“I do some of my worst sinning when I am right,” a pastor friend once shared. I, too, have a list of such experiences.
Some years ago, I worked with someone who had influence and responsibility in our conference. Even though we worked well in many situations, he and I disagreed quite often. Let’s just say we were on different sides of the fence—not in our fundamental beliefs and dedication to God’s work but over methods and priority needs. Sometimes our disagreements became passionate, even somewhat argumentative. Though I prayed and prayed about this and read Scripture and inspired writings, I was very convinced I was right about some principles of how the work should be done. I believed the inspired writings were on my side. Unfortunately, my friend felt the same way about his views!
As challenges to the ministry continued to mount, we established a select committee to work on improving all aspects of the ministry. More tension surfaced between this director and me. At times, we handled our disagreements well and sometimes apologized if we got too forceful. But the people around us struggled with our disagreements and the tension they caused. Two years later, some areas were still not resolved between us.
We were seeing answers to prayer in our ministry, and yet we hadn’t seen the breakthroughs for which we had hoped. In fact, we were at a logjam just at the time a meeting was scheduled to make final decisions. We all knew it would be a difficult meeting with lots of disagreement.
I woke up early that morning, dedicating my time to the Lord. As I worshiped, God began to bring conviction to my heart regarding this friend. As the Lord so often does, He set a mirror in front of me that allowed me to see my wrong spirit and un-Christlike behavior. I confessed my sin and asked for real repentance.
Then God gave direction. “Oh no,” I thought, “not that!” Would I have to publicly ask for forgiveness from my friend in front of the whole committee? I hate that! But God continued to convict me of my need to be reconciled with this brother.
At breakfast, I told my wife, Janet, what the Lord had impressed me to do. She got this look on her face like, “Oh, wow! He did it again!” Then she told me the Lord had awakened her about 2:00 that morning. When God disturbs her sleep, she asks what she should pray about. This morning, she was impressed to pray for reconciliation between this man and me. This strong confirmation from Janet sent me straight to the committee with a clear mission.
After prayer and a few words, I jumped into my apology to this man for my selfish spirit and how I too often had treated him. I had tears, of course. He rose up and put his arms around me, and we hugged in a wonderful embrace. Then he shared that the Lord had been convicting him that we both had been through different experiences in life, and that he, too, wanted to work much better with me. Tears all around and Jesus in the room! Then we all had a time of group prayer together. It was beautiful!
We experienced amazing agreement on difficult topics that day and moved ahead in very positive ways. My friend and I were each still convinced of our perspectives but could now work together with our hearts in one accord. That is God’s strategy for dealing with each other even when we disagree about what is right and good for His church.
God’s strategy is always for each of us to personally come into His presence with open hearts, prepared to hear His Word and ready to confess and make things right as He convicts us. Prayer helps all of us and every situation as God changes our hearts.
I have discovered that while our Lord has strategies to keep us united through major disagreements, Satan also has a set of strategies to divide us. Sometimes he even uses our own passionate concern for truth against false teachings expressed in the wrong spirit.
When Satan sends a false teaching into the midst of God’s people, he has several strategies to lead us outside the Lord’s will. Here are five of them.
1. False teaching. Satan’s first strategy is to mislead through people who promote false teaching. It is often a close counterfeit designed with much truth yet includes a devastating error. Our safety is to prayerfully study the inspired writings for ourselves and not trust the opinions of others. “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20, KJV). God has promised that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth (see John 16:13).
2. A motivation of fear. A secondary strategy that accompanies false teaching is one that can lead an even larger group of conscientious believers astray. As “teachers” seek to warn of the false teachings, they lead others to become so afraid of the false that they miss the truths being counterfeited, which are essential to their spiritual growth in the Lord. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7, NKJV).
3. Bearing false witness. In our zeal to expose false teachings, many of us break the ninth commandment (see Ex. 20:16). Many find it easy to pass along the latest rumor that labels someone as a false teacher when we have not followed the counsel of Matthew 18 and gone to the source first.
4. Playing it safe by not speaking up. When we encounter a false teaching, one danger is for us to shy away from speaking up about it because of the controversy it may cause and because we do not want to be labeled or attacked. However, it remains our responsibility as Christians, and especially as pastoral leaders, to love our people enough to warn them of the dangers that could ruin their souls.
“Precious truth must be presented in its native force. The deceptive errors that are widespread, and that are leading the world captive, are to be unveiled. Every effort possible is being made to ensnare souls with subtle reasonings, to turn them from the truth to fables, and to prepare them to be deceived by strong delusions.”1
5. A harmful approach. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1, NKJV). Even when we are right about the facts, if we are wrong in spirit, we can cause great harm as we warn others of a false teaching.
Ellen G. White presents a needed balance: “But while these deceived souls turn from the truth to error, do not speak to them one word of censure. Seek to show these poor, deluded souls their danger, and to reveal to them how grievous is their course of action toward Jesus Christ; but let it all be done in pitying tenderness. By a proper manner of labor some of the souls who are ensnared by Satan may be recovered from his power. But do not blame and condemn them. To ridicule the position held by those who are in error, will not open their blind eyes, nor attract them to the truth. When men lose sight of Christ’s example, and do not pattern after his manner of teaching, they become self-sufficient, and go forth to meet Satan with his own manner of weapons.”2
In the book of Acts, the Lord’s people knew the secret. They spent much time in corporate prayer, studied the Word, confessed and repented of all sin, and fellowshipped together in a one-accord spirit while being personally involved in the mission of sharing Jesus. The result? Pentecost and the gospel going to their world in about 25 years! They came through some very difficult issues together while keeping their focus on their main mission: to seek and save the lost. We can do the same if we embrace God’s presence and power in our lives!
1 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, 9:242.
2 Ibid., 242, 243.
Jerry N. Page is secretary of the Ministerial Association of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which is headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA.