Two Elements of Redeeming Church Conflict: Intentionality and Contentment

Q. How can I maintain an “eternal perspective” given the harsh realities of this church conflict?

A. It is one thing to give mental assent to the concept of living from an “eternal perspective,” and quite another to actually fit life’s temporal events into that larger framework. But, as Christians, that is what we are called to do. One of my seminary professors, Dr. John Frame, famously wrote:

“Scripture makes it clear that those who are unable to apply God’s Word do not truly understand it.”

Our call and our challenge is to apply what we both know and believe to be true from God’s revealed Word (His will) to every aspect of our lives; every trial, every suffering, every disappointment, and every conflict.  Of course we still struggle to consistently practice what we believe in a manner that both mentally embraces and practically demonstrates a consistency of what I call “faith-belief-life.” If I truly believe that the greatest portion of my existence will be spent apart from my physical body and away from this temporal world, then shouldn’t that present belief also presently define how I deal with the harsh matters of this temporal life?

Having tried to live as consistently as possible with what I believe, I confess, it is not always easy. (What an understatement!) Actually, I have found that it is impossible! That impossibility is what makes the Gospel “good news.” God has graciously revealed that it is not by human effort that I can rightfully anticipate a glorious future spent in an eternal paradise with Him forever. That is what faith in Jesus Christ has accomplished, but even more, I can rightfully now anticipate that thorough God-enabled and God-directed effort I can live in this present world as His eternal child. I can do that because he is all about conforming me, and conforming you, to his noble and eternal purposes (see Romans 12:2 and 2 Timothy 2:21). That reality should make a rather significant difference in how we are able to live day-to-day while still clothed in this flesh.

Two practical elements of living from an eternal perspective are embodied in the biblical concepts of intentionality and contentment.  These are practical terms and concepts that, for me, put content to eternal perspective living.

Intentionality

The biblical basis for intentionality is Philippians 4:9, 1Timothy 4:15, and 2 Peter 1:10:

  • Whatever you have learned or received or heard from meput it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9
  • Put into practice: whatever is true; whatever is noble; whatever is right; whatever is pure; whatever is lovely; whatever is admirable; anything excellent or praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8).
  • Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 1Timothy 4:15
  • Be diligent: receiving everything God created as good; rejecting godless myths; holding promise for both the present life and the life to come; setting an example for believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity; devoting yourself to reading Scripture and to preaching and teaching; not to neglect your spiritual gift (1 Timothy 4).
  • Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall. 2 Peter 1:10
  • Do these things: make every effort to add to your faith goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love; avoid becoming ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of Jesus Christ; avoid becoming nearsighted and blind by forgetting that you have been cleansed from past sins (2 Peter 1).

Contentment

The biblical basis for contentment is Philippians 4:11, 1Timothy 6:6-7, and Hebrews 13:5:

  • I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be contentwhatever the circumstances. Philippians 4:11
  • Learn to be content: whatever the circumstances; in need or in plenty; well fed or hungry; living in plenty or in want; learning the secret of being content by doing everything through him who gives strength (Philippians 4:10-13).
  • But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 1Timothy 6:6-7
  • Godliness with contentment: food and clothing are enough; rejecting love of money; pursuing righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness; fighting the good fight of the faith; taking hold of the eternal life to which you have been called (1 Timothy 6:8-12). 
  • Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ Hebrews 13:5
  • Be content: by loving each other as brothers; entertaining strangers; remembering those in prison and those who are mistreated; honoring marriage; living free from the love of money; being content with what you have; remembering your leaders in the faith (Hebrews 13:1-7).

When we know what practices we, as Christians, are to be intentional about, and those intentions are set within the context of contentment in our present day realities, we can have great hope and assurance that our efforts are God-enabled and God-dependent even as each day passes in this rapidly departing world. Intentionality and contentment reflect our faith in Christ, that He is subduing all things under His control. And even the tragic events we all experience take on meaning beyond their immediate consequences. Looking beyond the surface of our sorrows and conflicts, we are bolstered by thepurposes that all life situations have. Purposes that are eternal purposes, rooted all the way back in the throne room and very character of God Himself. With our hearts fixed on eternity, we see beyond our daily conflicts (as difficult as they may be) and we fix our hopes on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our Faith. God Himself is using all of our life events to mold us into his eternal children so that we will be useful both now and forever.  Imagine! How our churches would blossom with gentleness, patience, joy, and peace if only more and more Christians began to consistently hold an eternal perspective of faith – belief – life.

Of course there are many other Scriptural principles that call us to maintain an eternal perspective. I have shared two of my favorites with you, but I would love to know yours—and especially how you live your life in accordance with the verses that prompt you to live with an eternal perspective.

I will sign off with a profound quote by the great theologian, Yogi Berra:

When you come to a fork in the road take it!

We will, Yogi Berra! We all come to many forks in our roads every day. Hour by hour, minute by minute, we can intentionally choose contentment as we apply all of our faith and belief to all of our life’s decisions. Or we can go the way of darkness and folly—never putting up the good fight of effort, of intentional trying. No. Instead, we choose to live miserable lives of rebellion against all we claim to believe, all we claim to have faith in. One path leads to life. The other, destruction. Choose (intentional, contentment-filled) life!

-Dave Edling

(This article was originally published in 2012.)

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About David V. Edling

Dave Edling is an experienced Christian conciliator who has worked with many conflicted churches. During his decade of service on the senior staff of Peacemaker Ministries, he participated in over 200 mediation and arbitration cases and worked with nearly twenty thousand Christians engaged in conflicts affecting churches of almost every denomination. Dave holds several graduate degrees in addition to his Bachelor of Science degree from Oregon State University. They are: Master of Arts in Human Behavior, United States International University (now Alliant International University); Juris Doctor, California Western School of Law; Master of Arts in Religion, Westminster Seminary California; and Master of Arts in Biblical Conflict Resolution, Birmingham Theological Seminary. Dave has served as a trustee on the Board of Directors for Covenant College and Westminster Seminary California and has taught in the Doctor of Ministry programs for Reformed Theological Seminary, Mid-Western Baptist Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. In addition, Dave has been a lecturer in practical theology for several other Christian colleges and seminaries.
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