The Pastor’s Hope in Conflict (Rom. 13:1-7)

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***Preached during the 10th Sovereign Grace Pastors Conference last May 28, 2018 at Sovereign Grace Baptist Church, Baliuag, Bulacan***

Introduction: “The Strong and the Weak”

Our passion for theology can get us into trouble. And I don’t mean trouble with people who don’t believe the gospel. Kasali yun. Pero yung mas masakit, yung mas mahirap na conflict na haharapin natin because of our doctrinal convictions ay with those who have differ from us within our church. Bago ako maging pastor sa church, elder ako sa church, at meron akong isang fellow elder na nagkaroon ng theological conflict na naging personal conflict na rin. Gusto ko kasi noon na pag-usapan o i-clarify yung isang item sa statement of faith ng church na may kinalaman sa order ng faith and regeneration. Medyo nagiging strong na ang conviction ko kasi noon about Reformed theology, at least in soteriology. Pero itong elder na ‘to, galing sa Methodist background, sa mga salita niya sa akin in front of others, parang heretic na ang tingin sa ‘kin. I was hurt, I harbored bitterness. At natuwa pa ako nung umalis na siya sa church.

Ako na ang naging pastor sa church. And until now, I’m still passionate for theology and preaching the gospel from the Word of God. And as we go deeper into the gospel, we go wider in the world. Last year, we started praying, dreaming, planning na by 2020 we will multiply into four local chuches. Our passion for ministry can also get us into trouble. Again, not those outside, but inside the church na iba ang perspective sa ministry. Merong isang fellow elder na nag-express ng disagreements sa ilang aspect ng vision at strategy sa church planting. He has some good and wise points. Pero, dahil hirap talaga ako pag makarinig ng criticism, I became defensive, even putting blame on him for not understanding the context, and not being involved enough sa process.

You are passionate for theology and ministry. Dahil dun, you have conflicts with other members or leaders sa loob ng church or other pastors sa ibang church. Not just because defective ang theology ng iba o mali ang approach sa ministry ng iba, though that may be the case. But primarily because they have different theological convictions, or different approach sa ministry. How have you responded? Meron din bang bitterness, anger, defensiveness, self-justification katulad ko? But how must we really respond?

Paul’s closing exhortation sa section sa Romans 14:1-15:7 about how the strong in faith should relate to those weak in faith will be especially helpful for us. Let’s look at Romans 15:1-7.

Heto yung opening line: “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak…” (15:1). Dapat malinaw muna sa atin kung sino ‘yang “strong” and “weak” na tinutukoy niya. Paul aligned himself dun sa mga “strong”: “we who are strong.” Strong in the faith, in having a more mature theological understanding of the gospel of grace. Kasama na yung application nito in matters like food and days. Tingnan n’yo sa opening ng section na ‘to: “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything (strong, malakas kumain pala! :)), while the weak person eats only vegetables” (14:1-2). Yung weakness dito ay in terms of deficiency of knowledge. Hindi ibig sabihin na they are more sinful. Kasi naman kung titingnan mo yung mga susunod na passage, these “weak” people, they were acting in faith naman, they were doing what they are doing to honoring God naman. Pero dapat na mas matutunan pa nila kung ano ang ibig sabihin ng gospel of grace in relation to the Law.

So, dito sa church sa Rome, nagkakaroon ng conflict between these two kinds of people. Itong mga strong, they can assert what they know and not act in patience and love to those who are weak. Ito namang mga weak, they can look at the strong as arrogant, become critical of them, and stumble because of how they practice their faith. So, whether you see align yourself with the strong or weak (pero siyempre in our pride and arrogance, we readily associate ourselves withe the strong, although we are right), we all need to grow. The strong may be strong in doctrinal convictions, but weak in love. The weak may be weak in knowledge but strong in love. We all need to grow both in knowledge and in love.

Obligation: To Love Others

Our zeal for theology may be commendable. But if in our zeal, we fail to love our brothers, then it is evidence na somehow defective ang understanding natin ng theology. “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). We need to be reminded of our obligation to our brothers. “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak…” (15:1).

Obligation. That sounds legalistic. But it is not, as long as we have right, biblical, gospel motivations. We’ll talk more about that later. We who hold on to the doctrines of grace need to be reminded of our duty to others. The Greek word for that refers to something we owe to other people na kailangan nating bayaran. Similar sa “utang na loob” but really different. Kasi yung utang na loob, parang meron kang gagantihang kabutihang ginawa sa iyo. Pero dito, kahit walang mabuting ginawa sa iyo. Like yung sa 13:7, tungkol sa relationship sa government, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” Meron tayong obligasyon sa society natin, even if they our leaders are corrupt. Sa relationship naman sa loob ng church, v. 8, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

In our passion for the gospel, the Good News, minsang isinasantabi na natin ang “law.” Hindi dapat. Oo nga we are lawbreakers, guilty tayo diyan. The good news is that Jesus, the lawgiver became our lawkeeper, but on the cross itinuring siyang lawbreaker para tayo na mga real lawbreakers ay maituring ng Diyos na lawkeepers. That’s justification. And in our sanctification, hindi ibig sabihing we disregard the law. The gospel freed us from condemnation, but it also gives us power to fulfill the law by loving other people, even those who differ from us. Don’t use the gospel as an excuse para makaiwas sa obligasyon natin. The gospel is the power we need para magawa ang obligasyon na bigay sa atin ng Diyos.

Kailangang gawin. Obligation ‘to, not suggestion or recommendation. At hindi natin magagawa yun kung hindi mababawasan ang self-love sa puso natin. “We…have an obligation…not to please ourselves” (15:1). Sabi nila, love yourself first before you can love others. But neven in Scripture we are commanded to love ourselves. We already do. Sariling interes na iniisip natin, sariling pleasures. We serve ourselves more than we serve others. And that gets in the way of us loving and serving other people.

Ano yung obligation natin? “To bear with the failings of the weak” (15:1). Similar ito sa: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). Oo, meron silang errors, meron silang wrong judgments, meron silang maling pagtingin at pagtrato sa atin. But we respond in love to them, na tulungan sila, not because we are superior, but because they need us, as we also need them.

Paano natin sila matutulungan? “Let each of us please his neighbor” (15:2). Hindi ibig sabihing magiging people-pleaser na tayo. Siyempre kung gospel ang nakasalalay, we don’t compromise. We are to please God rather than men (Gal. 1:10). Pero kung matters na non-essentials like minor doctrines or ministry practices or diet preferences, iisipin natin ang dapat gawin to please or serve others rather than ourselves. This is part of the “self-denial” na kailangan nating gawin in order to follow Jesus, and to help others in their discipleship. Kahit yung mga ayaw nating idisciple sa church, we do it, for what purpose? “…for his good, to build him up” (15:2). “Do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (14:15). “Do not destroy the work of God” (14:20). In the way you respond to theological, ministerial, or relational conflicts, are you destroying a brother, a child of God?

“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (14:19). Kaya yung prayer ni Paul sa 15:5, na kumilos ang Diyos for us “to live in such harmony with one another” (15:5). Ang wish kasi natin sana pare-pareho na tayo ng doctrinal convictions. Pare-pareho ng ministry perspectives. Pare-pareho ng musical tastes. Pare-pareho ng worship preferences. Hindi yun ang “harmony.” Ang “harmony” ay in spite of our many differences, like an orchestra, we are playing beautiful music together. As long as sumasabay tayong lahat sa kumpas ng nag-iisang Conductor natin, at lahat in tune with the gospel.

And because of that gospel, we can “welcome one another” (15:7). Hindi lang ito hi, hello, kumusta ka na. Na para bang sa mga pastoral meetings ng district namin, merong alam mong may conflicts, pero nagbabatian pa rin, nag-ngingitian. This is not about kung ano ang nakikita ng iba, kundi kung ano ang nasa puso mo. Do you welcome that brother in your heart? Do you accept him as a brother? Do you love him, really love him? If you have a problem or conflict, are you willing to sit down with him, pag-usapan, at ayusin kung ano man ang problema?

Mahirap ang mga obligasyong ito. Because it will require a shift in focus. Focus mula sa sarili nating interes to that of others. Mahirap pero hindi imposible. That is why Paul prayed for them sa verse 5, “May God help you do this. May God make it happen.” God can make the impossible possible. Only the Spirit has the power to break the hardness of our hearts and transform it to become more like Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). But we need to learn where to look. Hindi sa sarili natin. Hindi sa ibang tao. We need to look for gospel motivations to empower us, to change us. And there are a lot in this text. Let’s look at three of them.

Motivation #1: The Son of God

Ayon sa 2 Cor. 3:18, we are being transformed to become more like Christ (including how we respond to conflicts and differences) as we “behold the glory of the Lord.” Look to Jesus more and more, and we will become like Jesus more and more.
  1. Consider Christ’s self-sacrificial love. Ano yung dahilan kung bakit we should not please ourselves but think of other people? “For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written (in Psalm 69:9), ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me'” (Rom. 15:3). Sinet-up ni Paul si Jesus dito not just as an example to follow, but motivation to empower us to serve others. Naparito si Jesus not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Hindi sariling interes, hindi sariling comfort, hindi sariling reputasyon ang inisip niya. Kahit pang-iinsulto ng mga tao sa Diyos, inako niya. At the cross, he was maltreated, abused, mocked, beaten, humiliated. Tiniis niyang lahat. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:4-5).
  2. Consider Christ’s gracious acceptance of you. “Therefore welcome one another [ano yung motivation?] as Christ has welcomed you” (Rom. 15:7). Yung ka-conflict mo, maybe iniisip mong undeserving sila ng acceptance mo. Remember kung gaano ka-massive ang conflict na meron ka sa Diyos. You only deserve his wrath. You deserve eternal separation from him. Yet by grace, he accepted you, he welcomed you home, he served food on your table, he gave you rest. And yet, you don’t deserve any of that.
  3. Consider our common union with Christ. Ano yung prayer in Paul sa verse 5? For us “to live in such harmony with one another, [anong motivation?] in accord with Christ Jesus. We find our harmony and unity in Jesus and his gospel. You are in Christ. Yung leader sa church n’yo na laging nagki-criticize sa iyo, also in Christ. Yung ibang pastor na iba ang theological leaning, also in Christ. We may have a lot of differences, but we have far more in common. His name is Jesus.
  4. Consider the lordship of Christ over our lives. Ano yung purpose ng harmony natin? “that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 6). He is not just our common union. He is our Lord. Siya ang masusunod. In times of conflict, your heart may hate your brother or command you to respond in selfish and hurting ways. But don’t follow your heart. Follow your Lord.  For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. “For if we live, we live to the Lord,  and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (14:8-9).

Motivation #2: The Word of God

In times of conflict, prone tayo na pakinggan ang sinasabi ng puso natin. But our heart is deceitful. And some of us, hihingi tayo ng advice sa ibang pastor o church leader. And that’s okay. Kailangan natin yun. Pero yung instruction and encouragement na kailangan natin, the one that will endure, the one that will help us endure, we can only find in the Word of God.
  1. Consider the Christ-Centeredness of the Word. Kung yung motivation no. 1 ay tungkol kay Cristo, paano ba natin mas makikilala si Cristo? Hindi sa FB, hindi sa coffee shop, kundi sa Bibliya. Kaya sa sabi ni Paul sa verse 3, “For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written…” He quoted from the Old Testament, Psalm 69, and told us na ang fulfillment nito ay si Jesus. Tulad din ng sabi ni Jesus sa mga disciples niya, not just the Psalms, but all of Scripture points to him, “…everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Lk. 24:44). The Bible is not about you. Your life is not about you. Your conflict with other people is not about you. It’s about Jesus.
  2. Consider the benefits of the Word for us. Tayong mga pastor, mahusay tayong magcounsel ng ibang tao using the Word. But are we also using the Word to benefit us in counseling ourselves, especially during difficult times of conflict? Katatapos lang banggitin ni Paul yung Messianic implication ng Psalm 69:9, then he applied it generally sa lahat ng Scripture, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). Instruction – Bibliya ang magtuturo sa atin tungkol sa Diyos at sa kanyang kalooban para sa atin. We need direction in times of conflict, we go to the Word. Endurance – Bibliya ang magbibigay sa atin ng lakas na kailangan natin para magpatuloy. Sa mga panahon na we feel like quitting sa ministry o sa relationship, we read the stories of Abraham, Joseph, Daniel, Jeremiah, and Paul. Sa mga Encouragement – sa mga discouraging words na naririnig natin from other people sa church, Bibliya ang source ng encouragement natin. We listen to his words for us, we believe his promises. Yun ang magbibigay sa atin ng lasting hope. Dealing with conflicts can be really really tough. We need instruction, endurance, encouragement, hope. We look to the Word.
  3. Consider how dependent we are to God to apply his Word to us. Kasasabi lang niyang Scripture ang source ng endurance and encouragement na kailangan natin. Pero aware siya na the Word is powerful hindi dahil sa sarili nating understanding, kundi sa application nito ng Holy Spirit sa heart natin. That is why he prayed, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another…” (v. 5). This Word is God’s Word. Siya lang ang may kapangyarihan to apply this to our heart in a life transforming way. So, when we are really struggling in how to respond sa conflict, we pray, we admit we need God’s help. Not just to change the heart of the other person, but to change our own heart as well.

Motivation #3: The Glory of God

If we are really honest, aaminin nating kaya nagrereact tayo “violently” sa mga may strong disagreement sa theological conviction natin is not because of our love for God’s glory, but our own glory. Ganun din pag may mag-criticise ng approach natin sa ministry or leadership sa church. A necessary corrective is for us to be more passionate for God’s glory above all else.
  1. Consider God’s glory as the passion of the heart of Christ. Yung quotation ni Paul sa verse 13 ay from the second half of Psalm 69:9. Kung titingnan mo yung first half nun, ganito nakasulat, “Zeal for your house has consumed me.” Cited din ito sa John 2:17, about sa cleansing of the temple na ginawa ni Jesus. Proving na ginawa ni Jesus yun, kahit na mapagsalitaan siya ng masama ng ibang tao, because of his zeal and passion for the glory, honor, and worship of God. Tulad ni Cristo, ang puso natin ay para sa karangalan ng Diyos, and not about protecting our own reputation, even in tough relationships sa church.
  2. Consider God’s glory as the ultimate goal of the gospel. “Therefore welcome one another as Christ as welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7). Yung end result na “for the glory of God” ay immediate na nakakabit sa “as Christ has welcomed you.” Ang purpose kung bakit tayo tinanggap ng Diyos, bakit iniligtas ni Cristo, ay para sa karangalan ng Diyos. He did not think about us above all when he was on that cross. He though of his Father’s glory above all. The greatest conflict resolution in history, the peacemaking accomplished by Jesus on the cross, is for the glory of God. So every peacemaking effort, every effort towards unity, is for the glory of God.
  3. Consider God’s glory as the ultimate goal of Christian unity. Yung “for the glory of God” sa v. 7 possibly ay nakakabit din sa “welcome one another.” The purpose of Christ accepting us is the glory of God. Also, the purpose of us accepting others is is the glory of God. Yun din naman ang nasa v. 6, we strive toward unity and reconciliation for what purpose? “that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is why we sing together every Sunday morning with our church, kahit may mga differences tayo. That is why we give witness in the way we love one another, to show to the world that God is worthy of glory and honor.
So, kung we fail to respond lovingly sa iba na may different theological positions from us, we don’t glorify God. I’m bothered kapag nakakakita ako ng mga posts sa Facebook, kahit sa mga pastors theological forum, na kung mag-engage sila sa mga disagreements, wala nang love, walang respect, as if they are not treating each other as brothers in the Lord. That is why I posted last week, “We study theology for us to be more passionate for the glory of God. Pero kung nakikipag-away ka na dahil sa theological convictions mo, o kung mas tumataas ang level of pride mo kasi sa tingin mo ikaw lang ang tama, o kung you fail to show love toward those who disagree with you, nago-glorify kaya si Lord?”

Conclusion: May God Help Us

Meron akong FB friend na halos araw-araw recently laging post ay anti-Calvinism, na parang ang nagiging caricature niya sa Calvinism ay heresy or anti-gospel. Gustung-gusto ko na na magcomment. Pero pinigilan ko. That is not the best way to help a brother understand the truth I strongly believe in. What motivated me na magpigil? What will motivate us to pursue what makes for peace and unity? By fixing our eyes on the Son of God, by meditating on the Word of God, and by fueling our affections for the glory of God.

Kanina I shared about a conflict with a fellow elder about ministry vision and strategy. I realized my mistake. Humingi ako ng tawad sa kanya. He also asked for forgiveness. In spite of our differences, we are still partners for the gospel. What I regret, though, ay yung with a fellow elder na nagkaroon ako ng theological conflict early in my ministry. Although “civil” naman ang trato namin sa isa’t isa whenever we meet, wala talagang nangyaring resolution about our issue in the past.

I pray that God will help me, empower me, na gumawa ng hakbang para magkaroon ng resolution anumang mga conflicts na magkaroon ako with our church leaders or with other pastors from other churches. And I also pray, na whatever struggle you have in dealing with personal conflicts or in helping resolve conflicts in your church, that you will find help in the Word of God applied by the Spirit to your heart, that you will become more and more like Christ the Son of God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9).

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