Some thoughts on the necessity of avoiding public contention

“And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle. And the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling then in the land. And Abram said to Lot, I pray thee let there be no contention between me and thee, and between my herdsmen and thy herdsmen, for we are brethren.” – Genesis 13 v 7-8

There are so many fundamental lessons contained in the first book of the Bible – it’s often referred to as the ‘seed-plot’ of the scriptures.  I’ve been led increasingly by the Spirit of God into the appreciation of the treasures contained in Genesis. The scripture quoted above was discussed recently in one of our enquiries in the scriptures in the assembly setting.  There’s an important lesson in this for our day, and the conditions in which we find ourselves.

The events described in Genesis 13 will be familiar to most – Abram and Lot were journeying together, both had cattle, the land couldn’t support them (v 6), and contention and strife arose between Abram’s and Lot’s herdsmen.  Abram acts in wisdom to deal with the source of the strife, and, although the events which follow are both interesting and instructive to the believer, they’re perhaps best left for another discussion.

The Spirit of God, in inspiring the record of scripture, has ensured that every important detail was included.  Here, it’s recorded that “the Canaanite and the Perizzite were dwelling then in the land.”  Sadly, we live in a time when there’s a good deal of strife between the people of God.  Real believers are mixed up with unbelievers in the systems and organisations of men throughout Christendom, which is utterly destructive to unity and in opposition to peace.  Among those who have come apart, separated themselves to the Name of the Lord (Matthew 18 v 20, 2 Timothy 2), and gone to Him “without the camp” (Hebrews 13 v 13), the devil is always active to disrupt – if he can – the unity the saints.  Strife and contention among brethren is something to be deeply regretted and it calls (speaking for myself first and foremost) for self-examination and judgement of anything that may have come in as the result of the activity of the flesh and the grieving of the Spirit.  Not only is it to be regretted, it’s often all too public in this age of the Internet.

When the world and the unbeliever – the Canaanite and Perizzite of our day – see contention and strife between the saints of the assembly, it can only be dishonouring to the Lord Jesus, whose assembly it is.  We have to admit, humbly and with deep, heartfelt sorrow, that the Church doesn’t subsist in the state of unspotted purity and outward unity on the earth which existed at the beginning.  The declension was quick – an apostle could write about the time in which he lived being “the last time” and that “even now there have come many antichrists, whence we know that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2 v 18).  Christendom is running to outright apostasy (2 Thessalonians 2 v 3) and the mystery of lawlessness was already at work in the time of the apostles (2 Thessalonians 2 v 7).  We have to admit all this, and acknowledge that there’s been a failure in responsibility for keeping these things out, and that we have our part in that failure.  And yet, what God has established will go through to eternity, untouched by every exertion of the enemy and every failure of man in responsibility.  Hades’ gates shall not prevail against the assembly which is of Christ’s building (Matthew 16 v 18).  However, this consideration (however comforting it is to the faithful believer) doesn’t absolve us of our current responsibility to “strengthen the things that remain” (Revelation 3:2).  How we do that is a large subject in itself, and one which can’t be done justice to in a short article.

It’s our duty, beloved brethren, not to ‘break ranks’ by engaging in public strife and contention with one another.  Speaking from my own experience, it’s a trap which is very easy to fall into.  An even-tempered discussion on a public forum can quickly turn into an acrimonious debate. We have to always keep in mind that troubles which have arisen among the people of God should be dealt with in a priestly way in the circle of the saints. The unbelieving world doesn’t share the divine valuation of things; the unbeliever, not having the Holy Spirit, isn’t able to see the preciousness of light as to the truth, the unity of the saints, or an expression of the assembly in a day of departure. The world would either be indifferent to or disdainful of what it would see as squabbling over things that are worthless, or it would actively try to interfere, causing even more confusion.

Where the activity of the enemy has introduced strife and contention amongst the brethren, there are divine resources to deal with it. If only (and I speak for myself) we would depend on those inexhaustible resources more often. In Genesis 13, Abram depends on the sovereignty of God – he wouldn’t choose the direction in which he should go. After Lot separates himself from him, Abram lifts up his eyes when invited to by God. You might say that vistas open up before him. He’s brought into the knowledge of the purposes of God. Thus, by taking up the matter privately with his brother, before God, not acting wilfully, walking by faith and not by sight, Abram proves divine blessing. May we all prove that abundant blessing.