There will always be conflict in this world. Society’s way of dealing with it is to assert power. Press conferences are held, boycotts are planned, protests are staged, riots are organized, and, when nations are involved, even war may be declared. The damage is often incalculable, as property is destroyed, relations are shattered, and even precious lives are lost. Usually the conflict still lingers, and maybe even deepens, only to be postponed for a later and more costly confrontation.
Sadly, the local church is not immune to conflict. Because we still have the flesh, the same tendency to assert power (whether we possess it or not) to get our way is in all of us. We manipulate, make veiled threats, use condemning language, or even disseminate dishonest information to force others to concede and let us have our way. Friends suddenly become enemies and personal relationships are ruined. How is this any different from the conduct of the world? It isn’t. Sometimes we unfairly label others’ beliefs as “unbiblical” when there is disagreement. This allows us to justify our actions. After all, we are simply “standing for the truth.” This type of behavior can even arise among local assembly leadership. When it does, confidence in the oversight will erode, and the assembly’s future is in grave danger.
Most, if not all, conflict in the assembly could be resolved if we obeyed Ephesians 5:21, even contention existing among elders. Paul tells us we should be “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (NET). The word for “submit” literally means “to be under in rank.” This does not ignore the fact that there is authority in the assembly that must be obeyed (Heb 13:17). But the submission of Ephesians 5 should characterize us in our interactions with one another generally, elders included. We are to adopt this “under rank” attitude. How often do we concede or defer to someone else? How often do we try to see another’s point of view? Or do we always insist that it’s my way or the highway?
I want to emphasize three things about Paul’s exhortation. First, we can submit to one another if we are filled with the Holy Spirit. Within this same lengthy sentence Paul wrote, “be filled with the Spirit” (v18). When we let the Holy Spirit have His way in our lives, it will be possible for us to let others have their way also. If we act selfishly, rudely or proudly, we are not being filled with the Spirit, as these actions are not consistent with God’s character.
Second, we will submit to one another if we value one another properly. If we are “always giving thanks to God the Father for each other” (v20 NET), as well as treating one another as more important than ourselves (Php 2:3), the value of others’ opinions will increase in my estimation and submitting to them will be easier.
Third, we must submit to one another “out of reverence for Christ.” We show reverence to Christ by exhibiting the same submissive attitude He exemplified (Joh 13; Php 2). A desire for conformity to Christ will result in our putting others first as He did.
When conflict emerges in the assembly, the world is watching. Let’s ensure that what they see isn’t like looking in a mirror.