The Purpose Driven Life
5. Protecting our Church
Matthew 18:15-22

According to yesterday’s Times, “a senior adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury has issued an apocalyptic warning about the future of the Church of England, forecasting that Christianity in Britain will be driven underground and that the Church will fragment. In a private document presented this week to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Jayne Ozanne suggested that a time of great persecution was coming. She gave warning that the outlook for the established Church was not good and that the Church would continue to implode and self-destruct over gay clergy and other matters. She says that its future will be one of an underground movement comparable to resistance movements during the Second World War.

“I remain convinced that the only way for the Church to survive the storms that are currently besetting it is to embrace the hard truth with honesty and humility.” Questioning whether Church leaders really believe any more in a God who can move mountains or in a God who can raise the dead, she warns that the Church seems to have forgotten how to meet the cost of being Christian. Sacrificial giving is not a concept that we in the West have either embraced or understood. We are too comfortable and, as a result, too compromised. I see a time of great persecution coming, which will drive Christianity all but underground in the West. I believe that this will primarily take the form of a social and economic persecution, where Christians will be ridiculed for their faith and pressurised into making it a purely private matter.”

I wonder whose responsibility you think it is to protect the unity of our church? Is it the Archbishop and Bishops? Is it the pastor or clergy with their theological training? Is it the Church Wardens who are appointed by the Bishop? Is it the Church Council who are elected by the membership? The bible teaches us that it is your responsibility to protect the unity of our church. Put another way, it is our collective responsibility to protect our church.

In “The Purpose Driven Life”, Rick Warren says, “Unity is the soul of fellowship. Destroy it, and you rip the heart out of Christ's Body. It is the essence, the core, of how God intended for us to experience life together in His church. Our supreme model of unity is the Trinity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are completely unified as one. God himself is the highest example of sacrificial love, humble other-centredness, and perfect harmony.”[1]
”In his final moments before being arrested, Jesus prayed passionately for our unity. It was our unity that was uppermost in his mind during those agonizing hours. That shows how significant this subject is. Nothing on earth is more valuable to God than his church. He paid the highest price for it, and he wants it protected, especially from the devastating damage that is caused by division, conflict, and disharmony.”

So if you regard yourself as a member of Christ Church, it is your to protect our unity and promote harmony in our church family and among all believers. Paul writes to the Ephesians, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)

How are we to do this? The Bible gives us practical advice. Here are five steps to protecting our Church


1. Focus on our God-given biblical priorities

“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)


These priorities are reflected in our mission statement, “To know Jesus and make Jesus known” our Five Year Plan and Distinctive Values. These biblical priorities mark us out as a church of Jesus Christ and these must shape everything we do. Paul tells us, "Let us concentrate on the things which make for harmony, and on the growth of one another's character."' (Romans 14:19).

As believers we share one Lord, one purpose, one hope, one faith, one baptism. “We share the same salvation, the same life, and the same future—factors far more important than any differences we could enumerate. These are the issues, not our personal differences, that we should concentrate on. We must remember that it was God who chose to give us different personalities, backgrounds, races, and preferences, so we should value and enjoy those differences, not merely tolerate them. God wants unity, not uniformity: But for unity's sake we must never let differences divide us. We must stay focussed on what matters most - learning to love each other as Christ has loved us” and doing his perfect will as revealed in Scripture.

”Conflict is usually a sign that the focus has shifted to less important issues, such as the frequency of communion services or what clergy should wear on Sundays, or where the Christmas tree should be positioned. These are what the Bible calls “disputable matters” (Romans 14:1)


“When we focus on personalities, preferences, interpretations, styles, or methods, division always happens. But if we concentrate on loving each other and fulfilling God's purposes, harmony results. Paul pleaded for this to the Church at Corinth:

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)


The first step to protecting our church? Focus on our God-given biblical priorities, not disputable matters.

2. Reverence the Church as the Body of Christ

Paul has to write to the Corinthians,“Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ…. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere human beings… Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3, 17)


Rick Warren says “Once you discover what God intends real fellowship to be, it is easy to become discouraged by the gap between the ideal and the real in your church. Yet we must passionately love the church in spite of its imperfections. Longing for the ideal while criticizing the real is evidence of immaturity. On the other hand, settling for the real without striving for the ideal is complacency. Maturity is living with the tension. Other believers will disappoint you and let you down, but that's no excuse to stop fellowshipping with them. They are your family, even when they don't act like it, and you can't just walk out on them. Instead God tells us “Be patient with one another, making allowances for each other’s faults because of your love.” (Ephesians 4:2).

Doing the Church Survey has highlighted the fact that we have not pruned our database for a while. There are people who have moved on for a variety of reasons - mostly because work has taken them to other towns or countries, but some have left because they are dissatisfied with some aspect of the ministry here. Rick says “People become disillusioned with the church for many understandable reasons. The list could be quite long: conflict, hurt, hypocrisy, neglect, pettiness, legalism, and other sins. Rather than being shocked and surprised, we must remember that the church is made up of real sinners, including ourselves. Because we're sinners, we hurt each other, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. But instead of leaving the church, we need to stay and work it out if at all possible. Reconciliation, not running away, is the road to stronger character and deeper fellowship.

Divorcing our church at the first sign of disappointment or disillusionment is a mark of immaturity. God has things he wants to teach you, and others, too. Besides, there is no perfect church to escape to. Every church has its own set of weaknesses and problems. You'll soon be disappointed again.

Groucho Marx was famous for saying he wouldn't want to belong to any club that would let him in. If a church must be perfect to satisfy you, that same perfection will exclude you from membership.” The sooner we give up the illusion that a church must be perfect in order to love it, the sooner we quit pretending and start admitting we're all imperfect and need grace. This is the beginning of real community… This is a place only for those who admit they are sinners, need grace, and want to grow.

How do we protect our church?

1. Focus on our God-given biblical priorities, not disputable matters. 2. Reverence the Church as the Body of Christ.

3. Encourage rather than criticise other Christians

“Each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.” (Romans 14:12-13)


“Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbour?” (James 4:11-12)


“It is always easier to stand on the sidelines and take shots at those who are serving than it is to get involved and make a contribution. God warns us over and over again not to criticise, compare, or judge each other.” Why? Because, “When you criticize what another believer is doing in faith and from sincere conviction, you are interfering with God's business: "What right do you have to criticize someone else's servants? Only their Lord can decide if they are doing right.” (Romans 14:4) Paul adds that we must not stand in judgment or look down on other believers whose convictions differ from our own: "Why, then, criticise your brother's actions, why try to make him look small? We shall all be judged one day, not by each other's standards or even our own, but by the standard of Christ.” (Romans 14:10).

“Whenever I judge another believer, four things instantly happen: I lose fellowship with God, I expose my own pride and insecurity, I set myself up to be judged by God, and I harm the fellowship of the church. A critical spirit is a costly vice.” The Bible calls Satan "the accuser of our brothers and sisters.” It's the Devil's job to blame, complain, and criticize members of God's family. Anytime we do the same, we're being duped into doing Satan's work for him. Remember, other Christians, no matter how much you disagree with them, are not the real enemy. Any time we spend comparing or criticizing other believers is time that should have been spent building the unity of our fellowship. The Bible says, "Let's agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other Help others with encouraging words; don't drag them down by finding fault." (Romans 14:9 The Message). How do we protect our church?

1. Focus on our God-given biblical priorities, not disputable matters. 2. Reverence the Church as the Body of Christ.

3. Encourage rather than criticise other Christians.

4. Refuse to listen to gossip

“Warn divisive people once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.” (Titus 3:10-11)


Rick Warren insists, “Refuse to listen to gossip. Gossip is passing on information when you are neither part of the problem nor part of the solution. You know spreading gossip is wrong, but you should not listen to it, either, if you want to protect your church. Listening to gossip is like accepting stolen property, and it makes you just as guilty of the crime.

When someone begins to gossip to you, have the courage to say, "Please stop. I don't need to know this. Have you talked directly to that person?" People who gossip to you will also gossip about you. They cannot be trusted. If you listen to gossip God says you are a troublemaker.” Proverbs says, "Troublemakers listen to troublemakers.” (Proverbs 17:14). Jude adds, “These are the ones who split churches, thinking only of themselves.” (Jude 1:19).

Warren observes that “It is sad that in God's flock, the greatest wounds usually come from other sheep, not wolves. Paul warned about "cannibal Christians" who "devour one another" and destroy the fellowship.'' (Galatians 5:15) As we have seen in Titus 3:10, gossips and those who are divisive should be avoided. Proverbs again tells us why, “A gossip reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a babbler” (Proverbs 20:19). The fastest way to end a church or small group conflict is to lovingly confront those who are gossiping and insist they stop it. Solomon pointed out, "Fire goes out for lack of fuel, and tensions disappear when gossip stops." (Proverbs 26:20).

Four ways to protect our church: 1. Focus on our God-given biblical priorities, not disputable matters. 2. Reverence the Church as the body of Christ. 3. Encourage rather than criticise other Christians. 4. Refuse to listen to gossip.

But what do you do with someone who will not stop gossiping? What do you do with a person who is consistently critical, divisive or argumentative? The fifth way to protect our church

5. Practice God’s method of conflict resolution

Jesus gave the church a simple three-step process. "If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you've made a friend. If he won't listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won't listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.” (Matthew 18:15-17 The Message)

“During conflict, it is tempting to complain to a third party rather than courageously speak the truth in love to the person you're upset with. This makes the matter worse. Instead, you should go directly to the person involved. Private confrontation is always the first step, and you should take it as soon as possible. If you're unable to work things out between the two of you, the next step is to take one or two witnesses to help confirm the problem and reconcile the relationship. What should you do if the person is still stuck in stubbornness? Jesus says to take it to the church. If the person still refuses to listen after that, you should treat that person like an unbeliever.” If this sounds severe then realise that this shows how much Jesus cares for his Church.


Five steps to protecting our church: 1. Focus on our God-given biblical priorities, not disputable matters. 2. Reverence the Church as the body of Christ. 3. Encourage rather than criticise other Christians. 4. Refuse to listen to gossip. 5. Practice God’s method of conflict resolution.

ere's how this dynamic played itself out in one religious leader. We're told that one year when the armies went off to fight, David stayed home. This year, David thought to himself: I don't want to go. I don't have to go. Let them go without me. There was something unusual going on with David. He wasn't an old man yet, but he wasn't the golden boy anymore either. Women didn't look at him the same way they used to. He started using hair colouring; he told himself he was going to work out more—maybe have a jogging track installed around the palace. He didn't tell anyone, but he had a little laxative added to the royal diet. He wanted—what did he want? He wasn't sure. He wanted to feel young, to feel alive. He was restless, lonely, and a little bored. His affair with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah went at least 9 months without being confessed. David went on leading the people and pretending to worship while inside he carried the secret guilt of unconfessed, unrepentant murder and adultery. Every day he got a little more used to his deception. Every day his heart got a little harder and God got a little further away. Up to this point, no one could see what was going on in David's life underneath the surface. Any time we try to handle temptation in isolation, we're extremely vulnerable.

Gary Richmond paints an unforgettable picture of this. He used to work at a zoo that had a 13-foot-long king cobra. Its venom glands contained enough poison to kill a thousand adults. The cobra had a scar that made him look like the embodiment of evil, but worse it meant that when the snake shed his skin, the eye cap didn't come off. It had to be removed by hand. And, unfortunately, snakes don't have hands.This required a team of five people: two keepers, a curator, a vet, and Richmond—whose job was to furnish the scalpel and sponge to the vet. The cobra slithered from its den, spread its cape, raised itself up to full stature, and looked at the five intruders, deciding on his first victim. He chose the curator. With lightening speed the keepers threw their nets around the writhing snake, the curator grasped it behind the venom glands, and the vet said: "Let's get this over with." His hands were trembling; beads of sweat dripped off everyone's forehead but the snake's. The curator asked if Richmond had any cuts on his hands, to which he replied, "No." He told him to wad up paper towels and stuff them in the cobra's mouth. "Okay," Richmond answered.The cobra bit and chewed until the towels were yellow and dripping with venom. Every year several full-grown elephants die from king cobra bites, the curator explained. A man could never survive a bite with a full load of venom. This is why he was having Richmond drain the snake's venom sacs. The curator's hands were sweating, his muscles were weakening, and his fingers were starting to cramp (this couldn't have been good news to anyone, except maybe the snake). He wasn't sure they could move quickly enough when it was time for the release. Then he explained what we might call the secret of the snake: More people are bitten trying to let go of snakes than when they grab them.

Easy to grab, hard to let go. This is true of everything that can destroy human character: deceit, bitterness, pornography, greed, debt, workaholism. This is the power of addiction. And all sin is—among other things—addictive. These are the serpents that will quickly weaken the human spirit. David grabbed the snake. And he thought he could handle it on his own, until one day when Nathan approaches David. Nathan knows what could happen. If David doesn't respond positively, Nathan is in serious trouble. David has already killed one man to cover up his crimes; he could do the same thing to Nathan.

So with enormous skill and art, he tells David a story about a rich man who rips off a little sheep which is the only possession and prized treasure of a desperately poor man. It's a story designed to capture David's sympathy and passion for justice, and the arrow finds its mark. David is indignant. This man deserves to die. Now is the moment when Nathan must decide how much he's willing to risk. He knows what he's doing. The king is a ruthless character these days. Nathan would be risking his own life. But he doesn't hesitate. He looks straight in the eyes of the most powerful man in his world, the man who could kill him for speaking these words, who's already killed before to keep them from being known: You are the man. This is your story. This is your sin. This is the depth to which you've fallen.

Let's pause here to consider the cost of truth-telling and why it happens so rarely in our world. If truth-telling is so important, if we all agree we need it to grow, if it's an act of love—why does so little of it go on? The answer, simply, is fear. It takes enormous courage to be a truth-teller. If I speak painful truth to someone, things will get messy. They might reject me. We might get into a long, difficult discussion. There's a good chance that they'll accuse me of meddling in what's not my business. It'll cost me time and energy. It gets frightening.

We usually tell the truth until it's costly, and then we trade truth for peace. What if David hadn't had a Nathan in his relational world? How would his life have turned out? We don't know the whole answer, of course, but David had gone for at least the better part of a year without getting straightened out.

All indications are that without Nathan to interrupt him, this slide would've gone on indefinitely. This isn't just true for David. Without a Nathan in our lives, we have a way of drifting off course. David—the man after God's own heart—didn't set out to become a murderer and an adulterer. We generally don't intend to make a mess of our lives. Nobody takes a vow of marriage and plans on ending up in divorce court. No dad welcomes children into this world and plans on being so busy with meetings and briefcases that they end up being distant, polite strangers. No disappointed homemaker picks up a glass of wine to take the edge off her boredom and plans on entering the life of a secret alcoholic.

No church leader enters into ministry intending to become burned out, jealous of somebody else's ministry, angry at the people they lead for not following enough, or living in anxiety day after day over their sense of inadequacy. No one plans these things. But they happen every day. Why? Here's at least one major reason: We have no one in our lives who we've invited to tell us the truth. We think we can handle the serpent by ourselves. When people have nobody to answer to, no one holding us accountable for living up to the values we most deeply hold, we become very vulnerable.

So let's get personal for a moment. Who is the Nathan in your life? Is there anyone that you've asked to be a truth-teller to you? Choose very carefully. It needs to be someone whose confidentiality and discernment you can trust. But choose. You need a Nathan. So do I. We can't handle the serpent on our own.”[2]

I challenge you to accept your responsibility to protect and promote the unity of our church. What are you doing personally to make our church family more warm and loving? There are many people in our community who are looking for love and a place to belong. The truth is, everyone needs and wants to be loved, and when people discover at Christ church how we genuinely love and care for each other, we will have to lock the doors to keep them away.

Lets pray.


[1] This quote and others taken, with thanks from Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Zondervan) Day 21 “Protecting Your Church” pp.160-167.

[2] John Ortberg, Everybody's Normal 'Till You Get to Know Them (Zondervan), pp.169-171.