I remember as a teenager watching Los Angeles burn. It was 1992 and the city was being destroyed by rioters who were outraged by the acquittal of four LAPD officers accused of assault and using excessive force while arresting Mr. Rodney King. The riots in LA caused somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 billion in damage. During the weeklong riot, 53 people were killed and more than 2,000 people were injured. The rioters set some 3,600 fires, destroying more than 1,000 buildings. The violence was so intense that the military was called in to help suppress the rioting.
On the third day of the riots, Rodney King came out, dressed in a suit and tie, and made a simple, yet profound statement to the media, “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?” I remember watching those riots wondering how people could have such disregard for their community and their neighbors. Couldn’t they get along?
Recent weeks have brought about plenty of examples of conflict on a national scale. Though nothing has been as extreme as the 1992 LA riots, the tension has been no less obvious. From the battle against illegal immigration taking place in Arizona to the embattled political landscape of our nation, we seem to be having a hard time getting along as a people. Maybe Rodney King should come back out and admonish us once again.
As the people of God looking on, we should be reminded of the clear difference between this world and the Kingdom. The first verses of Philippians 4 introduce us to two Christian ladies who will forever be remembered as the two who couldn’t get along. We don’t know what they were fighting about, but we know it must have been serious for Paul to publicly admonish them. Think about it, how would you feel if your pastor called your name out in a sermon for causing trouble? You would do one of three things – fix it with a repentant spirit, leave the church and never come back, or lash out at your pastor and start a campaign to get your pastor fired for doing something so biblical. Obviously, option one is the only option that gives glory to God.
No one ever said that being the church was easy. It is, by its very nature, a time bomb waiting to explode. Bringing together sinners from diverse backgrounds and personalities is a recipe for disaster. If you do that in any other environment, it is destined to fail, but when you bring that combination together under the grace of God and the Lordship of the Holy Spirit, you have a beautiful miracle that gives testimony to the redemptive power of the Gospel. This is why the church must be different from the world around it. This is why Paul had the courage to tell Euodia and Syntyche to get over it – whatever it is. This is why we must continue to get along as the people of God today.
I wonder how much stronger our churches would be if we would heed the advice from an unusual voice, “Can we all get along?” This past week, I spent a great deal of time looking through old membership records. When I ran across a name that I was unfamiliar with, I would ask “What happened to them?” Sometimes the answer was, “They quit coming” or “They moved.” But there were some answers that I heard frequently that grieved my spirit, “They had a falling out with so and so” or “They got into a fight with this and that.” I am certain that God is not pleased with this, and I know that our church is no stronger as a result. This is not about differences in opinion, but fellowship breaking conflict. As James 3:10 says, “My brothers, this should not be so.”