Peace Amongst Brethren
There is no greater thing in a church when brethren can enjoy peace amongst themselves. On the contrary, there is nothing worse than when brethren are at ends with one another. We deceive ourselves if we think it does not or cannot happen. It happens all the time.
Brethren find themselves at ends about doctrinal matters. Paul and Barnabas were at ends with the Judaizing brethren over the need for circumcision (Acts 15:1-5). Sometimes it is purely over matters of opinion. A little later, we find that Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways because they could not agree whether or not to take John Mark with them (Acts 15:36-41). Brethren get angry with one another (Mt. 5:22). Brethren unrighteously judge one another (Jn. 7:24). All of this and more, make for some very uncomfortable situations amongst brethren-to put it mildly.
Unfortunately, some of these things are going to happen. Brethren will inevitably differ over doctrine. Yet, brethren must learn to resolve contentions without harboring bitterness, resentment, and anger. Humility is the key ingredient. When someone is wrong, they must be willing to admit it. When both are partially wrong, they both must be willing to admit it. This is what honesty and confession are all about. Even the smallest dose of pride will keep peace out of reach.
Consider what James wrote in his epistle, "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace" (James 3:13-18).
James tells us a great deal about maintaining peace amongst brethren in these six verses of scripture. Notice who James says are the wise and understanding. Those who by good conduct show that their works are done in the meekness of wisdom. This is the key in maintaining peace amongst brethren. We can talk about how good our motives are, but it is our conduct that must manifest those motives. Additionally, both our motives and works must be governed by the meekness of wisdom. In other words, the wisdom of God we employ in delicate situations must be gently and mildly handled. Next, James goes on to tell us what the opposite attitudes are - bitter envying and self-seeking. These attitudes in the hearts of brethren are bound to destroy that precious peace we all so love and enjoy. Have you ever been amongst brethren where these things exist? As an outsider, it is not hard to feel the tension. It can become so thick at times that it can be cut with a knife. This is not what God expects of His church. As an insider, you can quickly find yourself in a terrible environment to worship God. The unfortunate thing about these situations is that they are not uncommon. When these terrible conditions exist, James tells us not to boast and lie against the truth. The truth is, we can easily fall prey to the worst kind of deception there is in such emotional situations-self-deception. It is not difficult to convince ourselves that we are in the right when we are wrong. Therefore, we must be extra-sensitive to assure our hearts and deeds before God. We must be extra-critical of ourselves more than anyone else in such situations. We must remember, it is at these times that Satan works his hardest. We are not only talking about individual Christians in turmoil, but the church as a whole. This is "prime-time" for Satan!
Thus, in no uncertain terms, we are now told that these attitudes are not from above. They are earthly, sensual and demonic. That language is a strong condemnation, and justly so. When the peace of a church is threatened and the problem escalates to the point of confusion, we are in dire straits. Souls can be lost., churches split, and influences destroyed. The amazing thing is that not only is this wisdom not from above, but it will not lead brethren above -that is, to heaven. Brethren who cannot get along here on earth will not find their way into heaven to fight it out!
James continues his thoughts by saying that where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing is there. These are symptoms that should tell us we have turned the wrong corner and brotherly peace has vacated a congregation of Christians. We need to (1) be watchful of these symptoms, (2) have the ability to step back from the situation, and (3) clear things up when we see these terrible circumstances developing. Nevertheless, James hits the heart of the matter in verse 17. He makes it a point to emphasize that God's wisdom is FIRST PURE. Before anything else, it must be pure- free from defilement, without contamination! Then it can be peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits. Too often, the press is for compromise in order to protect the peace of the church. If compromise is possible without compromising truth, great! Yet, if the question that stirred the controversy is about doctrine, it must be resolved for truth. The purity of God's word must be upheld. Compromise, no matter what the gain, can never be at the expense of God's word. Unfortunately, the course of healthy debate must run its course until things are hammered out over the anvil of truth. This whole process must be accomplished without partiality and without hypocrisy.
When it is all said and done, James expresses the reward of true peace amongst brethren when he says, "Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." Easier said than done? Perhaps! Is it worth cultivating the attitudes that bring about these fruits? If you have ever been part of a church in turmoil, I sincerely believe you will whole-heartedly agree!
By Jonathan L. Perz
From Expository Files 6.2; February 1999