There is no greater opportunity to become Christlike than in the midst of pain and injustice. When Satan is raging with evil, God is planning to turn it to good. If we maintain our integrity in battle; if we let love rise to its purest expression, we will touch the heart of God. Such is the path to God’s power.
I have set my heart to eliminate many of the vulnerabilities to, and effects of, church splits and other ungodly divisions. At the same time, I realize that we can do almost everything right as pastors and churches and still suffer divisions. For some of us, this may actually be part of God’s greater plan for our lives–that we should endure rejection, conflict and slander as part of the process of truly becoming Christlike.
A Collective Madness
Let me address those who may currently be engaged in splitting a church . My earnest admonition is that you flee quickly from the dividing group. For once you fully embrace the resolve to split your church, a type of “collective madness” occurs. You will know what you are doing is wrong, but will become so hardened that you detach yourself from guilt. You will be aware that your anger is venomous and unchristlike, but you will be powerless to mute your words.
Beloved, no one needs to slay love to defend truth. Love is not truth’s enemy; it is its validator. If what you say cannot be said in love, do not say it. It is not of God. To speak without love is evidence that the collective madness has begun to infect your soul.
Let us isolate this terrible insanity that drives people to say and do things they know are wrong. For the sake of discernment, we shall call this season of madness “Satan’s hour.” It is a period when the restraining powers of justice and goodness seem to withdraw. Instead of love, or even civility, what governs the dissenting group is the manifest “power of darkness” (see Luke 22:53).
It is as though people invite the legions of hell to temporarily escape the abode of the damned and find access to their secret resentments–the unresolved issues that exist in their hearts. The resident evil within human nature is fully awakened, and then empowered by hell to fulfill demonic gratification.
This collective madness is the exact opposite of a visitation from heaven; it is a visitation from hell. It is not the healing of bodies, but the wounding of hearts. It is not reconciliation between souls, but estrangement of friends. It is not truth spoken in love, but emotions discharged in wrath. It is not the gospel of peace, but the heartache of strife. During Satan’s hour, friends become enemies; loyalties become betrayals; and unity degrades into unreconcilable division. Satan’s hour is an uncontested, seemingly unstoppable, invasion from hell, where every hidden jealousy, every secret, unresolved bitterness in the human heart is unsheathed and used as a weapon in the hands of demons of strife. It strikes churches, but it also manifests during a divorce and in other personal relationships. Its goal is to divide and destroy.
Indeed, Jesus Himself, during His last days on earth, watched this invasion from hell advance upon the people of Jerusalem. It’s power infected even His own disciples. Yet, if we study the terrible, demonic events which were compressed into Jesus’ last earthly days, we can gain a vital insight into the demonic activity in church splits and divorces. More importantly, we can see how God can bring victory through it.
First, this swarm of evil did not take Jesus unaware. Throughout the time of His ministry Jesus frequently warned His disciples that a time of unfettered evil would come (Mark 8:31; 9:12; Luke 17:25). As the day arrived, Jesus announced to His disciples that the prince of darkness was coming (John 14:30). Yet, knowing a time of satanic darkness was at hand did not make enduring it easier; knowing such a time was imminent, however, did help Jesus to prepare.
Thus, Jesus was fully aware of several things that would occur during Satan’s hour: evil would strike in full force and His disciples would be severely sifted (Luke 22:31); His followers would scatter; and one of the twelve would betray Him. Even Jesus’ closest friends would deny they ever knew Him (see Luke 22:60-61). Satan’s hour was a time when reality itself seemingly bent in service to the power of darkness (Luke 22:53), and the Father offered nothing Jesus could use to stop it.
We cannot help but picture Jesus always upbeat and overcoming, but when hell was unleashed, even God’s Son was not invulnerable to Satan’s oppression. “Grieved and distressed,” Jesus took His closest friends aside and spoke intimately with them about His heartache. “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death,” He said, as He urged Peter, James and John, to keep watch with Him. Yet, the heaviness of satanic battle overwhelmed them. Even John, who had rested his head on Jesus’ breast, could not lift his head from slumber–all escaped into sleep, hiding themselves from excessive sorrow (Matt 26:38-45).
Staggered by the weight of the spiritual attack against Him, Jesus “fell to the ground, and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by” (Mark 14:35). We know Jesus ministered peace wherever He went, yet now His intense, internal struggle ruptured blood vessels on His face, which beaded on His skin. Again, He sought to waken His disciples. Roused from sleep, they actually saw the droplets of blood on Christ’s brow and cheeks; still, they could not endure.
I think it is significant that Jesus returned to His friends three times during the hour of His Gethsemane prayer (Matt 26:39-45). Beloved, there are some agonies in life for which God alone seems not enough; we crave also the comfort of our friends ( Prov 17:17). There is no substitute for our Heavenly Father’s Presence, yet our soul also needs the embrace of a loyal companion, the shoulder of a faithful friend. Yet, Jesus’ friends were not there. They slept while He prayed. They fled when the Pharisees came (Matt 26:56). During the trial when, of all people, they could have certainly defended Jesus’ character and doctrine, they hid. Even if others would forsake Him, surely these who broke bread with Him, who knew His heart, would speak in His defense. Yet from Gethsemane to the cross, Jesus heard the voice of just one friend. It was Peter’s, who less than a day earlier had sworn undying loyalty, swearing now he never knew Him (Matt 26:69-70; Luke 22:61).
Our Master experienced betrayal, abandonment, slander, mockery and gross injustice. He endured the heartache of His disciples’ immaturity–their failure to pray, failure to stand and failure to defend the truth about their most wonderful friend and Lord.
Dear follower of Jesus, what our Messiah endured and what the disciples suffered, in various degrees, are all the elements found in a church split. What happens to a pastor–what might have happened to your pastor during a church split–is similar in nature to what Jesus Himself suffered in His last few days.
How Jesus Overcame
For a pastor, there exists only one way out of the tragedy of a church split: become like Jesus. You see, God’s greatest goal for our lives is not that we become successful ministers, but that we become Christlike. Pastoring is simply an opportunity to be transformed into Christlikeness. This means that, when we go through injustices and conflicts, Christ’s character and mercy must be manifested in our mortal lives. As we follow Christ’s pattern, we learn to respond to human failures as Jesus did.
The wounding that occurs to a pastor during a split comes on several fronts: the failure of friends or church members to speak in his defense or to persevere, on his behalf, in prayer. Confusion and fear, suspicion and doubt overshadow people who know better, paralyzing them into inaction. To counteract the failure of His disciples during their personal sifting, Jesus assured them, “but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).
There are valuable lessons for Jesus’ disciples that only failure can teach, and Jesus knew this. His disciples frequently slipped into pride and strife. After their failure, they were humbled, broken and contrite enough for God to use them. The Holy Spirit redeemed their failure, using it to excavate their souls of pride. These same disciples would soon be willing to suffer and die for Jesus, and count it an honor to do so. They never denied Him again. Knowing they would fail Him, Jesus prayed that their faith would not fail and, upon returning, they would become a strength for others.
For the disciples, their biggest problem was carrying the guilt-burden of their failure. Yet, immediately after warning them that they would, in fact, each deny Him, Jesus comforted them, “Let not your heart be troubled” (see John 13:38-14:1). Incredibly, even before they fell, Jesus sought to remove the weight of condemnation that would inevitably seek to overwhelm them.
So, pastors, as Jesus loved His disciples, even though they failed Him, so we need to love those who, though falling short of our expectations, still remain with us. They will strengthen others. We need to remove any sense of condemnation or blame from those who have disappointed us. As they see our Christlike reactions, they too will become united to serve God’s highest purposes.
How Jesus Handled His Enemies
Jesus loved His disciples and His love covered and redeemed their failures. However, the next people we must deal with are those playing the role of the enemy, the instruments of injustice, who sought to destroy a ministry through gossip and slander. We must find Christ’s reaction to these and emulate His behavior.
While we may have many legitimate arguments to wage against our accusers, Jesus stood silently before His. Beloved, there is a time to take your stand and defend what God is doing, and there is a time to become silent and simply entrust yourself to God. Peter reveals how Jesus processed the storm of accusation that came against His soul. Peter writes, “while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).
If your words will not persuade your attackers, beloved, recognize it is time to be silent. Yet, Jesus was not just silent; He bore their sins on His cross (1 Peter 2:24). So also for us: It is not enough that we not react negatively; we must respond positively to those who come against us, just as Christ did. We must pray the mercy prayer, even when it may appear that they have successfully put to death our vision.
You see, Jesus knew Satan’s hour was coming. Yet He also knew that if He could maintain His vision of redemption and His capacity to love, it would be through this very time of darkness that redemption would triumph for mankind. Though grieved and deeply troubled, still Jesus prayed, “What shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came” (John 12:27).
Jesus understood that for redemption to be accomplished, His love would face its most severe test. Jesus knew this battle was over one thing: would He allow love to reach full maturity and its most perfect expression? Would He maintain His passion for man’s redemption even as men mocked and crucified Him?
So it is with us. God allows injustices to perfect our love. The cross is the cost we pay so love can triumph. This battle is not about you and your enemies, but about you maintaining love in the midst of injustice.
Dear pastor, let us redefine our meaning of success. Here is the success that will bring the power of redemption into our world: When we have endured Satan’s hour and, instead of reacting, allowed adversity to refine our love, we will have succeeded in the purpose of our existence.
Beloved, regardless of the test God calls you to endure, it is not about you and your relational opponent. The real issue is about you and God. Will you allow love to be perfected? Will you transform Satan’s hour into an offering of your life in Christlike surrender?
Lord Jesus, my soul yearns to be like You. Master of all that is good, grant me grace to succeed in love. Guard my heart from its natural instinct for self-survival. Let me never choose the way of hardness; let me, in all things, find the way of life. Even now, I offer myself for those who have struck me. Thank You for the opportunity to become like You. Amen.