Parting words are powerful words. They live in the lives of recipients long after their sound has died away. They have power to bless or curse. Parting words establish new courses and callings for those who heed them. Small talk has no place in them. Each word and action matters. Like words of poetry, though used sparingly, each is full and potent.
We see this in Jesus’ last words to his disciples. They were contentious, dull, self-serving, self-seeking and consumed with the pecking order. But on the night before his crucifixion, Jesus prepares them for his departure. His actions and words command a new pattern. They are to love and serve one another. This is how they will be known.
He washed their feet, the duty of a slave, not a Lord, then instructed them.
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you… A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.John 13:12-17, 34-35
This is how the world should see the church. This is how the world expects to see the church. But what does the world actually see? Do people know we are Christ’s disciples by our love for one another? Too often, the world sees irreconcilable conflict in the church. We are more known for division than unity. And in a world hopelessly divided, why would anyone look to the church for leadership when pagans seem to manage conflict more graciously and effectively than Christians.
We are commanded to “[bear] with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” and “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Yet, more churches are planted through division rather than obedience to the Great Commission. To be sure, God providentially uses for good what we mean for evil. Yet, how many have fled from Christ and Christianity, because of the Christians they knew and observed. How many have fled from Christ because they have observed you?
Once when the missionary E. Stanley Jones met with Mahatma Ghandi he asked him, “Mr. Ghandi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?” Ghandi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.” While Ghandi’s excuse was just that, an excuse, it ought to convict us. How do we handle conflict in the church? How gracious and prayerful are we when conflict is unavoidable? Do others see our love – love for Christ, love for the Word of God, and love for one another in how we respond to conflict?
Jeremiah’s ministry was filled with conflict. God warned him it would be that way. Jeremiah had no illusions of picket fences or of honeymoons. From the get-go, God told Jeremiah he would have conflict “against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.”
But Jeremiah’s greatest conflict was with those in the church, with priests and the prophets. As God’s judgement unfolded against Judah, He sent Jeremiah to warn the people to submit to His discipline through Nebuchadnezzar. If the people would repent and submit they would live. To strengthen the message, God told Jeremiah.
“Make yourself straps and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck.… Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel… I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes.”Jeremiah 27:2, 6-7
Nothing provokes conflict in church like a sermon on submission. Immediately Jeremiah is opposed, called a liar and a false prophet. Everything he prophesied was contradicted. And the yoke-bars and straps, were wrenched from his neck and broken.
In that same year, at the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah… Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet from Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the Lord, in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon”Jeremiah 28:1-4
Jeremiah often complains and confronts, but here his response to the false prophet is remarkable. With gracious, prayerful wisdom the prophet rebuts the false teacher and disarms his false gospel. Jeremiah’s life is quite literally an open book. We often see his anger, but here we observe a godly example of how to handle conflict within the church. An example worthy of imitation. Join us this coming Lord’s Day as we examine Jeremiah 28 and consider how to respond to conflict within the church.
We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship. Get directions here or contact us for more info. You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP