Chapter 5

Focus on Your Provider


The costly results of church fights show the importance of Paul’s appeals for unity. There is no way we can adequately estimate the damage conflict does to the name and reputation of God. There is no way to assess the enormous loss of credibility before an unchurched world. There is no way we can accurately appraise the loss of confidence, conscience, and spiritual passion that occurs when the people of God turn on one another, and by bitterness and anger and meanness act as if they had never heard of Christ. Everyone loses and no one wins.

Just saying that church fights hurt everyone, however, does not solve conflict. Making a rule of peace does not put peace in our heart. Internal peace comes not from knowing about Christ but from knowing Him. It comes from knowing the strength of His presence, the gentleness of His wisdom, the goodness of His plan, the depth of His love, and the sufficiency of His Spirit to provide for us—even in conflict.

This link between our behavior in conflict and our personal dependence on Christ is why Paul reasoned as he did with the Philippians. He didn’t just tell them to make peace with one another by following the example of Christ. He said, in effect, “Since you are so well taken care of, doesn’t it make sense that you would start looking out for one another? If your hearts have been softened by His kindness, and your anxieties removed by His promise to father and shepherd you, doesn’t it make sense for you to let Him make you into a kinder and a gentler people?”

Paul linked our effort in conflict with God’s ability to provide for us. After summarizing what Christ has done for us, he went on to call for self-discipline and seriousness of attitude. He asked for such caution and effort, however, in light of the fact that God is at work in us, giving us all we need to co-operate with His plan for us. It is in this awareness of God’s presence that Paul urged us to do everything without “complaining and disputing.” This is the way to be “harmless” in a violent world. This is the answer for a kinder and gentler church.


The unity we have described deserves a closer look. If we are not careful, we are apt to miss those moments of firm and gracious confrontation that a commitment to Christ requires. In Galatians 2:11–16, for instance, Paul described how he publicly confronted the apostle Peter over a serious issue.

At first glance, you might wonder how this confrontation between apostles fits with Paul’s repeated appeals for church unity. Paul, however, never asked for the kind of oneness that compromises the interests or doctrines of Christ. Just as important, Paul never encouraged us to protect or cover one another at the expense of what is right or true. Look again at Galatians 2:11–16 and Philippians 2:1–5. While these two texts look and feel very different, there is something very similar about them. In both cases, Paul argued passionately for the interests and cause of Christ. In both cases, Paul asked for unity based on right beliefs. In both cases, Paul showed how important it is to look out for one another and not just for ourselves.

Christ never called for the kind of unity that compromises truth.

Paul apparently believed Peter was thinking too much about the approval of “certain men [who] came from James” and not enough about the doctrine of salvation or the needs of the Gentiles. By hypocritically separating from the Gentiles when these Jewish legalists came to town, Peter betrayed the interests of the Gentiles. He helped these Jews perpetuate their legalism and was giving mixed signals about salvation by faith.

We can assume that Paul was Christlike when he confronted Peter, expressing self-control and grace, and not being quick to anger. We can also assume that he made an issue of Peter’s behavior not because the correction increased his own stature over Peter, but because if Peter’s actions were allowed to go unchecked it would help no one and hurt everyone. This was not an issue of pride but of consideration for the truth of the gospel. Paul’s example is a reminder to us that while our motive must be to protect one another, we should never knowingly become enablers for one another’s sin.