like any relationship, unity and peace, needs to be nurtured and nourished to flourish. The following are things that will help us encourage and strengthen it in the church.

Forgiveness has a reconciling and healing effect on people. God knows that, while living on this earth, it is difficult for anyone to not be offended or offend others by actions or words in or outside the church.

Jesus knew human nature and told Peter that we should forgive seventy times seven. In other words, God wanted Christians to have a forgiving attitude like Him.

In the parable of the prodigal son, the message for God’s people is that, like the Father, we also should have a forgiving attitude.

Christians are called to be a light to the world so that the world may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. Christians should be a source of good works and good words.

Christians are instructed to be hospitable without grumbling. Jesus stated this is the sign of His people, “if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Christians are called to, “having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).

Paul’s admonition was “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). The church provides services, good works activities and social events for church members and their families to be involved in.

As the saying goes, the family that eats together, plays together and prays together stays together. Brethren should spend time together: to help and encourage one another and to strengthen the camaraderie or relationship of the brethren in the church.

All indications show that unity and peace are contrary to human nature. The adversary detests peace and unity. His desire is to divide God’s people so that they may be easy prey to conquer. We need to pray for one another as Paul stated, “For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10).

God will call many new and former members into the church. The challenge is to maintain peace and unity in the body. God provided the principles as described above that each of us need to apply to attain the desired peace and unity in the church.

Paul acknowledged our human tendency to compare ourselves and gave this analogy that will help the people understand the differences in each other, “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12). It is God who sets the members, each one of them, in the body just as ­­He pleases.

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