A Heart for Harmony
Pastor Ricky Powell (Fort Caroline Baptist Church, Jax., FL)
Scripture Introduction: Beating One Another
Jim Whittaker was captured in 1942 by the Japanese during World War II. During his interment at a labor camp in Burma, his battalion was part of the construction of the famous bridge over the river Kwai. Describing the brutal treatment of prisoners, Jim recounts the time when a soldier checking knapsacks was startled to find a snake which was being kept as a future meal by a hungry inmate. The prisoner laughed.
Angry and embarrassed, the Japanese guard made the captives line up and beat each other! The other guards watched to make sure the beatings were authentic and not faked. (Citation: Al Zdon, “Building the Real Bridge on the River Kwai,” The Minnesota American Legion (online), July 2002).
I have often wondered how Satan must stand back and watch with glee as God’s people beat each other. Our church conflicts may never come to actual physical blows, but verbal blows often hurt more deeply. Physical wounds heal, but emotional scars stay with you forever. We teach our children a lie when we teach them to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That’s just wishful thinking because words do hurt!
Conflict among Christians does real damage. Conflict hurts the people directly involved, it hurts innocent by-standers, and it hurts the cause of Christ. It does not matter what started the conflict. Christians may argue over the color of the carpet in the sanctuary, or the style of music sung in worship, but the results are the same; people get hurt and the cause of Christ suffers damage.
Not long ago I spoke to a pastor in Georgia who was bemoaning the fact that his church had a bad reputation in the community. He said, “Ricky, this church has gained a reputation in the community of conflict and disharmony. People won’t come here because they have heard about all the church fights over the years.”
It is my prayer that God will give the members of this church a heart for harmony. That’s what I want to speak to you about tonight, “A Heart for Harmony.” Our Scripture passage is found in Philippians 4:2-3.
I am not preaching this message tonight because your pastor told me to. He has never spoken a negative word about this church to me. As far as I know this church is filled with people who always get along with one another and never is heard a discouraging word (kind of like Home on the Range). If that is the case, just take good notes and file this sermon away, because one day you are going to need it. Every Christians needs to hear this message.
2 I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.
Philippians 4:2-3 (NKJV)
Sermon Introduction: Three Year Argument
The monks at a remote monastery deep in the woods followed a rigid vow of silence. Their vow could only be broken once a year—on Christmas—by one monk. That monk could speak only one sentence. One Christmas, Brother Thomas had his turn to speak and said, “I love the delightful mashed potatoes we have every year with the Christmas roast!” Then he sat down. Silence ensued for 365 days.
The next Christmas, Brother Michael got his turn and said, “I think the mashed potatoes are lumpy, and I truly despise them!” Once again, silence ensued for 365 days.
The following Christmas, Brother Paul rose and said, “I am fed up with this constant bickering!”
I don’t suppose it surprises you to hear that Christians don’t always get along. It is true in our day and it was true in the Apostle Paul’s day. We are informed by the text we just read that two ladies in the church at Philippi were at odds with each other over some personal matter. Their personal conflict was escalating to the point that it was affecting the whole church. The bad blood between these believers threatened to disrupt the fellowship of the entire church. News of the rising tensions had even reached Paul as he sat as a prisoner of Rome hundreds of miles away. He wanted to instruct the church to handle this problem before it hurt the church. Paul knew that harmony in a church does not just happen; it requires hard work. Paul wanted them to do the hard work of maintaining the harmony. That is the lesson for us as well. Each of us must be committed to doing the hard work of maintaining the harmony. I must help to keep the harmony in my church. You must help to keep the harmony in your church!
I want to make three observations from this text that will be instructive as we learn how to keep the harmony in the church. First,
I. Christians Can Become Combatants.
What do we know about these two women? We don’t know much. We know they have got some strange sounding names to our modern ears! But we do not know anything about their ages, their families, and their background. However, there are three things we do know from the text.
A. These ladies were Christians.
Paul begged them to be of the same mind “in the Lord.” In other words, they were Christians. Lost people cannot be of the same mind in the Lord. This is only possible between believers. Furthermore, Paul described these ladies as people, “whose names are in the book of life” (v.3).
One thing I know about these two ladies is that they were Christians. Chances are I am talking to a room full of Christians, people who have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, who are spiritually alive in Christ, and whose manes are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Isn’t it great to be a Christian!
We sometimes sing that great Bill Gaither song, Family of God.
I'm so glad I'm a part of the Family of God,
I've been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His Blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod,
For I'm part of the family,
The Family of God
You will notice we say "brother and sister" 'round here,
It's because we're a family and these are so near;
When one has a heartache, we all share the tears,
And rejoice in each victory in this family so dear.
B. These Ladies Were Committed.
Did you notice that Paul said these women had labored with him and that he called these women his fellow workers? He said, 3 And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.
These ladies were workers not shirkers! They had been instrumental in founding this church at Philippi! When they got saved they did not just sit, soak and sour like a lot of church members today. No! They got involved. They rolled up their sleeves and helped out in tangible ways. They were not what my former pastor called, U.F.O.’s. He was preaching at Fort Caroline one Sunday morning when he said, “This church is filled with U.F.O.’s; uncommitted freeloading on-lookers who do nothing for God or His church!”
Well, these ladies were not U.F.O.’s. They were committed Christians who had served in the Lord’s church. They were instrumental in helping Paul get the Gospel out in their city. The Lord knows we need more committed Christians who are willing to labor for the Lord! Paul once wrote, 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 (NKJV).
There is work to be done in the church and these women were committed to help shoulder the load! But there is a third thing we know about these ladies. They were Christians, and they were committed, but somehow they had become cantankerous.
C. They had become Cantankerous.
2 I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.
Paul felt it necessary to tell these ladies to stop fussing and learn to get along. There was work to be done, and the family feud was about to undo all the good work they had previously done.
You do realize don’t you that most church conflicts occur between committed Christians? Most church conflicts I have had to deal with weren’t between lost people or uncommitted church members who show up every once in a while. No, they have been between Sunday School teachers and deacons, Pastors and choir members, staff members and senior adults.
You also realize don’t you that most church conflicts are PERSONAL in nature, not DOCTRINAL? How do I know that these women were arguing over PERSONAL matters not DOCTRINAL matters? Because Paul never hesitated to take sides and call someone down when they were doctrinally wrong. Read the Book of Galatians and your will see what I am talking about. However, here he never takes sides. He treats both women equally. 2 I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.
This was a personal gripe not a doctrinal dispute. We try to spiritualize our conflicts in the church when in reality they are nothing more that temper tantrums because someone hurt our feelings or because we did not get our way. Most church fights are not over doctrine, but over CHANGE that we don’t like. We are not fighting for the PRECEPTS of God’s Word. We are fighting for our PREFERENCES! We are not arguing over the inerrancy of the Scriptures or the Lordship of Christ, or the Gospel. No; we are fussing over the fact that someone sat in my pew, someone moved my Sunday School class from one location to another, or because we don’t like the new music or because the preacher didn’t do something I thought he should do. And while we are arguing over personal matters the world is going to Hell and the Devil is laughing at the church!
When Christians argue over trivial matters and when Christians refuse to get along and forgive one another they stop acting like believers and start acting like the world!
1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not carnal? 1 Corinthians 3:1-4 (NKJV)
So what have we learned so far? Christians Can Become Combatants. There is a second observation from the text I would like to make.
II. Pursuing Harmony Should Be A Priority of Believers.
Paul writes, 2 I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. The word “implore” is translated “beseech” in the King James Version. The word literally means, “to ask for earnestly, to plead with, or to beg.” Paul is begging these ladies to get along. Why was he so concerned that the church be unified? Paul knew that harmony among believers is a priority of our triune God. Let me give you some Scriptures to illustrate this.
A. Harmony is a priority of God, the Father.
16 These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:
17 A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood,
18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil,
19 A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.
Proverbs 6:16-19 (NKJV)
Did you hear that? Right up there with the things God hates, right up there with pride, lying, murder, wickedness, evil, and slander is, “one who sows discord among brethren.”
We take this seriously at FCBC. We go so far as to list this verse at the bottom of every staff member’s job description. I cannot control what the church members do, but buddy I can control what my staff does. We don’t put up with staff members who try to divide the church, pitting one staff member against the other.
Harmony is a priority of God, the Father. But there is more.
B. Harmony is a priority of God, the Son.*
20 "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. John 17:20-21 (NKJV)
When people saw Jesus on this earth they saw Him at one with the heavenly Father. And He prayed that when the world sees us they will see us at one with each other and with God. In fact, He said that it is our unity that demonstrates to the world that our message about Him is believed. The world will never believe the authenticity of our message until they see the unity of our love for one another. Jesus also said, 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:34-35 (NKJV)
Harmony is a priority of God, the Father, God, the Son and…
C. Harmony is a priority of God, the Holy Spirit.
1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3 (NKJV)
God, by His grace through our faith in Jesus Christ has made us one in Christ. Our unity is not empowered by our own strength, but by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to die to our differences and to live in the bond of peace. Paul put it this way when he wrote to the believers in Galatia: 15 But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! 16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
Galatians 5:15-16 (NKJV)
It is only as we yield to the Holy Spirit that the priority of harmony in the triune God-head will be evident in us!
We have made two observations from our text. Let me make a third observation that will put us each in the driver’s seat of cultivating a heart for harmony.
III. Keeping The Harmony Takes Hard Work By All Of Us.
2 I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life. Philippians 4:2-3 (NKJV)
The ladies had their part to play individually, but the church also had their part to play corporately. You can see this when you notice that Paul asks someone he calls his, “true companion” to help these women. We do not know who this church member was, but evidently he was a respected member of the church who Paul believed could assist in restoring the unity.
We each can do our part in maintaining the harmony of our church. It will require hard work. As we have already noted, we must “endeavor to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” You have to work at it. It does not take much effort to destroy harmony! The devil makes his work easy so anyone can do it! But God’s work requires effort.
In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren gives some helpful advice for keeping the unity of the church. Let me share a few of his points with you.
A. Focus on what we share in common, not on our differences.
19 So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up. Romans 14:19 (NLT)
10 Now, dear brothers and sisters, I appeal to you by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ to stop arguing among yourselves. Let there be real harmony so there won't be divisions in the church. I plead with you to be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. 1 Corinthians 1:10 (NLT)
B. Be realistic in your expectations.
Have you ever noticed that the “Hell’s Angels” and the church are the only two organizations in the world who make you admit how bad you are before they will let you join? Face it, churches are filled with sinners. There will be times we make mistakes, sin, disappoint one another, and hurt one another. This is not ideal, but it is reality. Be realistic in your expectations and you will stop expecting the church to be perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect church. And if there was a perfect church YOU wouldn’t be a member of it because you would ruin it! Only perfect people can demand a perfect church.
Only immature believers love the “ideal church.” Mature believers love the REAL church as it is and they help to make it better!
Therefore, God's chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must forgive. Above all, put on love — the perfect bond of unity. Colossians 3:12-15 (HCSB)
C. Choose to encourage rather than criticize.
I am amazed at how many Christians there are who are willing to play Monday morning quarterback. They stand back and criticize their church, their pastor, their staff, and their fellow members. If I did not know better I would think some of them have the spiritual gift of criticism! God is very blunt about criticism:
Who are you to condemn God's servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him tell them whether they are right or wrong. The Lord's power will help them do as they should. While we live, we live to please the Lord. And when we die, we go to be with the Lord. So in life and in death, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose, so that he might be Lord of those who are alive and of those who have died. So why do you condemn another Christian? Why do you look down on another Christian? Remember, each of us will stand personally before the judgment seat of God. Romans 14:4. 8-10 (NLT)
A Bumble Bee and a Buzzard both find what they are looking for! A Buzzard finds dead, rotting, stinking carcasses because that is what it looks for. A Bumble Bee finds beautiful flowers dripping with sweet nectar because that is what it looks for. What are you? Are you a Bumble Bee or a Buzzard? I can tell by what you are attracted to! I am sick to my stomach with Buzzard believers who are always hovering around making a stink!
You must CHOOSE to encourage and not to criticize. Criticism comes naturally. A critical spirit is a part of our fallen nature. We must die to that sinful attitude and submit to the Spirit of God!
D. Refuse to listen to gossip.
Gossip is listening to or passing on information when you are neither part of the problem nor part of the solution. Rick Warren said, “You know spreading gossip is wrong, but you should not listen to it either if you want to protect your church. Listening to gossip is like accepting stolen property, and makes you just as guilty of the crime.”
You need to tell a gossip that you don’t want to hear what they have to say. Ask them if they have spoken to the other person directly and privately. If not, they need to. After they have approached the other person privately you can go with them if the matter is still not resolved. If you listen to gossip, God says you are a troublemaker.
You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people. Leviticus 19:16 (NKJV)
The one who reveals secrets is a constant gossip; avoid someone with a big mouth. Proverbs 20:19 (HCSB)
Without wood, fire goes out; without a gossip, conflict dies down. Proverbs 26:20 (HCSB)
E. Practice God’s method of conflict resolution.
(Jesus) If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you. Matthew 18:15-17 (HCSB)
F. Support your pastors and leaders.
Obey your spiritual leaders and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they know they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this joyfully and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit. Hebrews 13:17 (NLT)
God has placed pastors over us as our spiritual leaders. It is not their job to be the employee of the church, but to serve the church by following the Lord’s leadership. It is not a pastor’s job to please people. He must please God. And one day every pastor will stand before a holy God and give account for how he led Christ’s church. The pastor will not stand before the deacons, the Senior Adult Ladies class, the church board, or anyone else. He will stand before God!
By the way, you will also stand before God to give an account of how you fulfilled this Scriptural command. As long as your pastor is biblical and ethical in what he does you should support him. Follow him as he follows God and the church will be in harmony and will be blessed! By doing this you will bring joy to his ministry. You don’t know how many times my heart has been broken over unkind words spoken about me by church members. You will never know how grieved my heart has been at times because of incessant complaining by some people about every little thing. You could not imagine how many hours of my time has been spent away from my family or away from the important tasks of ministry because I had to “put out fires” of some disgruntled church member or members. Oh how refreshing and joyful it is to be in a church where the members say, “Pastor, God has called you to be our spiritual leader. We love you and support you. We will gladly follow your biblical and ethical leadership. Let the Lord lead you. We are behind you all the way!” I thank God for the many people like that in my church!
Conclusion: Tell the Lord tonight, “I will help to keep the harmony in my church.”