“By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
Love. We talk about it. We sing about. We all need it. Why, then, is it so hard to show it at times?
When we have disagreements or when our feelings have been hurt by others we certainly don’t feel their love and we may not feel very loving toward them. We experience this every day when dealing with family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, or the guy driving in the lane next to us. We also experience this within the church because church is made up of family, friends, neighbors, coworkers and, yes, even the guy driving next to you.
Disagreements, even personality differences, between members of a church can cause real problems within the walls of the church and quite often your pastor is caught in the middle. Each party wants the pastor to “do something” to force the other party to apologize, concede, leave the church, or all three! Let me give you a few examples of real incidents that caused division, strife, and in some cases a church split:
A young man broke off his engagement to a young woman in the church. Both sets of parents attended the church. The young woman’s parents now hated the young man and a family feud ensued with family friends taking sides essentially dividing the church in half; i.e., the Hatfields and McCoys, if you will.
It was time to spruce up the sanctuary. One party wanted the same white color; the other wanted a pale blue. No one could reach an agreement. Eventually the church split. True story.
The younger members of the church wanted to introduce more contemporary worship, while the more elderly members wanted to keep the worship songs and style exactly the same. The pastor’s wife agreed with the younger members and made changes to add a mix of contemporary and traditional. Several older, more prosperous members, led by the organist and her husband, refused to tithe unless the traditional music service was restored. They hoped to force the hand of the pastor by creating a financial crisis.
While the above stories may be extreme, various scenarios such as the above go on in churches every day. We allow our differences of opinion and preferences and our current and past hurts to dictate our actions and feelings. We forget to love. When we forget to love we forget to forgive. When we forget to forgive we tells others of the wrongs (sins) done to us. We then draw others into our disagreements and cause further division and strife within the body. Peter addressed this with the early church:
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8
Proverbs 10:12 puts it another way, “Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs.”
Let’s face it. We’ve all experienced conflict with others. It is a part of our humanness to disagree; sometimes mildly, sometimes strongly. We have and will continue to have conflict in the church. Again, it is our human nature to want what we want, have strong opinions and preferences, and to feel hurt when we don’t get what we want. Yet, we don’t have to give in to our carnal nature and allow our feelings of hurt, anger, discontent, or any other emotion that can foster division between friends to rule us. We can choose love.
“Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” Proverbs 17:9
One of the best ways to care for your pastor and other church leadership is to love one another.
Commit to allow love to cover any present or former offense. Commit to keeping the matter between the immediate parties involved in order to promote healing rather than division within the church. Commit to being a disciple of Christ, known for your love for all men. Amen? Amen!