“Why are church people so mean?”
I’ve been a pastor long enough to have a great, theologically accurate answer for that one. But when the question comes up in real life, that cliché answer just won’t cut it.
I heard this question asked by a pastor who was reeling from the attacks of unhealthy people professing to be Christian who treated him horribly. Things they said and did would be unacceptable in any workplace, but these “Christians” thought it was okay to say this to their pastor.
It’s tough to admit, but some of the meanest people I know are church people. But I quickly add: the kindest, most generous, and amazing people are church people too.
The Apostle Paul knew this tension as well. He loved the church in the Roman city of Philippi. They were a great church, but they had their issues with some “church folk”. He pens in Philippians 4:2-3:
2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Philippians 4:2-3, NIV
Can you imagine being Euodia and Syntyche when this letter got read aloud to the church in Philippi?!? On one hand, it seems so harsh for the Apostle to call out these women like that. On the other, it indicates the significance of their relational problems with each other.
Paul apparently didn’t think they would resolve their conflict on their own because he felt the need (under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration) to call them out. Additionally, he calls upon a third party to step in and intercede with their issues.
Their division was deep and threatened the church. Paul’s statements in these two verses are as much illustrative of the importance of unity in the church as it is pragmatically significant to the lives of all involved.
It’s impossible to determine what the issues were. Theories abound from various scholars but all of them conclude with the reality that Scripture is silent and we are making guesses. But even that silence as to the exact issue is telling. It didn’t matter what the issue was—legitimate or otherwise—the church’s unity was threatened.
And why is the unity of the church such a big deal?
Because the unity of the church demonstrates to the world the life-changing power of the Gospel.
Jesus told us, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” (John 13:35, NIV).
I recently heard Pastor Chris Hodges say, “You can win the argument and lose their heart.”
Our behavior tells the world if this “Jesus thing” is real or fake. After all, if the Gospel doesn’t change us—the already convinced—how in the world can we expect it to change the skeptic?
Are you tearing down the unity of your church through acute negativity and criticism?
Are you fighting over trivial pieces of theology (see 1 Timothy 1:3-7)?
Would those around you describe you as “fussy” or “hypersensitive”?
Do you look for reasons to be upset about things or do reasons to be upset tend to find you? It’s really the same thing.
If your heart said “yes” to any of those, then please hear the heart of someone who cares: for the cause of Christ, I beg you to be of one mind in Jesus.
Get on the same page.
Turn your heart and get in tune.
Work through it.
Submit to those in spiritual leadership over you (see Hebrews 13:17).
Get along for the greater good: plundering Hell by populating Heaven. Isn’t that worth unity?
Want more like this? Consider my book: 31 Days of Spiritual Wisdom: A Month in the Proverbs.
Pastor Joel, this was the article that I was telling you I appreciated so much. Thanks so much for your insight. You and your family are such a blessing.
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