Internal Challenge

Judges 12:1-7

1The Ephraimite forces were called out, and they crossed over to Zaphon. They said to Jephthah, “Why did you go to fight the Ammonites without calling us to go with you? We’re going to burn down your house over your head.” 2Jephthah answered, “I and my people were engaged in a great struggle with the Ammonites, and although I called, you didn’t save me out of their hands. 3When I saw that you wouldn’t help, I took my life in my hands and crossed over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave me the victory over them. Now why have you come up today to fight me?”

4Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, “You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh.” 5The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” 6they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’” If he said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time. 7Jephthah led Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in a town in Gilead.

Basketball Team

A fictional basketball team has been winning games after games. They became champions eventually. At the awarding ceremony, only one player was chosen as the MVP (Most Valuable Player). That recognition was also coveted by another player who tirelessly played his best at an MVP level.

The next basketball season began. Some players had also tried to prove that they were more valuable player than the other. Team playing had been disregarded. Showing off individual talent became apparent. The team suffered and eliminated. The team owner had to dissolve the former champion team.

It is heartbreaking story but such circumstances are often observed not just among sports teams but also inside the church. When church leaders pursue their personal agenda, the whole church will suffer. It is very necessary to be prayerful, especially, when choosing church leaders or pastors.

We may prefer church leaders who faithfully follow biblical principles but we do not control how church members choose their preferred candidates. We must pray for unity in the church always. Jesus prayed in John 17:20-23, 20I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

When Christ prayed for complete unity among believers, He expected a problem of divisiveness among believers. And truly, the world is observing, and many observers are dismayed when there’s church split or chaos in the church.

Let’s learn from the Israelites. They are God-chosen people but there is internal problem of divisiveness among them. The Ephraimites were not happy when Jephthah and his gang defeated the Ammonites. Were they envious of Jephthah’s victory so that they accused him of not getting them involved?

1. Accuse

1The Ephraimite forces were called out, and they crossed over to Zaphon. They said to Jephthah, “Why did you go to fight the Ammonites without calling us to go with you? We’re going to burn down your house over your head.” 2Jephthah answered, “I and my people were engaged in a great struggle with the Ammonites, and although I called, you didn’t save me out of their hands. 3When I saw that you wouldn’t help, I took my life in my hands and crossed over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave me the victory over them. Now why have you come up today to fight me?”

Jephthah descended from the tribe of Gilead, a descendant of Manasseh. Manasseh and Ephraim were sons of Joseph. The Ephraimites may have felt like they were ignored by Jephthah when they accused him of not calling them to join the battle. Interestingly, Jephthah answered that he called them.

Why did the Ephraimites accuse Jephthah of not calling them? Why did Jephthah say that they did not save him from the Ammonites? It is possible that Jephthah sent messengers to all the other tribes of Israel but Ephraim may have received the message when the battle was almost finished. Or, it could be that the Ephraimites wanted Jephthah to personally come to invite them.

Can you sense similar attitude among church members? Church leaders would announce to the congregation a particular activity but there are a few who would wait for someone to call personally invite them. Even if they heard the announcement they hesitate to come if leaders would not call them personally.

The Bible teaches in 1 Corinthians 12:ff, Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body… so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 

Interestingly, Apostle Paul who rebuked the Corinthians about divisiveness was the same Paul who separated from his mission partner Barnabas. How do we interpret that as acceptable biblical principle? Did Paul make a mistake of separating from Barnabas when he teaches against divisiveness in the church?

Paul and Barnabas had a sharp disagreement on whether John Mark will join them or not. John Mark was a cousin of Barnabas. Paul did not think it wise to take John Mark because he abandoned them in their mission work. Why did Paul not give John Mark another chance to prove himself as worthy worker?

If we look at the whole picture, is it possible that Christ allowed Paul and Barnabas to separate after sharp dispute as strategy for more mission teams? Does God allow church splits as church planting strategy, a necessary solution or answer to address divisiveness in the church?

2. Answer

4Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, “You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh.” 5The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” 6they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’” If he said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time. 7Jephthah led Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in a town in Gilead.

The Ephraimites were hostile to Jephthah. Amicable dialogue was never a better answer to their aggression. They may have felt superior when they confronted Jephthah, why? Jephthah was not well respected among his clan. So, Jephthah fought against them as his answer to their hostility against him.

White Supremacy

White supremacy is a racist ideology based upon the belief that white people are superior in many ways to people of other races, and that therefore, white people should be dominant over other races.

One can easily search the internet and find growing resistance to white supremacy. While some have sincere objective to have fair share in the society, no matter what color would that be, others use resistance against racism or white supremacy to gratify their rebellious and hostile attitude toward authorities.

White supremacy, racism, or opposition to authorities reflects a problem of divisiveness in the heart of mankind. Fighting for one’s right has practically demonstrated that divisiveness has overwhelmed the heart. Divisiveness among people who live in the same country is not a modern day problem.

The Bible has a good number of examples when Israelites fought against their fellow Israelites. The Ephraimites challenged Jephthah because they felt like they were disregarded. It only proves that even with God-chosen people, internal problems of divisiveness among them had to be addressed.

How should we answer or address divisiveness problem in the church? How should we address or answer those who protest in or outside the church?

The Lord Jesus ordered in Matthew 5:43-48, 43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Our goal as believers in Christ is to be perfect or holy. The instruction of our Lord Jesus to be perfect is impossible with human effort to accomplish.

Anyways, it only proves our human limitation so that we have to rely upon the Spirit of Christ. In doing so, we allow Him to practically perform His Lordship over our life. And in that case, Christ has practically become our personal Lord not just by empty claims but by personal and practical experience.

Divisiveness in the church becomes necessary factor to check the level of spiritual maturity. May Christ be glorified in our life forever! Amen!

<‘)))>< ltsii/2018 ><(((‘>

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