“Guard This Man” (1 Kings 20:39) is the Men’s Ministries theme for 2019. The “man” we are to guard, for the sake of application, is one’s self. Some refer to this as soul care. Proverbs 4:23 echoes this imperative, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”1 The wisdom of this proverb aptly connects our doing with our being, accurately declaring that our doing flows out of our being.
Acts 2:42 outlines a number of essential convictions that must be ingrained in the fabric of a man’s soul if he is to effectively “guard this man.” In the first quarter of this year, we saw that we must “guard this man” so that he is “sound in doctrine”. A second reason we must “guard this man” is so that he will be “strong in fellowship.” Luke says the early church “devoted themselves to . . . the fellowship” (Acts 2:42, ESV).2 He expands this further by saying, “All who believed were together . . . day by day, attending the temple together and . . . in their homes . . .” (Acts 2:44, 46, ESV).3 The Easy-to-Read Version says they “ate together, prayed together, stayed together, spent much of their time together in the Temple area and in their homes.”4
One may think this strong emphasis on fellowship came easily, because they were exclusively a Jewish sect. However, such was not the case post-Pentecost as the early church grew exponentially. The success of the church in the Roman Empire was directly tied to its absolute inclusiveness– embracing every culture and race, every social stratum, both learned and unlearned, and male and female who put faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as “the only one who can save people” (Acts 4:12, ERV).5 Hence, the primary focus of their “fellowship” was in the person of Jesus Christ, leading the Apostle Paul to say, “The old labels we once used to identify ourselves–labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free–are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive” (1 Corinthians 12:13, MSG).6 The first-century church came to understand they were first Christians and everything else second . . . Christians first and Anglo second . . . Christians first and African second . . . Christians first and Asian second . . . etc.
The Apostle Paul underscores this truth in Ephesians 2:14 (MSG) “Christ is the reason we are now at peace. He made us Jews and you who are not Jews one people. We were separated by a wall of hate that stood between us, but Christ broke down that wall.”7 Consequently, the church enjoys a mystical unity. The church, called out of darkness into His marvelous light, is “the supernatural society of God’s redeemed people.”8 Furthermore, the church experiences a ministerial unity, sharing a common purpose of fellowship and partnership that results in learning, loving, and liturgy, which in turn promotes a material unity of sharing with joyful hearts with those who are in need.
The psalmist extols the blessedness of this unity saying, “Oh, how wonderful, how pleasing it is when God’s people all come together as one” (Psalm 133:1, ERV).9 Since “you are joined together with peace through the Spirit. Do all you can to continue as you are, letting peace hold you together” (Ephesians 4:3, ERV).10 Hence, if we are to “guard this man” individually and collectively, we must be strong in fellowship, valuing community over isolation, ministry over selfishness, and people over possessions.
Does this unity of fellowship in the church mean we will never experience hurt and injury from interpersonal, relational conflict? Ray Pritchard, of Keep Believing Ministries, references Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic work Life Together when answering this question, noting that Bonhoeffer, in essence, said that “the church is the place where our dreams are shattered – and that is a good thing.”11 Pritchard explains, “It is only in the nitty-gritty of life together with all its disappointments and rude awakenings that we discover the Holy Spirit at work in us. In the church, we are thrown together with some people with whom we’d never otherwise associate. And that’s a good thing because God uses those angular people to shape us into the image of Christ.”12
Christians often have a hard time getting along with each other. This has been true from the earliest days of the church. The Apostle Paul, who planted the church in Corinth, wrote 1 Corinthians to the believers there principally because of internal conflict in the church. By the time Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, the tension was largely between Paul and the church. Even in a healthy church, such as the one in Philippi, conflict was a problem. The scripture is not silent about this reality. Jesus teaches us what to do if someone in the church sins against you (Matthew 18:15-17); he teaches us what to do if you sin against someone (Matthew 5:21-26), and Paul teaches us what to do when another Christian sins (Galatians 6:1). I highly recommend Mark D. Roberts expositional teaching entitled “God’s Guidance For Christians In Conflict” for a more in-depth study of interpersonal conflict in the first-century church and its application to the 21st Century Church.13
In summary, there are basically three types of people in the church: (1) peace-breakers (2) peace-fakers and (3) peace-makers. Jesus does not call us to be peace-keepers, but peace-makers (Matthew 5:9) who learn to confront with excellence in a manner that is humble and gentle, patient with others, making every effort to maintain unity, and forgiving the offending person (Ephesians 4:2-3; Colossians 3:13-15). How do we do this? Using the word PEACE as an acronym, Rick Warren outlines five biblical steps we can take in an effort to restore fractured relationships:
- PLAN a peace conference (Matthew 5:23-24)
- EMPATHIZE with the feelings of others (Philippians 2:4)
- ATTACK the problem not the person (Proverbs 15:1; Ephesians 4:29)
- COOPERATE as much as possible (Romans 12:18; James 3:17)
- EMPHASIZE reconciliation not resolution (2 Cor. 5:18; Colossians 3:15)14
Let us pray the prayer of Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:16 (MSG), “May the Master of Peace himself give you the gift of getting along with each other at all times, in all ways. May the Master be truly among you!”15 “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon.”16