Fighting Fire With Fruit
Thanks to many of you for the affirming letters you wrote in response to the last Mishpochah Message. I noticed people seemed to especially appreciate the section entitled family feuds.” This has encouraged me to wade a little deeper into the somewhat sticky subject of messianic unity.
We all know that our fellowships are not perfect (even if they were, our own imperfect presence would change that!), but sometimes we act as though they are. We can become so loyal to one ministry that our zeal prevents us from appreciating the value of others. We can lose sight of the wholeness of the body of the Messiah, and that can cause us to become arrogant and isolated.
Scripture teaches that we should consider ourselves part of one body, not just a section, party or particular ministry of the body.
For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren… that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ.’
I Corinthians 1: 11-12
We often make the first century mistake of emphasizing our differences rather than emphasizing the unity the Lord commanded. Competition between ministries is all too normal and natural; and like many normal and natural things, such competition is also ungodly.
Though we can’t make excuses, it might be helpful to understand some causes of this competition. Ministries often find themselves striving to gain the same resources. I am not speaking only of finances, though we all need funds to pay bills and extend our ministries. Perhaps the most important resource is YOU. Every messianic congregation or mission to the Jews needs the story of Jewish believers in Yeshua. As unbelieving Jewish people come to visit our gatherings, they leave more impressed by the people they met than by the preaching they heard.
The very presence of Jewish believers lends credibility to our ministries and strengthens our effectiveness. Sometimes messianic leaders feel threatened when they see their most talented Jewish believers attending the functions of other missions and congregations. This produces competition and the temptation to require exclusive allegiance.
There is a cure for the attacks of exclusivism and divisiveness which plague us: the fruit of the Spirit can bring healing to the wounds caused by separation.
Paul’s writings in Galatians chapter 5 reveal that undue competition is a weakness of the flesh. We can squelch the deeds of the flesh by cultivating the fruit of the Spirit in the garden of our lives.
The fruit of the Spirit can put a stop to disunity and conflict in our midst:
Yeshua commanded us to love one another as he loves us. That isn’t just a “say-so” love; we must demonstrate our love for one another. Most of us are familiar with I Corinthians 13:4-7. Love is patient, kind, refuses to be jealous and does not seek its own. Love is not easily provoked; it bears, believes, hopes and endures all things—such a love does not leave room for competition and contentious strife!
A joyful believer is one who feels deep satisfaction and pleasure whenever he or she sees the kingdom of God advanced. We should take delight in the victories God gives our brothers and sisters as well as in those he gives to us. When we experience sincere joy over the blessings of others, we need not envy them. We need not make comparisons which rationalize how much better we could have done, if only we’d had so-and-so’s resources. And when we share the joy of our own blessings with a spirit of humility, others need not envy us either. We all drink from the same wellspring of joy; it is deep enough to provide whatever each of us cares to draw.
The Hebrew word shalom strikes a special chord in the hearts of Jewish believers. The word is rich in meaning, far beyond simply ceasing from hostility. Shalom means wholeness. It implies a sense of satisfaction and well-being. Shalom is what happens when we are trusting God. When we experience God’s shalom, there is no room for anxiety over the growth of our own fellowship or ministry—an anxiety which can provoke competition with others. The more we trust in God and experience his peace, the less likely we are to view others with cynicism or suspicion.
We are too often impatient with our own level of achievement. It is good to want to do more and be more, but sometimes we are unwilling to live within God-ordained limitations. This causes jealousy toward ministries which might be able to do more. We also tend to be impatient with one another. It is easy to believe accusations about a brother or sister. We need to take time and investigate accusations carefully, to pry patiently beyond the surface of supposed wrongdoing. Patience will help bring the truth to the surface, and understanding will surely follow.
Little acts of kindness help ease tensions between Jewish ministries. I mean acts such as a thoughtful phone call when one of the mishpochah is ill, or a holiday card reminding us of the need to pray for one another. A kind word about another ministry to someone who is inquiring can go a long way. This calls for us to be tenderhearted and vulnerable. We must be willing to risk being the first to act in kindness—and we should be willing to face rejection if our kindness is not received. That is why we also need patience. The fruit of the Spirit work together!
Goodness is akin to kindness. It demonstrates the generosity which springs from a kind heart. What if ‘one congregation had a work day and members of another group came to help? Or if an evangelistic task was too great for one group and another ministry pitched in? Would it be so hard for different groups to support one another financially? People are unlikely to speak ill of a ministry they support with their own hard-earned money. We can also be generous with praise for the good work others are doing for the Lord.
Faithfulness has to do with trustworthiness, or being reliable. We should praise God for the faithfulness we observe in other believers. Think of that group or individual you have had difficulty in upholding. Have they been faithful to the gospel? Have they stood firm in the face of opposition? They may do things differently than you, but have they endured for the sake of the gospel? If so, you honor God by appreciating their faithfulness.
Paul instructed Timothy: “…with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition” (II Timothy 2:25). The fruit of gentleness is often harvested through conflict. If we disagree with each other we must be willing to act in gentleness and meekness. Paul reiterates this in Galatians chapter 6, verse 1: “you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.…” A Spirit-empowered believer has the strength to be gentle. It is the weak man or woman who behaves threateningly toward fellow believers. We must approach one another with gentleness, so that our correction will be received as an act of love.
Competition and disunity can be contagious if we don’t exercise self-control. Self-control involves purity of heart and mind as well as word and deed. This becomes possible when our old selves die and we live new lives controlled by God’s Spirit. When we take ourselves out of the Spirit’s control, all we can see is petty differences and all we can say is regarded as criticism. The Spirit-controlled person is a peacemaker in times of conflict.
Cultivating the fruit of the Spirit is the first, and perhaps the most important step in working towards unity. The second step is to pray for each other.
Prayer breaks down barriers. When we pray for good things to happen to others, we can’t help but rejoice and feel we are part of their success. Try to think of the Jewish believers you’ve heard about, but have been avoiding because of your supposed differences. Find out about their work for the Lord, and begin praying for them. When we pray for one another, we are much less likely to think and speak ill of each other. And how can we pray for one another if we don’t communicate? We need to share our dreams, our goals and our vision in order to pray intelligently.
A third step in working towards unity is to attend a conference of Jewish believers (and there are many available). I went to the Jews for Jesus Ingatherings on both the East and West Coasts. Each had over 400 Jewish and Gentile believers in attendance. I found myself refreshed and uplifted by the unity of believers. There are many such gatherings held nationwide to provide Jewish believers an opportunity to meet together. Your attendance at one of these would be a sign of commitment to unity.
We must work towards unity because that is God’s will. It is also a very practical thing to do! How many of us need good materials to teach our children about Yeshua? Which one of us doesn’t need apologetic materials to help answer the attacks of anti-missionaries? We cannot hoard such resources for our own ministries. We must be concerned for the entire movement of Jews who believe in Jesus. I would welcome your input about concerns that might cause Jewish believers to pitch in and work together.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I know that certain groups of Jewish believers are getting along well and cooperating. It is because of your efforts that I write, knowing this will encourage you to keep working for unity. But it will take all of us working together to be successful.
The key to unity is in the hands of Jewish believers like you and me. If we care to see unity, we cannot afford to involve ourselves where our friendship will be limited to only one ministry or fellowship. You can be affirmative of many different works. After all, a married man doesn’t despise all other women in order to prove faithfulness to his wife. Your commitment to a particular ministry is important, but it should not keep you from enjoying and appreciating what God is doing elsewhere.
We must recognize and remind one another that we have one God, one Savior, one body of believers, and we will be together forever as one in the Messiah. So the next time you see disunity springing up like a brush fire, why not fight fire with fruit…the fruit of the Spirit!