Payton Manning publicly called out Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay last week for not clearing up the uncertainty surrounding the future Hall of Fame quarterback. Manning was upset that some of his closest friends had been dismissed and he was running into new employees in the Colts’ facilities he didn’t even know.
Irsay went straight to the media to chide his star quarterback, saying, “You keep it in the family. If you’ve got a problem you talk to each other. It’s not about campaigning or anything like that.”
What is comical about this is that Irsay publicly rebuked Manning for not keeping it in the family. Voicing his concerns about Manning’s comments breaks the very rule he is expressing! It is like dragging your drunken son out of a bar only to down a few shots on your way out. But the ego is blind. Instead of helping the situation, he only caused more disunity.
Sadly, we see this type behavior all the time in the body of believers.
- One leader publicly attacking another.
- A subordinate plotting a coup against the senior pastor.
- Members of a congregation forming a faction against the leadership.
I have a very close friend whose administrator and youth pastor plotted to start their own congregation while drawing a salary from this pastor who had hired them. When confronted, they denied they had any intention of doing such a thing, but in the end did just that. What a horrible foundation for your new congregation!
God places a high priority on unity—far higher than we do. When we engage in such behavior we rarely accurately calculate the impact this has on the body. Most preachers who cause a split or turn people against leadership feel justified. I know this from my own mistakes in leadership. At the time, you feel righteous—holy indignation—God’s man willing to stand up for truth. However, most of the time you will find lurking in the background ego, self-interest and pride.
We fail to realize that attacking a minister, a congregation or causing a congregational split is a self-inflicted wound. We are one body!
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)
Paul urges believers to “live a life worthy of the calling.” And then he tells us how to do this:
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (v. 2-3)
Furthermore, he seems to be emphasizing something in the following verses. He uses the word ‘one’ seven times in three verses. His point is that we are one body. When you attack the body, you attack yourself! And what person in their right mind would attack themselves?
We need to think twice (or ten times!) before we engage in any behavior that could cause division in the body of believers. In Roman Catholic Church canon law, an act of schism (causing division), like an act of apostasy or heresy, automatically brings the penalty of excommunication. How can we take this act less seriously?
Paul shares a similar thought with the Philippians.
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Messiah. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. (Philippians 1:27-28)
Here, Paul compares the act of conducting oneself in a manner worthy of the gospel with standing firm in one Spirit and striving together as one. He doesn’t mention here living pure, not lying or cheating or staying away from MTV. He focuses on unity. Clearly he is not advocating any of those things I just mentioned (especially MTV!), but he is elevating the goal of unity as central in terms of importance. If only we understood how friction, gossip and division between believers breaks the heart of God, we would be more careful with our words and actions.
Yeshua’s central pray in John 17 was that we the body of Messiah would be one, just as He and the Father are one.
Recently I heard a famous preacher (FP1) attack another slightly more famous preacher (FP2). It was a bold, public and unapologetic attack. And on its merit it was technically correct. FP2 had indeed made a mistake. However it was not a moral issue and the same point that FP1 was trying to make, he could have effectively made without mentioning FP2. (Just as we were able to make this point without mentioning there names.)
The problem with this kind of public rebuke is that it could cause division and shaking in FP2’s congregation—a fine congregation that is helping many people around the world.
Yes, there are times when, despite the command to strive for unity, we must take a public stand on a foundational issue. However, these times are few and far between and only in the case of unrepentant moral failure, false teaching or abandoning the faith. The majority of divisive acts that take place within the church world today fall outside these criteria. We would do well to place more value on unity than being right.
And being right isn’t all it is cracked up to be. I have been in many situations were I thought I was 100% in the right only to find out that pride and opportunism were seeking to become my close friends. As I have matured, I can now see that I have never been as right as I thought I was and those I was against have never been as wrong as I thought they were. In the moment, you feel justified, but the pain of division can be tragic, especially if someone falls away in the midst of the discord.
Let us value unity and the bond of peace at the same level in which God does and think long and hard before we take any action that could cause division within the body. Let’s correctly evaluate, are we following God’s heart or our own desires?