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Lesson 7: When Conflicts Arise *

Introduction: Are you like me? Have you been in a church where you experienced conflicts, and also been in a church where you experienced unity? What made the difference between those churches? When I was first married our church was split along theological lines. In many respects that was good because the dispute was over grace. It was good to have members carefully consider that issue. Our next church was split along racial lines. There was no excuse for that dispute. My current church is unified and my prior church was relatively free from conflict. The Bible records several conflicts in the early church. Let's explore them to see what we can learn about resolving conflict in the church!

  1. Food

    1. Read Acts 6:1. What is the basis for the dispute? (It seems the dispute is over culture. They are all Jews, but some are from a Greek background and some are from a Hebrew background.)

      1. Would Christians withhold food because of a widow's cultural background? (That is a serious charge. An innocent explanation is that the Hebrew Jews knew their widows better, and thus this might have been an oversight. Notice that the text says, "when the number of disciples was increasing." That suggests practical problems.)

    2. Read Acts 6:2-4. How did the twelve disciples solve this problem? (They passed it on to others! They passed the problem on to a committee of seven, and they passed the choice of the committee members on to others.)

      1. Do you think this is a good idea? If so, why? If not, why?

      2. Notice that the disciples referred to the job as "waiting on tables." Are the disciples saying that this job is beneath their dignity?

      3. What are the qualifications for doing this job? (To be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.)

        1. How do these requirements match the job title "waiting on tables?" (They obviously do not match. The real challenge in the job is to fix the claim of cultural bias. That would take the Holy Spirit and wisdom.)

      4. When we look at these verses from our modern point of view, we could conclude that the disciples did not want to deal with a problem that was beneath their dignity. Is there anything in these verses to suggest that was not the attitude of the disciples? (Verse 2 tells us "all" of the disciples were gathered for a meeting to address this problem. That makes it appear that the twelve recognized this as an important issue. The "wait on tables" reference might be an extreme way to contrast the disciples' ministry work, rather than a comment on the dignity of the work.)

    3. Read Acts 6:5-6. It may not be obvious to us today, but all seven of these committeemen have a Greek sounding name. Recall that the Greek widows were complaining that they were not getting their fair share of food, rather the Hebrew widows were being preferred. What is the majority group in your church? What is the largest minority group in your church? Apply this remedy using those groups. The minority that is complaining is now put in charge of the fixing the problem!

      1. Is this going to create a problem of reverse discrimination? (Do not forget that the qualifications were being full of the Holy Spirit and wise.)

      2. Recall that an innocent reason for the discrimination was that in the rapidly growing church the Hebrew Jews knew their widows better. How would this solution fix that problem? (If the problem truly arises from a lack of knowledge, then bringing in Greeks who would know their own widows better is the perfect solution, and it does not raise issues of original or reverse discrimination.)

  2. Eating

    1. Read Acts 10:1-2. Is Cornelius a good man?

      1. Is he a man of power and influence?

    2. Read Acts 10:3-4. Why would a soldier react in fear to this vision of an angel? (This is the supernatural. Cornelius might know about the horrors of war, but he was not used to dealing with angels.)

    3. Read Acts 10:5-8. Why do you think the angel had Cornelius' men go instead of Cornelius going personally?

    4. Read Acts 10:9-13. How often do you dream about food? Notice that both of our Bible stories have something to do with food this week!

    5. Read Acts 10:14-16. Peter believes this trance is from God. Will God ever contradict what He has told us in the Bible? (I would naturally emphatically say, "No." But, recall our recent study of the Book of Acts, and specifically the Acts 15 account about how the early church solved the circumcision issue. That study makes this answer more complicated.)

    6. Read Acts 10:17. Isn't the meaning of the vision clear? (It would be if Peter did not know what the Bible (Leviticus 11) said about eating unclean animals. Peter decided that the obvious meaning was not what the vision actually meant, because it would contradict the Bible.)

    7. Read Acts 10:18-20. The Holy Spirit tells Peter to go with the men sent by Cornelius. Why is this a potential problem? (Read Acts 10:25-29. It was against Jewish law for a Jew to visit a Gentile.)

      1. To what law does Peter refer? (This "law" is one made up by the Jewish leaders, it does not exist in the Old Testament. The Old Testament prohibits intermarriage with Gentiles or worshiping their gods. It does not prohibit "association" or "visits" with Gentiles.)

      2. How does Peter now understand the vision of the unclean animals? (He understands it to refer to "unclean" men. It is not about eating, it is about visiting Cornelius.)

    8. Read Acts 10:34-35. What does this teach us about unity in the church? (That God accepts all who fear Him and do what is right.)

    9. Read Acts 11:1-3. How would you have responded to this charge if you were Peter? Would you say that nothing in the Bible prohibits it? Would you have a Bible debate?

    10. Read Acts 11:4. We will skip the verses that retell Peter's story. Read Acts 11:18. What is the key to resolving this unity problem? (Peter showed how God acted in his situation. Those who were critical accepted Peter's account as true, and accepted the leading of God. Notice that no theological debate was involved.)

    11. Read Acts 11:19-21. Why are these verses important to understanding the solution to this question? (They show that God is blessing sharing the message with the Gentiles. We see this consistently.)

    12. Consider these two unity issues. Do you see a common problem? A common solution? (Both stories involve criticism. The Greek widows complain. The Jerusalem believers criticize Peter. The common solution is the power of God. The committeemen were to be filled with the Holy Spirit. God directly spoke to Peter about the problem of disunity with Gentile believers.)

      1. Is there another common element between the two examples? (Re-read Acts 6:6 and Acts 10:9. In both situations we find prayer.)

      2. What lesson does that teach us today? (We need to have in common seeking God through prayer and then looking for the working of the Holy Spirit. We need to respect the work of the Holy Spirit in resolving problems.)

    13. Read Acts 1:7-9. How could the disciples have forgotten this critical instruction from their Lord just as He is ascending to heaven?

      1. Hasn't the answer to the issue of sharing the gospel with the Gentiles always been right in front of them? Hasn't it always been plain?

    14. Friend, are you praying and looking for the leading of God when problems of unity arise? If not, why not commit to that today?

  3. Next week: Unity in Faith.
* Copr. 2018, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2020 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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