1 Corinthians 1:10-17
10 Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. Instead, be restored with the same mind and the same purpose. 11 My brothers and sisters, Chloe’s people gave me some information about you, that you’re fighting with each other. 12 What I mean is this: that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Cephas,” “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paul’s name? 14 Thank God that I didn’t baptize any of you, except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that nobody can say that you were baptized in my name! 16 Oh, I baptized the house of Stephanas too. Otherwise, I don’t know if I baptized anyone else. 17 Christ didn’t send me to baptize but to preach the good news. And Christ didn’t send me to preach the good news with clever words so that Christ’s cross won’t be emptied of its meaning.
There are multiple ways to compromise. When I was young, my brother and I rarely had to share anything due to our different ages…until I learned how to play Nintendo. You knew it was a rainy day at our house when there would be the sound of boys yelling, “Mom, he won’t let me have a TURN!!” Her solution – you play five minutes, then you play five minutes. That is a pretty solid way to compromise when it comes to sharing resources. For those who prefer the legal eloquence of the Old Testament, there is a biblical model for compromise: when faced with two women who argued over a child, King Solomon suggested cutting it in half. He was proving a point about misusing the law, but the Bible does technically say it.
The reality is, we can’t always abide by a simple, cut-and-dry (no pun intended) scheme when we need to compromise as adults. Usually, our issues with each other come down to non-tangible things. We fight more about purpose than about objects.
In moments where we find ourselves in conflict, we are at a crossroads. Either we stick to our guns and deal with the aftermath of fighting for our own way, or, we choose to recognize the others’ concerns in hopes that we come together for a common goal and mission.
In today’s passage from 1 Corinthians, Paul is speaking to a very divided Corinthian church who are fighting about who of their teachers is best. They have had a number of teachers come through and teach them about their faith. Chief among those were of course Paul himself, Cephas who we know as Peter, and Apollos, who was a regional teacher in Greece.
What Paul is arguing is for them to remember that they have a common purpose and goal that is more important than their preferences. This can be a hard pill to swallow, because it encourages not only healthy disagreement but patience. We all interpret our call to Christ in different manners, and so, we work through that call the ways we know best. In seminary, we call the way of understanding how to be a church ecclesiology. You, church, are the ekklesia. I am the elder, or presbyter, who is in charge of keeping you away from each other’s throats. And mine for that matter.
That is why, in this season of Lent, I have focused on conflict. We need to do more as a church to benefit Charlotte. The problem is, as I’ve said before, we all will have ideas how to or how not to do that. Some may not want to do anything new, where others might have ideas where we open up our church to everyone in need. How novel…
There are three actions we can do to use conflict to find what we, as a church, are supposed to do to meet our goal of making disciples.
The first thing we must do if we are to effectively compromise is find common ground. Finding our common connection, which in our case is to make disciples for Christ, grounds us to a sort of “square one.” Yes, there is a lot of room to interpret that square, but it also is simple enough to hold our feet and others’ feet to the fire when they want things their way.
I once took part in a worship meeting where two sides were arguing over who got to use the sanctuary space at the 11 o’clock hour on Sunday morning for worship. In the name of making disciples, they all pointed to why their preferred time for their preferred style of worship would bring in the most people. Patiently, the pastor listened and reminded them over and over to ask what is the best compromise for the most people. They eventually realized that by examining all the people involved and not just the two groups willing to fight, a solution made itself clear.
Being willing to see a greater good means we have to put what we want as secondary to what is best for all. Sometimes that lines up with what we want to do and sometimes it doesn’t. Many of you play or have played sports. Just because you don’t get to score doesn’t mean your play isn’t important. Even when you want to do something else, you still have to help in the master plan.
The second thing to do in conflict is celebrate it. We don’t seem to do that ever, but true, heartfelt conflict points to a desire to grow. It means that what is going on matters to us in a way that causes us to speak up. In Patrick Lencioni’s book Five Dysfunctions of a Team, he tells the story of a CEO who turns a dysfunctional team around simply by pointing to where they have terrible conflict skills and view conflicts as a way to look out for oneself. In a pivotal moment, Kathryn, the CEO, tells them that their meetings should include healthy debate. If there is no debate, there is no need to meet, because nothing is happening.
This tends to occur in churches when we have to let ministries and traditions go because they don’t offer growth anymore. I have seen so many hurt feelings over “traditions” that don’t have any more gusto. We should allow and even encourage debate on their continuation, because the emotion may lead to revival; other times, we must give old ministries dignity of being let go before they become a liability.
Healthy churches must celebrate the conflict that says to “move on” and “get better” so they don’t hang their hats on anything permanently. Jesus never stayed in one spot for a reason: comfort brings complacency. Complacency kills causes.
In Corinthians, Paul redirects the church’s debate energy towards the common good. He could squash it, but instead he points to its better use, which brings us to point three.
The third thing to do in conflict is listen between the lines. I have discovered that when people are agitated, they often lean on their most basic selves. You quickly learn what they like, dislike, and are good at, because those are their safety nets. I’m all for personal growth, but when you are a part of a group it is best to do what you are good at first then learn new things as we go along.
During one of my home church’s chicken barbecues, one of the adults tried teaching us young kids how to chop wood. After lots of our grumbling that he kept referring to as “growing new muscles,” one of the other gentlemen noted how quickly one of my friends picked up watching the coals, so chopping wood meant he wasn’t watching coals where he was better suited. When we stop thinking we know best where to devote our energy, we learn there are many gifts in the church and can better listen to what God wants us to do.
We must find common ground, celebrate the difference, and listen to what opportunities are present.
Now, when we find ourselves at conflict, we can do one of two things: 1) recognize the opportunity in it as a way to grow ourselves and the church, or, 2) we complain, fuss, call everybody to gossip, and solve literally nothing. Most of the time, people want to choose option 2. Don’t fall trap to that. It’s far better and far more biblical to redirect our focus to something better than to prove ourselves right by stopping all progress.
Paul goes on in Corinthians to point to what that something better is. He tells them that they are builders in the kingdom of heaven. Paul laid a foundation, and it is their turn to build on that foundation. He warns them that they should build and not go about critiquing what each other is doing. It is God’s job to test the work of each person. The work of discernment occurs through the whole body – not just a select few.
We are called to be light-givers, resource-sharers, and models of right living. We are to build buildings of ministries of healing and hope. There is no room for standing on the sideline and being the foreman.
As we work together to bring about the kingdom of heaven in Charlotte, we have to do this as a body devoted to God. We have to work together and not undermine each other. Recognize what is good for all, find common ground, celebrate when we have difference, and listen for where people can be using their gifts more effectively.
If the church doesn’t see itself in crisis now, we might as well wait for the time when we decide who is last to turn out the lights for good. However – if we pull together in this vision and actively ask where we can do the most good, God will help us work through our differences so that we build the kingdom and disciples are made. Amen.