No congregation manages to escape unscathed the contentious (or sometimes just weak) nature of the flesh. I was talking with a man just today who no longer goes to church, his excuse being that he had simply grown tired of the constant pettiness and contention that seemed to be the defining characteristic of the people he had fellowshipped with. The question that these paragraphs are concerned with is not how to deal with those issues but rather what is the evidence that differences and squabbles have been settled genuinely rather than papered over and covered up to fester later. Interestingly, following two lengthy letters in which Paul deals with a carnal, divided church, namely the church at Corinth, he closes with a list of commands. But although they are in the form of imperatives, their fulfillment reveals that strife has genuinely ceased. In other words, we can expect a healthy church to manifest what these commands (found in 2 Corinthians 13:11) require.
1. “Rejoice.” It is impossible for contentious people to rejoice. But where there is no strife, where peace in accord with the Word of God reigns, rejoicing will ensue. Regardless of the platitudes in the bulletin, the patting on the back of fellow members, and the presentation of smiling faces, a congregation that is not filled with rejoicing is not at peace with the Lord or with one another. Joy is the tangible fruit of the Spirit both inan assembly and in individual believers that are walking with the Lord.
2. “Be made complete.” One commentator explained that “the sense here [is] not of adding something that is lacking, but of putting things in order, of adjusting things that are out of adjustment. It is used, for example, to speak of fishermen mending their nets.” A church that has successfully overcome carnal differences among its members will be filled with members who earnestly and zealously desire, not to correct the flaws in others, but in themselves. There will be a consciousness that “I am not all that God wants me to be.” And in consequence of that, a genuine pursuit of personal righteousness
3. “Be comforted.” Multiple sources suggest that the Greek, parakaleo, here might better be translated “be exhorted,” or “exhort one another.” Thus, a healthy church is not one that tiptoes around problems, but one that meets them head-on, not pugnaciously, but in the spirit of love. Furthermore, this exhortatory environment does not descend from the pastor or a few choice elders and deacons admonishing others, but it is the mutual work of the congregants as a whole. When contentions are eradicated and brethren have humbled themselves before the Lord, they will instruct one another in meekness, but they will also receive correction with humility. Rejection or even resistance to godly rebuke clearly indicates that the strife is not over.
4. “Be like-minded.” No two people think just alike, see things in exactly the same way, nor are even capable of doing so. But to “be like-minded” means that we bring our thoughts into conformity to the Word of God, that we measure our opinions by the same standard, that we agree that what God says is true, and that we will think and live accordingly. The idea is not that you must agree with me or that I must agree with you but that we both must agree with God. With that attitude, we can all agree on the color of the church carpet—even if we have fifty different opinions concerning which shade is best.
5. “Live in peace.” When God’s Word is in the forefront and God’s glory is preeminent, living in peace will surely follow. The God of peace will visit peace on the congregation that has put away strife. Palpable peace evinces the defeat of carnal discord. Where disharmony is destroyed, believers will strive to set aside their petty differences for the honor of God and the edification of fellow believers. Personal ambition, carnal preferences, and selfish desires will be quashed for the blessing of others, at which time, Paul promises, “the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11). That is the proof that the storm has passed, that contentions have ceased.
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