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Someone asked me recently “What are the big hot potatoes in the church at present?” I have mulled on the topic since and find it would be easy to say things like – the ordination of women, abortion, homosexuality, music etc. But on reflection I find myself thinking that the really ‘hot potato’ isn’t an issue like the ones I have mentioned – but rather the way we deal with them.

It seems to me that Satan would find his greatest joy in a divided church and doesn’t care what the topic of division is; and on the other hand Jesus would command us to – whatever the topic is – love one another. Thus the really hot potato in Christ’s and Satan’s view is unity. And it is when we deal with each other without the love, patience and respect that Christ enjoins, that Satan triumphs.

Once upon a time there was some sort of real clash between two church members. We don’t know what the issue was but they were both clearly influential, active and well known members of the church. One can imagine the church board’s heated discussions, the arguments being rehearsed by gossip, sides being taken, friendships spurned, anguished prayers, the poor old pastor being blamed, threats of resignation, accusations flying – all the elements of a really hot potato. How comical that must have looked to Satan – can you imagine the riotous laughter in his ranks and the quiet sad look in the Master’s eyes.

It all got so bad that it came to the attention of Paul – all the way from Philippi to Rome. [The story is referred to in the letter to the Philippians]. Oh, how today some involved in division in the church long for an authority who would write and confirm their side of the argument and sort the problem out. How easy it would be if there was a “Hot Potato’s Cooled” office at the GC or BUC!

But isn’t St Paul the inspired Apostle just the person to sort it out?

Yes he is – he does so by appealing to them to love each other. He doesn’t even tell us what the issue is and what the answer to the problem is! He knew that the real ‘hot potato’ is how we are prepared to treat each other.

The matter is so important to Paul that on another occasion he actually allows the false doctrine teachers to remain in the church that the loving unity of the church might remain intact.

Here is Ellen White’s comment on this – “Paul writes to the Galatians: “I would they were even cut off which trouble you. For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.”

False teachers had brought to the Galatians doctrines that were opposed to the gospel of Christ. Paul sought to expose and correct these errors. He greatly desired that the false teachers might be separated from the church, but their influence had affected so many of the believers that it seemed hazardous to take action against them. There was danger of causing strife and division which would be ruinous to the spiritual interests of the church. He therefore sought to impress upon his brethren the importance of trying to help one another in love. He declared that all the requirements of the law setting forth our duty to our fellow men are fulfilled in love to one another. He warned them that if they indulged hatred and strife, dividing into parties, and like the brutes biting and devouring one another, they would bring upon themselves present unhappiness and future ruin. There was but one way to prevent these terrible evils and that was, as the apostle enjoined upon them, to “walk in the Spirit.” They must by constant prayer seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which would lead them to love and unity.” [5T.243-244]

It was the burden of the Saviour’s last prayer – not that our hot potatoes be all sorted – but that through the trials and struggles of life and its hot potatoes, we remain committed to loving one another; to personally getting alongside the erring and struggling with an attitude like the Saviour’s that would give his life for them; to finding paths to redemption – in fact to using hot potatoes to be occasions for unity.
Llewellyn Edwards