Church Fights – John 7

If you have attended church most of your life, I am sure you could tell a story or two of times when there was conflict within the church. Conflict is a real part of life that we would rather ignore and not even talk about. Even though our text is in reference to a time before the birth of the church, it does provide a telling illustration of how conflict in the church can arise.

“The Feast of Tabernacles looked back to Israel’s journey through the wilderness, and looked forward to the promised kingdom of Messiah. The Jews lived in booths made of branches to remind them of God’s providential care of the nation for nearly forty years (Lev. 23:33–44). Following the Feast of Trumpets and the solemn Day of Atonement, Tabernacles was a festive time for the people. The temple area was illumined by large candlesticks that reminded the people of the guiding pillar of fire; and each day the priests would carry water from the Pool of Siloam and pour it out from a golden vessel, reminding the Jews of the miraculous provision of water from the rock. The feast may have been a jubilant time for the people, but it was a difficult time for Jesus, for it marked the beginning of open and militant opposition to Him and His ministry. Ever since He had healed the paralytic on the Sabbath Day, Jesus had been targeted by the Jewish leaders who wanted to kill Him (John 7:1, 19–20, 25, 30, 32, 44; and note 8:37, 40). He remained in Galilee, where He would be safer, but He could not remain in Galilee and also observe the feast. John 7 has three time divisions: before the feast (vv. 1–10), in the midst of the feast (vv. 11–36), and on the last day of the feast (vv. 37–52). The responses during each of those periods can be characterized by three words: disbelief, debate, and division.”[1]

Before the Feast: Disbelief (v. 1-10). The family of Jesus must have been very interesting. One can only imagine what it would have been like to grow up with Jesus. Mary and Joseph had other children and the ‘brethren’ mentioned in this passage were essentially half-brothers of Jesus. There is a discussion amongst Jesus and His brothers about going to the Feast of Tabernacles. In that discussion a rather sad observation is made in verse 5, “For neither did His brethren believe in Him.” Here were men going up to a religious feast, yet rejecting their own Messiah! How easy it is to follow tradition and miss eternal truth. The publicans and sinners were rejoicing at His message, but His own half-brothers were making fun of Him.[2] Every church conflict that I have seen always has embedded an element of disbelief. In most cases, there is a collapse in the vision of the church. Conflict arises when we fail to see Jesus. When we lose our focus and we start looking at things from a worldly perspective rather than a Biblical perspective, we end up finding ourselves becoming disagreeable and selfish. When we fail to believe that Jesus is the head of the church and we fail to submit to His Lordship and His design for the church, then conflict in inevitable. We need to pray that God would help our unbelief. We need to pray that God would help us all to submit to the Lordship of Christ and that we would not lose our focus.

In the midst of the Feast: Debate (v. 37-52). The debate we see going on here centered around the character of Jesus and the doctrine of Jesus. Even before Jesus arrived at the feast, the people were talking among themselves about Jesus. They questioned whether or not Jesus is just a good man or if He is truly the Messiah. They debated over whether or not Jesus is who He claims to be or is he a deceiver. Once Jesus arrived and He began to teach openly in the Temple, they then debated His doctrine. Character and doctrine go together, of course. It would be foolish to trust the teachings of a liar! The Jews were amazed at what He taught because He did not have any credentials from their approved rabbinical schools.[3] Jesus explains that what He taught came from the Father. This adds fuel to the fire of those who sought to harm Jesus. Earlier Jesus said that He and the Father are one. He also was known to have said that the works He did and the judgements He executed came from the Father. Now, He claims that His teachings come from the Father. Jesus makes it very clear that He can speak the words that He speaks because He has the authority to do so. How do we know that what Jesus teaches is truth? By experiencing it. Dr. G. Campbell Morgan said it perfectly: “When men are wholly, completely consecrated to the will of God and want to do that above everything else, then they find out that Christ’s teaching is divine, that it is the teaching of God.”[4] Many churches today have experienced conflict due to a debate over who is in charge and who has authority. Most all church splits that occur have at its core a fight for power. This was the issue that the religious leaders had with Jesus. For years, they were the ones in charge. They were the ones that told the people what to do. They had the control. Now Jesus comes in and He speaks with authority. Warren Wiersbe writes, “If we really seek God’s will, then we will not worry over who gets the glory. All truth is God’s truth and God alone deserves the glory for what He has taught us. No teacher or preacher can take the credit for what only can come from God. If he does go after the glory, then it is proof that his teaching is self-generated and not received from God. This is the origin of many cults and church splits: somebody “invents” a doctrine, takes credit for it, and uses it to divide God’s people.”[5]

The end of the Feast: Division (v. 37-53). The last day of the feast would be the seventh day, a very special day on which the priests would march seven times around the altar, chanting Psalm 118:25. It would be the last time they would draw the water and pour it out. No doubt just as they were pouring out the water, symbolic of the water Moses drew from the rock, Jesus stood and shouted His great invitation to thirsty sinners.[6] It was one this day that Jesus gives an invitation for all to come to Him and receive the living water. Water for drinking is one of the symbols of the Holy Spirit in the Bible. (Water for washing is a symbol of the Word of God; see John 15:3 and Eph. 5:26.) Just as water satisfies thirst and produces fruitfulness, so the Spirit of God satisfies the inner person and enables us to bear fruit. At the feast, the Jews were reenacting a tradition that could never satisfy the heart. Jesus offered them living water and eternal satisfaction![7] This invitation brought mixed results. Some responded and some did not. Some defended Jesus and others wanted to arrest Him. When it comes to church conflict, there can be division due to the fact that some follow Jesus and others do not. Some have come to the truth and obey the truth while others are just simply religious. Some come to church out of a heart of love for God and His people, others come to church for personal gain.

Conflict in churches occur when there is disbelief, debate, and division. But, how do we avoid such conflict? How do keep the unity of the church? The answer is found in Ephesians 4:11-16. It is when we focus on the truth and grow in our faith that unity abounds. When we all focus on the right things and we all contribute in the right way, then the church will accomplish great things for the Kingdom of God. May we not fall into disbelief, debate, and division; but, may we grow in the truth and keep our eyes on Jesus.

 

 

[1] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 314). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[2] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, pp. 314–315). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 316). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[4] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 316). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[5] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 316). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[6] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 317). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[7] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, pp. 317–318). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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