by Al Maxey

Issue #419 ------- October 30, 2009
It is not he who gains the exact point in
dispute who scores most in controversy,
but he who has shown the better temper.

Samuel Butler {1612-1680}

Spiritual Sibling Rivalry
Dad, Can We Send Him Back?

Little Cody had endured just about all he could bear from his new baby sister. She cried too much, was always demanding the attention of his parents, and she kept him awake at night. In short, life was simply not the same since she had come along. Finally, in utter frustration, this little three-year-old approached his mom with what seemed to him the only logical course of action: "Mom, can we send her back?" I'm sure many a young child has likely felt this way when, without consulting them personally, parents have decided to add one or more children to the family. What were they thinking?! What about my wishes and needs? What if I don't like my new sibling? What if he/she doesn't like me? What if they are noisy, annoying, fussy; what if they bother my toys?! Can we send them back?! And this is just the beginning. As these siblings grow older, the rivalries tend to become more intense as each child seeks to discover "who they are" individually, assert themselves within the family, and vie for parental affection, attention and approval. Sometimes a sibling may be perceived as being a "roadblock" to the achieving of these goals. Most of us, as we mature, learn to deal with these sibling rivalries, and we actually grow to love and accept our brothers and sisters! There are times, however, when this does not occur, and, in such cases, the family quickly finds itself in disarray -- a familial dysfunction that can prove devastating.

The spirit of competition, quite often evidenced in spirited rivalries, is a part of human nature. In nature, where "survival of the fittest" is a principle that reigns within the various life-forms, the confrontations that ensue among rivals are often matters of life and death, and serve to assure the preservation of the various species. This instinct exists among our own species as well, although we like to imagine our rivalries as being more "civilized" -- elevated well above the "barbaric" horn-locking and head-butting of the lower species. Frankly, I wonder!! After endless hours of news coverage each day about wars, suicide bombers, politics, gangs, corporate corruption, and the like, I have about decided a couple of rams butting heads over who gets to mate with that little ewe up on the rock looks pretty tame!! Rivalrous behavior is instinctive in virtually all living creatures (ourselves included), and it may be evidenced in either positive or negative ways. Friendly, and even very intense, competition may actually prove quite beneficial to all rivals in areas such as sports, technological research and development, business, and the like. The competitive spirit may well bring out the best effort in all parties striving to achieve some longed for goal or prize or distinction. This all sours very quickly, however, when one or more of these rivals seek to further themselves or their cause by undermining or destroying those with whom they compete.

Because of the potential for competitiveness to devolve into combativeness, some feel rivalries should be discouraged. Personally, I think this is an overreaction. I see some very positive benefits to healthy rivalry; it's just that we must be aware of the real possibility that these can turn negative, and so we guard against such. Don't throw out a good thing simply because it has the potential for abuse. The reality is: everything has the potential for abuse. It is what motivates us -- what is in our hearts -- that will generally have the greatest impact upon what direction our rivalries ultimately take. Additionally, it has been demonstrated time and again that if those who are rivals in a particular area have common ground in other areas, their rivalries will tend to exhibit themselves much more positively. It is when rivals can not or will not find common ground that rivalries often become very destructive.

Let me give an example. There is a dear brother-in-Christ in the state of Washington by the name of Sid Seitz. I think the world of this guy for a number of reasons. He loves the Lord, first of all, so we have major common ground there. He is an American and a patriot. Again, we are on common ground. He flew in Hueys in the Vietnam war; so did I. BUT, this poor man had the misfortune of being in the Army!! Everyone knows that the Navy is the far superior armed service!! Naturally, I chose more wisely -- I served six years in the Navy. Sid and I have exchanged "barbs" now and again (in emails, and on Facebook) on this topic. He will jab at me about being in the Navy, and I will come back about him being in the Army. To make matters worse, he was an officer and I was enlisted. He was a pilot and I was a door gunner. Rivalry! On the other hand, he served in the Mekong Delta, and so did I ... in fact, just a few miles from one another. Common ground!! We butt heads over our different branches of the service; we butt heads over our different ranks, and over our different functions and skills ... BUT, let someone dare to rise up against our nation or our veterans, and we are locked arm-in-arm against this common foe. You see, in spite of our significant differences, our common ground is MORE significant -- thus, we are one!! Our rivalry is real, but it is good-natured; because we have common ground that is more significant than our differences, we can maintain our rivalry while at the same time maintaining our love and respect for one another. If we should ever lose the latter, the former could rather quickly and tragically become bitter and divisive.

I don't think it is any great mystery to most of you out there where I am going with this line of reasoning. There is only one universal body of the redeemed: one flock with just one Shepherd. However, there are a number of folds within this one flock. In the time of Christ Jesus there was the Gentile fold, the Jewish fold, and even the Samaritan fold. Talk about rivalries!! Yet, there was common ground that united them in one great fellowship. Were they different? Oh, yes!! But they shared a common faith in a common Redeemer. If the latter reality dominated their relationship with one another, then their various differences, even though they might have manifested themselves in rivalry on occasion, could remain fairly positive and good-natured. It was when they lost sight of their common ground that they turned on one another with destructive intent. The same is true today within Christendom. Various disciples of Christ who may share a common culture, heritage, tradition or perspective have banded together in opposition to other disciples of our Lord who may differ with them in these respects. This sibling rivalry within God's Family has led to countless factions, schisms and denominations, each convinced that they, and they alone, are the "favored child" of the Father, and that all others should be "sent packing," so to speak. Having lost sight of their spiritual common ground, they have gone after their spiritual siblings "tooth and toenail."

My question is --- what is so wrong with a bit of rivalry within the Body of Christ as long as it is of a positive nature? What is wrong with diverse disciples having a competitive (not combative) spirit as they run this race together for that crown of life at the finish line? May we, who share common ground (our faith in Jesus) and a common goal (life eternal with the Lord), spur one another on to even greater effort by such loving competition? Which group within a community can give more to feed the hungry, clothe the ragged, and provide shelter for the homeless? If the community sees these various folds within the flock seeking to outdo one another in doing good, and they are doing so in a spirit of love, how is this not a good thing? Didn't the apostle Paul write, "outdo one another in showing honor" [Romans 12:10, NASB footnote]? The Greek word employed by the apostle Paul in this passage may actually mean: "endeavor to take the lead of, vie with" [The Analytical Greek Lexicon, p. 343]. Rivalry!! ... yet, of a positive sort; one that benefits both the rivals and those to whom they compete with one another to show honor, or whatever other good they seek to bestow.

Must we all be precisely the same in every respect? Must we all wear the same uniform? Must we all march in lockstep? Is there room in God's "church militant" for both Army and Navy? Might we even allow in the Marines and Air Force? What about the Coast Guard and National Guard? Border Patrol? FBI? State and local police? Will there be significant differences in these various groups within the "church militant"? Will there even be rivalries? Of course!! Is such wrong? I fail to see how. Could a benevolent spirit of competitiveness between them actually serve to further the cause of Christ on earth? Brethren, let's speak plainly and leave off the metaphors -- within the universal church of our Lord Jesus Christ there are countless different groups of devoted disciples that have formed around various personal perceptions, preferences and practices (many of which are simply cultural or traditional). WHY, brethren, have we allowed these differences to divide us?!! Instead of a competitive spirit among spiritual siblings who are not identical twins (and were never divinely designed to be), we have developed and fostered a combative spirit, and it has set the Family of God at odds with itself. The solution is not one sibling forcing all the other siblings to conform to his will, but for each of the siblings to love, honor and respect his fellow siblings, differences and all, and embrace one another based upon their common ground --- i.e., faith in and love for the Lord. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having various unique FOLDS within the one universal FLOCK of our great Shepherd. They do NOT have to be combined; they can remain unique. What must NOT remain is the factional, sectarian, combative, divisive spirit that exists within the hearts of far too many within these various folds toward their spiritual siblings in other folds. It was this that largely motivated the early reformers within the Stone-Campbell Movement to urge the "Christians within the denominations" to love and fellowship one another, rather than warring with one another. That urgent call needs to sound forth again from reformers within our movement ... and also from those devoted brethren in other faith-heritages as well. It is time for walls of exclusion to come crashing down, and for the sounds of sweet fellowship to be heard once again emanating from the folds within the flock as the Shepherd's sheep discover one another anew!! Father, hasten that day, we pray, and may we "outdo one another" in bringing that day to fruition!

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

A 200 page book by Al Maxey
Publisher: (301) 695-1707

Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in India:

Beloved Bro. Al, Thank you very much for taking the time to help me understand the complete truth about the kingdom. Thirty years ago I wrote a 32-page booklet in our native language on the subject of the kingdom of God (which was later published in several magazines as a serial article). Within that booklet I condemned the use of the phrase "Thy kingdom come" in the Lord's Prayer, although I have lately been feeling that I might have been wrong in condemning it that way. Now, after I have read your Reflections article on this subject, I am free from that frame of mind and am understanding what the Scriptures really teach on this. Thank you once again, brother!

From a Missionary in Peru:

Brother Al, I would concur with all you said in your latest Reflections ("Thy Kingdom Come"), as we can also say paradoxically "we are saved and not saved." The groaning within us is for the full realization of the kingdom of God, and the final destruction of all sin and rebellion against His rule. The destruction of God's enemies is an integral part of the coming of His kingdom in its fullness. His kingdom will not come in its fullness until evil and rebellion are finally purged from all creation.

From a Leader in Eastern European Mission:

Greetings Bro. Al, May the Family of God continue to be blessed by your hand and your heart! Your Reflections are feeding many souls!! As one who has visited hundreds of congregations for almost three decades with Eastern European Mission, I know just how desperately the fractured Family of God needs you!! You have my praise and prayers, brother. By the way, I received a card today from a lady within our congregation who is visiting your congregation right now. She really sang praises for the sermons she hears from you! Further, I was just wondering: is there a reduced price on your book Down, But Not Out when ordering in bulk? I know of several leading English speaking native teachers and preachers in Russia and Ukraine who could truly benefit from your book. It's a wide-spread teaching there that the divorced can never remarry. I'm distressed by this imported USA "faction infection," and feel a strong need to do something in order to help treat that infection. Your medication is needed!!

From an Elder in Texas:

Brother Al, When I was in high school many years ago (we just had our 50th reunion!!), I was invited to sing the so-called "Lord's Prayer" at some event. My mom was very concerned that I sing it this way -- "Thy Kingdom's come..." (a contraction for "Thy Kingdom has come"). So, as a dutiful son, I did what she wanted me to do (I was a good legalist in those days). Thank the Lord for releasing me from that bondage!! God bless you and your work is my prayer.

From a Minister in California:

Brother Al, First, I would like to say to you: Welcome Home my Vietnam veteran brother-in-arms!! I also served our great nation in Vietnam in 67-68 with the 3/4 Cav 25th Inf Div. Brother, I have been reading with great interest and appreciation your Reflections for several months now. The reason for my email is to ask your permission to use Reflections #112 in one of my upcoming lessons. I want to read it to the group (giving you credit as the author) as a great example of the correct understanding of John 4:19-24. Thank you!

From a Reader in California:

Dear Brother Al, I just read your article on "Thy Kingdom Come." What an excellent example of what it means to give "due diligence" in searching the Scriptures!! Too often we just accept what we've been told without ever fully investigating these doctrines and practices for ourselves. Thank you, brother, for helping to clear the brush away.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Brother Al, Just read your latest. You voice what I've thought for a long time. Very, very timely and thought-provoking!

From an Elder in Missouri:

Brother Al, I agree 100% with your conclusion that we must pray with the heart and with the understanding. We should not be saying the "Lord's Prayer" as some kind of ritualistic set of words. I hear far too many saying that prayer by rote (as well as others, like Psalm 23) with what appears to be little thought to the meaning and application of those words to their own lives. If we truly saw Him as our King, for example, we would spend far less time fighting over so many things with our brothers (Romans 14). I feel confident that there are going to be many who will be totally surprised on the day of judgment to find a large group of people accepted by the Lord that they just KNEW would not "make it." At the same time, I fear there are going to be many disappointed, for they just KNEW they "had it made," only to hear the Lord say, "I never knew you!" At Bear Valley School of Preaching our Missions teacher was Bob Waldron. He had us do an exercise/report in our Cultural Anthropology class that consisted of a rather long list of items, activities and situations. We were to identify which of these were "gospel" items and which were "cultural" items. Wow! What a long controversy that generated in our class discussions! We had to defend our choices with Scripture. It opened a lot of eyes, and hopefully a lot of hearts as well. At least one point I came away with was: we too often preach our own culture and tradition instead of the pure gospel. Brother, thank you for further challenging me and my thinking. I truly cherish reading your thoughts, even when I find I cannot agree with them -- which is not often! May the Lord continue to bless you and your work.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, Although I know better, your writings always seem to be meant just for me!! Receiving your presentations is like greeting an old friend: when you pop up on the computer screen, I always greet you with, "Hello friend! Welcome to my house!"

From a Reader in Georgia:

Brother Al, A One Cup preacher by the name of Chris Benjamin, in a sermon titled "Crisis and Controversy," discussed the various groups and sub-groups within the Churches of Christ. It was actually a good sermon!! Anyway, he suggested that the sub-group within the One Cup fellowship that believed in using fermented wine inside the cup had a good idea as to how to preserve peace in the church. He said that fermented grape juice will have a calming effect -- settling them down; mellowing them out -- thus encouraging unity! No, this brother was not seriously suggesting this. But, maybe that's what the church needs: a little fermentation in the cup to maintain unity!!

From a Minister in New Mexico:

Bro. Al, There has never been one instant that God has not been King over all His creation. Back in the days of Samuel, the people refused to follow God as King, but that did not make Him any less King over all. Whether Jews or Gentiles, people down through the ages have rejected God as their King by refusing to recognize His authority and by transgressing His will. In other words, all people have become criminals and rebels; falling short of the glory of God. Jesus has taught us to pray that God's kingdom on earth might quickly come to be just like His kingdom in heaven -- i.e., that all people might recognize and honor God as King. Imagine what God's kingdom in heaven is really like! Isn't that what we should ask God to bring about more quickly? Thanks for a great article, brother!!

New Book by Dr. Dallas Burdette -- One of the better writers and scholars within the Stone-Campbell Movement is Dr. Dallas Burdette, a dear friend and faithful supporter of my Reflections ministry. This new book is titled Biblical Preaching and Teaching: Jesus and Our Privileges, volume 1. It is hardback, 457 pages, and a great resource for all disciples, especially those engaged in preaching and teaching. I highly recommend it to you. Dallas sent me an autographed copy recently, and it is now a treasured part of my personal library along with each of his other books. You may order it through most bookstores and, or contact the author directly at

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