A man was once stranded on a desert island for years. When a rescue team finally found him, he took them around and showed them what he had done with the place. He brought them to the hut that he lived in, and even showed them a church he had built. When someone from the rescue party noticed a third structure and asked about it, he replied, "Oh, that's the church I used to go to."
That sentiment is not far off from reality. Church history is pretty full of discord and contention. That's because we're all fallen and sinful. We're a messy bunch. So how do we handle problem people in the church? The apostle Paul wrote about this issue in Philippians 1, giving us a threefold strategy in verses 15-18.
1. Identify the troublemakers. This isn't difficult; troublemakers show themselves on their own. The troublemakers Paul was writing about were jealous, argumentative, selfish, and malicious: "Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and…from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains" (vv. 15-16). These were Christian preachers, but they weren't really concerned about the church or evangelizing the lost—they were just anti-Paul. I can't think of a worse motivation to preach than that. What are we supposed to do in response to these kinds of people?
2. Ratify the truth makers. Don't spend all your time worried about the troublemakers. Paul wrote that "some also [preach Christ] from goodwill…[and] out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel" (v. 15, 17). This was the silver lining in the dark cloud of contention he was facing. And it's part of the strategy of dealing with problem people: make a pivot and find those who love the work of God in you, then run with them, empower them, and build with them.
3. Magnify the true message. Look at how Paul answered all of this: "What then?"—or "What does it matter?"—"Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice" (v. 18). Paul was probably wounded very deeply by these people, but he was looking past that and saying, "I'm not going to let them rob me of joy. In fact, I'm going to rejoice, because the gospel is being preached."
Here's the truth: Satan loves to exploit and amplify conflicts, disagreements, and issues among redeemed, saved people. And I believe we ourselves often make too much of what divides us and not enough of what unites us. I know we need to use discernment and be careful about what the truth is. But sometimes I fear we are known more for what we're against than what we're for.
Did you know that God reserves the right to use people who disagree with you on any number of issues that aren't crucial, central matters of the gospel? It's true. We all get to heaven by trusting in Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection—period. We ought to rejoice when we see Christ being preached and seek to make much of Him in the meantime—despite problem people.