Introduction: Are you like me? Have you been in a church where you
experienced conflicts, and also been in a church where you
experienced unity? What made the difference between those churches?
When I was first married our church was split along theological
lines. In many respects that was good because the dispute was over
grace. It was good to have members carefully consider that issue.
Our next church was split along racial lines. There was no excuse for
that dispute. My current church is unified and my prior church was
relatively free from conflict. The Bible records several conflicts in
the early church. Let’s explore them to see what we can learn about
resolving conflict in the church!
- Read Acts 6:1. What is the basis for the dispute? (It
seems the dispute is over culture. They are all Jews, but
some are from a Greek background and some are from a
- Would Christians withhold food because of a widow’s
cultural background? (That is a serious charge. An
innocent explanation is that the Hebrew Jews knew
their widows better, and thus this might have been an
oversight. Notice that the text says, “when the
number of disciples was increasing.” That suggests
- Read Acts 6:2-4. How did the twelve disciples solve this
problem? (They passed it on to others! They passed the
problem on to a committee of seven, and they passed the
choice of the committee members on to others.)
- Do you think this is a good idea? If so, why? If not,
- Notice that the disciples referred to the job as
“waiting on tables.” Are the disciples saying that
this job is beneath their dignity?
- What are the qualifications for doing this job? (To
be full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.)
- How do these requirements match the job title
“waiting on tables?” (They obviously do not
match. The real challenge in the job is to fix
the claim of cultural bias. That would take the
Holy Spirit and wisdom.)
- When we look at these verses from our modern point of
view, we could conclude that the disciples did not
want to deal with a problem that was beneath their
dignity. Is there anything in these verses to suggest
that was not the attitude of the disciples? (Verse 2
tells us “all” of the disciples were gathered for a
meeting to address this problem. That makes it appear
that the twelve recognized this as an important
issue. The “wait on tables” reference might be an
extreme way to contrast the disciples’ ministry work,
rather than a comment on the dignity of the work.)
- Read Acts 6:5-6. It may not be obvious to us today, but
all seven of these committeemen have a Greek sounding
name. Recall that the Greek widows were complaining that
they were not getting their fair share of food, rather the
Hebrew widows were being preferred. What is the majority
group in your church? What is the largest minority group
in your church? Apply this remedy using those groups. The
minority that is complaining is now put in charge of the
fixing the problem!
- Is this going to create a problem of reverse
discrimination? (Do not forget that the
qualifications were being full of the Holy Spirit and
- Recall that an innocent reason for the discrimination
was that in the rapidly growing church the Hebrew
Jews knew their widows better. How would this
solution fix that problem? (If the problem truly
arises from a lack of knowledge, then bringing in
Greeks who would know their own widows better is the
perfect solution, and it does not raise issues of
original or reverse discrimination.)
- Read Acts 10:1-2. Is Cornelius a good man?
- Is he a man of power and influence?
- Read Acts 10:3-4. Why would a soldier react in fear to
this vision of an angel? (This is the supernatural.
Cornelius might know about the horrors of war, but he was
not used to dealing with angels.)
- Read Acts 10:5-8. Why do you think the angel had
Cornelius’ men go instead of Cornelius going personally?
- Read Acts 10:9-13. How often do you dream about food?
Notice that both of our Bible stories have something to do
with food this week!
- Read Acts 10:14-16. Peter believes this trance is from
God. Will God ever contradict what He has told us in the
Bible? (I would naturally emphatically say, “No.” But,
recall our recent study of the Book of Acts, and
specifically the Acts 15 account about how the early
church solved the circumcision issue. That study makes
this answer more complicated.)
- Read Acts 10:17. Isn’t the meaning of the vision clear?
(It would be if Peter did not know what the Bible
(Leviticus 11) said about eating unclean animals. Peter
decided that the obvious meaning was not what the vision
actually meant, because it would contradict the Bible.)
- Read Acts 10:18-20. The Holy Spirit tells Peter to go with
the men sent by Cornelius. Why is this a potential
problem? (Read Acts 10:25-29. It was against Jewish law
for a Jew to visit a Gentile.)
- To what law does Peter refer? (This “law” is one made
up by the Jewish leaders, it does not exist in the
Old Testament. The Old Testament prohibits
intermarriage with Gentiles or worshiping their gods.
It does not prohibit “association” or “visits” with
- How does Peter now understand the vision of the
unclean animals? (He understands it to refer to
“unclean” men. It is not about eating, it is about
- Read Acts 10:34-35. What does this teach us about unity in
the church? (That God accepts all who fear Him and do what
- Read Acts 11:1-3. How would you have responded to this
charge if you were Peter? Would you say that nothing in
the Bible prohibits it? Would you have a Bible debate?
- Read Acts 11:4. We will skip the verses that retell
Peter’s story. Read Acts 11:18. What is the key to
resolving this unity problem? (Peter showed how God acted
in his situation. Those who were critical accepted Peter’s
account as true, and accepted the leading of God. Notice
that no theological debate was involved.)
- Read Acts 11:19-21. Why are these verses important to
understanding the solution to this question? (They show
that God is blessing sharing the message with the
Gentiles. We see this consistently.)
- Consider these two unity issues. Do you see a common
problem? A common solution? (Both stories involve
criticism. The Greek widows complain. The Jerusalem
believers criticize Peter. The common solution is the
power of God. The committeemen were to be filled with the
Holy Spirit. God directly spoke to Peter about the
problem of disunity with Gentile believers.)
- Is there another common element between the two
examples? (Re-read Acts 6:6 and Acts 10:9. In both
situations we find prayer.)
- What lesson does that teach us today? (We need to
have in common seeking God through prayer and then
looking for the working of the Holy Spirit. We need
to respect the work of the Holy Spirit in resolving
- Read Acts 1:7-9. How could the disciples have forgotten
this critical instruction from their Lord just as He is
ascending to heaven?
- Hasn’t the answer to the issue of sharing the gospel
with the Gentiles always been right in front of them?
Hasn’t it always been plain?
- Friend, are you praying and looking for the leading of God
when problems of unity arise? If not, why not commit to
- Next week: Unity in Faith.