Harmony in God’s Family
Donald L. Norbie, Greeley, Colorado, USA [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Division is a common feature of human experience
The world’s culture is marked by wars and hostility. The First World War was proclaimed as the war to end all wars but certainly failed in this. World War II never made such optimistic claims and was soon followed by the Korean War. African nations blamed Europeans and colonialism for all of Africa’s woes. But independence has been followed by greed and corruption in government and by constant intertribal warfare. It is a depressing scene.
James asks, ‘Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war’, Jas. 4. 1-2. Paul affirms that it is the flesh, that old sinful nature inherited from Adam, that is man’s problem. He describes its ugly, selfish character in Galatians chapter 5 verses 19-21. Man has an innate problem - his own evil heart. By nature we are selfish, proud, greedy, sensual and vindictive. David confessed, ‘Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me’, Ps. 51. 5. His nature was marked by sin from conception.
In a local church God has brought in a different order
The local church, the assembly, is a family of God that is called on to proclaim the righteous, holy character of our God. If we are born of God, according to 1 John chapter 5 verse 1, we will then love those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ and keep God’s commandments. At conversion one is born of the Holy Spirit and becomes a partaker of the divine nature, for there has been an infusion of divine life into our beings. This nature of God is marked by righteousness and holiness, for God is light, 1 John 1. 5. God is also love, 1 John 4. 8, and this loving nature now should be expressed in the lives of His children.
‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control. Against such there is no law’, Gal. 5. 22- 23. The believer should be characterized by love for God and man, by humility, kindness, generosity, a forgiving spirit and self control. These qualities express the very nature of our God. An assembly marked by love, joy and peace is an oasis of hope in the barren desert of this world, which is torn by strife and contention. Only by God’s grace and the filling of the Holy Spirit is this possible. The flesh, if so permitted, would raise its ugly head and destroy the harmony and peace of God’s people.
Working this out practically demands that certain things are acknowledged
What are some practical steps believers can take to ensure that love and harmony will continue in the assembly? The flesh, the old nature, must be recognized whenever it appears and then be killed, without mercy. The church dares not compromise and coddle the flesh, ‘Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry’, Col. 3. 5. Paul pleads with the Corinthian assembly to ‘purge out the old leaven’, 1 Cor. 5. 7. We are exhorted, ‘Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord’, Heb. 12. 14. It is a mistake to think that peace and harmony will prevail if sin is tolerated among the Lord’s people.
If love for God is growing among the saints, love for God’s people will also be flourishing. ‘Everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him’, 1 John 5. 1. The meetings of the assembly; the teaching, the Lord’s Supper, the prayer times, all should deepen our love for God. This love will flow out to the family of God. Love will show itself in a warm greeting and a fervent handshake or embrace, ‘Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honour giving preference to one another’, Rom. 12. 10. It will cause God’s people to value every person because all carry the image of God, even the unsaved, Jas. 3. 9. There should be mutual appreciation of the spiritual and natural gifts each believer has, Rom. 12. 3-8. Each one of God’s children is unique, with unique gifts. There should be no jealousy or envy but deep joy seeing God’s grace revealed in one’s brothers and sisters.
We need to be aware of that which causes division
Because we are all marked by imperfection and may offend one repentance. Bitterness and a lack of forgiveness will poison one’s own spirit and spill over into the assembly, defiling many, Heb. 12. 15. This is a sin that has destroyed the testimony of many individuals and churches. We are exhorted, ‘Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you’, Eph. 4. 31-32. Elders must be alert to currents of criticism and bitterness and make every effort for reconciliation. Elders need to lead the saints by being themselves marked by self-control, love and forgiveness.
A local church needs to guard against cliquishness: groups that form based on race, education or wealth. James warns against partiality and snobbery saying, ‘My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality’, Jas. 2. 1. He goes on to warn specifically against despising the poor. Did not our Lord Jesus become poor for our sakes? 1 Cor. 8. 9. Pride is something our Lord hates. Heaven will be filled with those who were poor and despised on earth.
Unity between the age groups
Another sin that is dividing churches today is the separation of the young and old. Old age in Western culture is not generally valued. The aged and infirm are often viewed as a burden for the living; their demise is considered a blessing. Euthanasia may be encouraged, but scripture states, ‘You shall rise before the grey headed and honour the presence of an old man, and fear your God. I am the Lord’, Lev. 19. 32. If the aged have been marked by godliness and righteousness in life, they deserve honour for having fought bravely in the war against sin, and triumphed. ‘The grey-haired head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness’, Prov. 16. 31. They also deserve honour because with age and experience comes wisdom. Rehoboam despised the wisdom of his older counsellors, listened to young men and plunged his kingdom into civil war. ‘Wisdom is with aged men, and with length of days, understanding’, Job 12. 12.
Youth should be valued for energy, idealism and fervent love for the Lord. Young people will be appreciated if they heed the counsel of Paul, ‘Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity’, 1 Tim. 4. 12. At times older people may need to be exhorted. Paul cautions us to be gentle with one another, ‘Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, young men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity’, 1 Tim. 5. 1-2. Old age also needs compassion and understanding as weakness sets in and death approaches. Mutual love and respect should characterize God’s family. An assembly needs both the young and old, living and working together in love and harmony.
There is no higher prize or richer reward than being a united company
Would we know God’s blessing as a congregation of believers? Then maintain love and unity. Remember the exhortation, ‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity . . . for there the Lord commanded the blessing, life forevermore’, Ps. 133. 1, 3.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Donald Norbie is in fellowship with the assembly in Greeley, Colorado, and is a commended full-time worker. A regular contributor to Precious Seed and other assembly magazines his ministry is widely appeciated throughout N. America and the UK.