Posts Tagged ‘conflict’

In my title today I am echoing the form of some of the Proverbs, especially in chapter 30. And I do want to share some Scriptural wisdom with you today. I want to give us all some encouragement this morning to work at any relational tensions and conflicts we might have in our lives and in our congregation. And I am sharing this precisely at a time when I am not aware of any such concerns among us, so you can be sure that I have no particular situation in mind.

Working at good relationships is really important for any congregation, because when we don’t attend to our relationships it makes it quite difficult to be focused on doing the work of the Lord together. But when we do attend to these things and live in loving and healthy relationships with each other we can focus on doing the Lord’s work, and we will be the kind of people that God can use to do his work.

So here are 5 things in the area of conflict and broken relationships that amaze and bring joy, certainly to God and also to me as your pastor.

The first is –

Someone who truly confesses their wrong to another

If you have done wrong to someone, it is very tempting to be defensive. Maybe you think they have done worse to you before, or they deserved it – or whatever. And our culture would encourage you to make excuses and to evade responsibility. There is an epidemic of this. No one wants to admit their wrongs or take responsibility for them.

Instead of this, when you wrong someone, the Christian way is to freely and fully confess your wrong to the other person. Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you (that is, you have wronged her or him), leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24

Jesus teaches us to go to the one we have wronged. Don’t wait for them to come to you, or for the situation to blow up. Go to the one you have wronged. And go with the goal of being reconciled; of making things right, as Jesus said in v 24.

And this can’t happen if you don’t confess your wrong. You have to take responsibility for your words and actions.

The example of the prodigal son is instructive. He had wronged his father terribly. And so he came and said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” – Luke 15:21. He took full responsibility for his actions. He humbled himself. And he was willing to accept the consequences of his behavior.

And as we see in this story, true and heartfelt confession has the power to heal people; and it has the power to heal relationships. The father forgave him and they were able once again to have a relationship. They were able to start off anew.

A second thing that amazes and bring joy is –

Someone who takes their concern to the person who wronged them

If in the first case you were the one who wronged another, in this case you have been wronged.

Jesus said in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” (NIV) Go to them in private, so that they can hear you and you can hear them and you can sort through the issue.

Now there is no doubt that this is hard to do. We most often prefer not to do this because we are conflict avoiders. We prefer to let the relationship wither rather than work hard to keep things right. And what a shocking indictment of our lack of love for one another this is!

But not only this, our conflict avoidance becomes an idol for us because it is more important to us than doing what Jesus teaches us. So in reality, we love neither God nor our neighbor.

When we don’t deal with things face to face we end up harboring resentment in our hearts which is poison within us. Or we might also be more active by spreading gossip. That is, instead of going to the person who wronged us, we go to everyone else and tell them about the wrong and how bad the person is. So not only is your relationship with the person damaged or destroyed, other people’s relationships with the person are damaged or destroyed.

It may seem risky, and it may be hard, but there is no other way if you want to maintain the relationship and be faithful to God. Take your concern to the person who wronged you.

A third thing that amazes and brings joy is –

Someone who can deliver a good admonition

Admonition means “counsel or warning against fault or oversight.” In Matthew 18:15 it is translated – “point out their fault.” (NIV)

But how do we do this rightly so that its good admonition? Here are some keys:

Restoration is the goal. We go to “win them over” – Matthew 18:15 (NIV). Paul calls it “restoring” them in Galatians 6:1. We need to speak in a way that it can be received and have a positive outcome.

Mercy is necessary. We don’t go to condemn the person, judge them and put them down. As Jesus taught us in Luke 6:37-42 it is fine to take the speck out of someone else’s eye, but we must make sure we don’t have a log in ours; that is, a lack of mercy.

Humility is required. We have to be humble because we know that we are only forgiven sinners. We are not better than the person we go to. Paul says, “Take care that you yourselves are not tempted” Galatians 6:1 (NRSV). We too could fall into sin again, if we are not careful.

Gentleness is key. Paul says, “If anyone is caught in any trespass, you who have the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” – Galatians 6:1 (NRSV). There is no place for harshness.

When we do all this, we are giving what Proverbs 15:31 calls “life-giving reproof”; admonition that can truly bless and help someone.

A fourth thing that amazes and brings joy is –

Someone who can hear and receive admonition

If going to another person with an admonition is hard, I think it is equally or perhaps more hard to be admonished; to receive admonition. Its hard because we don’t like to admit that we have done wrong. And we don’t like it if someone else points this out.

That’s why the book of Proverbs makes the point that it is scoffers (those who mock, deride, show contempt to others) who do not receive reproof – Proverbs 9:8; 15:12. And we don’t want to be scoffers!

It tells us that “he who hates reproof is stupid” – Proverbs 12:1. And we don’t want to be stupid! And it says, “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck (is stubborn or arrogant and won’t listen) will suddenly be broken beyond healing” – Proverbs 29:1. They will not receive the life-giving help that admonition can bring. And we don’t want to be in this position!

Proverbs also gives us positive encouragement to receive admonition, by pointing out that there are many benefits to it:

  • Proverbs 13:18 – “whoever heeds reproof is honored.”
  • Proverbs 15:5 – “whoever heeds reproof is prudent.”
  • Proverbs 10:17 – “whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life”
  • Proverbs 15:31 – “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise”
  • Proverbs 15:32 – “he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.”

Receiving admonition is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of wisdom and maturity. That’s because the wise person wants to grow and be more faithful to God in every area of life, and so they are able to hear from another about their faults and any wrongs they may have done. And that’s why Proverbs 9:8 says, “Reprove a wise person and they will love you.” They will appreciate what you have done for them.

And so let’s be open to this, even if it is not done exactly correctly in your eyes (not tactfully or in a fully sensitive way). No, no. Listen for what God is saying to you through the person.

A fifth thing that amazes and brings joy is –

Someone who doesn’t judge by appearances

Jesus said to the Jewish leaders who wrongly judged him, “Do not judge by appearances, but with right judgment” – John 7:24. And we should not judge each other by appearances. That is, don’t come to conclusions about someone else when you don’t know all the facts, when you have just overheard something or seen something that could be interpreted in various ways, or heard a rumor from a third party.

Never come to conclusions about someone else based on these things. How many relationships have been damaged or destroyed in this way! If there is a rumor or a question – find out the truth. Go to the person.

Leaders are especially vulnerable to this. And sometimes when there are issues that must remain private we can’t even say fully why some decision are made. But don’t judge by appearances. Have some trust and then if you need to, ask leadership any questions you have.

So here are five things that amaze and bring joy. Someone who:

  1. truly confesses their wrong
  2. takes their concern to the offender
  3. delivers a good admonition
  4. receives admonition
  5. doesn’t judge by appearances

The reason these qualities are amazing and bring joy is that they don’t come naturally to us. These are not our natural inclinations. These are a sure sign of God’s love working in our heart. They come from the Spirit of God working in us so that we both love God and do what he tells us, and we love our brothers and sisters as well.

William Higgins

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Now, my title today isn’t meant to refer to what will happen when we eat our fellowship meal today. I’m talking about growing deeper in our Christian lives and as a church body.

As your pastor I carry a very real concern for our congregation. I think and pray hard about the direction we are moving, our health as a congregation, our ministries and our faithfulness to God. And I will confess that thoughts about such things are never far from my mind and heart. You know, How are we doing? What needs to be focused on? Where are we weak? Where are we strong? What needs to change?

As I reflected this week several things came to mind in terms of areas of emphasis and areas of growth for us. And I thought it would be good to share these with you and to invite you to pick up the challenge to move forward in these areas, so that we can grow as a congregation. So here we go.

1. Let’s grow in our love for one another

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” John 13:34. Paul said to the Romans, “Love one another with brotherly affection.” Romans 12:10. Peter said, “Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” 1 Peter 1:22.

Paul said to the Thessalonians, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another . . . But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more.” 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10. I like this last phrase. You have love for one another, but do this “more and more.” In the same way, we do have love for one another here at Cedar Street, but we are to do this “more and more.” We are to grow in our love for one another.

What do I mean? Let’s work at getting to know each other more. Let’s build our relationships with each other. Branch out beyond those you already know. Do things together.

I mean encouraging one another, praying for one another and helping one another. I mean being kind and gentle with each other. And outdoing each other in showing respect and honor to one another.

Here are two specific suggestions: If you don’t already, come to Sunday school. This is a place where you can get to know others. And also, if you don’t already, be a part of a share group. We have four right now, but if needed we can always start another one. This is a place where you can build relationships, and get support.

2. Let’s grow in our maturity in handling our differences

We are held together by our common faith in Jesus and our commitment to follow him, and this is summarized in our church covenant.

Paul says it this way, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4-6. Notice the seven “ones”: We are all a part of one body of Christ, the church. And we all share in one Holy Spirit who dwells within us. We have one hope, one Lord, one faith in Jesus, one baptism and one God the Father.

Yet, all congregations have differences also. Certainly we do. And this is perfectly normal. We have different gifts and callings that give us different things to focus on. For instance if you are an evangelist, you are gonna focus on evangelism and want everyone to do this. Or, if you have a gift of worship, you are gonna want everyone to make this the focus. And so on.

We have different levels of maturity and understanding among us. We have generational differences. This impacts all kinds of things, for instance how we might prefer to worship.

We have different personalities, which affect how we approach everything we do. We have differences of opinion on all kinds of things, including politics, which if we focus on will lead us all in different directions.

We come from different backgrounds – city, rural, suburbs – we have it all. And we have different church backgrounds, some were raised Mennonite, some have no church background and everything in-between.

So what do we do with all this? It can discourage us, weigh us down or even tear us apart. But it doesn’t have to. We need to learn to discern what God requires – and then be flexible with the rest. We need to be able to tell the difference between Gods’ will and just what we prefer or want, as opposed to others who see things differently. And in the part that God does not require of us, we can learn from each other and try different things.

Here’s an example. Some prefer it when we use flat bread for communion. The Lord’s supper, after all was a Passover meal with unleavened bread. And it is nice to use the same kind of bread that Jesus used. But some prefer to use regular bread, the kind that we call “bread” in our everyday lives. It has a different feel to it and breaks differently. So we can learn from each other here, and be flexible by using both, taking turns.

And then, when we can’t seem to agree on an issue, or come to an easy resolution, we need to be mature Christians about it, as we have been, and are learning about in our conflict resolution class Sunday school class. Right?

  • Don’t pull back and just drift off if you are in disagreement about something, grumbling like the children of Israel in the desert.
  • And also on the other hand, don’t strike out and tear down others.

Rather, we are to love each other, look to God for help and work toward peace. As Jesus has taught us, “Be at peace with one another.” Mark 9:50.

3. Let’s grow in owning and using the gifts that God has given us

Paul said to Timothy, “Do not neglect the gift you have . . ..” 1 Timothy 4:14. He also said to him, “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you . . ..” – 2 Timothy 1:6. We are to discover and use the gifts that God has given us.

Just like in the realm of physical health, it’s not healthy to be a Christian and not be active, doing nothing. Don’t be a pew potato! Don’t just come and sit here once a week and feel like that’s what it’s all about.

Exercise your gifts. Be active and engaged in serving God. We have focused on this before, but I am reminding you here again today.

I think there are two really big obstacles here. The first is time. We live overcommitted lives. We are overbooked, overscheduled and overwhelmed. And often it is serving God that gets cut out as we try to make time for all else that there is to do today. We are trying to do too much, too many good things, and we end up making idols of these things as we devote ourselves more to them than to serving God and working for the kingdom.

The second obstacle is that you might feel you have nothing to share. Maybe you think you are too young. Or maybe you think that you have already served God and are “retired” now. Well, the truth is that everyone has some way to serve God. Paul says, “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” 1 Corinthians 12:7. And this is not restricted by age.

So, find out what your gifts are and use them! Next year we plan to have a Sunday school class focused on this. But, you don’t need to wait, try some things and see what you enjoy, see what you do well. And if you need help, talk to me and I will plug you in somewhere.

4. Let’s grow in our emphasis on outreach and hospitality

It’s easy to be comfortable as Christians. Comfortable with just hanging out with other Christians. (Some don’t even know unbelievers very well.) Comfortable with just talking to those we already know when we are at church.

But Jesus calls us to something more. He said, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10. This is why he came. And he calls us to follow his example, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19.

Now, I am certainly grateful for all those working in the areas of outreach and hospitality in our congregation, using their gifts, but these are things that each of us need to grow in.

And I’m not talking about being artificial or forcing things. I mean just being a Christian in your everyday relationships and looking for opportunities to share what God has done. I mean being friendly and welcoming to those who are new to the congregation. That’s all.

In our Sunday school coming up soon, we will have chance to focus on the outreach part of this. And I hope this will spur us in this emphasis.

5. Let’s grow in our desire for more of what God has for us

I want to instill a yearning for more in each of your hearts.

We can see what God wants for us by looking at the picture of the church in the New Testament, especially the book of Acts. They had great love for one another, the Spirit moved in power among them, they willingly suffered for their faith, they shared deep fellowship with each other, they boldly witnessed for Jesus.

As we look at this, we can see that God has so much more for us. We talk about revival and renewal, well this is what we are talking about – getting back to this.

And the problem is not on God’s end. Instead of being satisfied with where we are, we need to be seeking this. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8. James said, “You do not have, because you do not ask.” James 4:2.

We need to ask for this, seek and knock. Life isn’t long! What are you waiting for? This is our chance. We can be a community that embodies Jesus and serves him in powerful ways.

Don’t be satisfied with what we have, as good as it might be. Let us press on for more of what God has for us.

William Higgins

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Alright, we have been looking at the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. And last week we covered the section on Dealing with Enemies. Jesus teaches us here to love our enemies. He tells us, just as you want what is good, so give good to others – whether they deserve it or not.

He also told us that living by ‘an eye for an eye’ gets you no reward, for even sinners do this. But living by love for enemies gets you great reward. That’s because the heavenly Father loves his enemies. And since, ‘like father like son,’ you show yourself to be a son of his, that is, an inheritor of his blessings.

Last week I needed to spend the whole time working with the text trying to lay out what it means. So this week I want to get more into some of the practical realities of loving enemies. I want to do something a little different and tell you some stories and then draw out some lessons I have learned.

Our hostile neighbors

We had been in our house for several years when new people moved in behind us. We lived on a flag lot, so the neighbor’s  property was surrounded by our house and other church property. As soon as they moved in they started making claims that a part of our driveway was actually their land. And it got worse from there.

We had a tree on the border that needed to come down. A part of it had fallen onto our house the last winter in an ice storm and it was diseased. So we told them, but they became hostile. They wanted the tree to stay. In fact, they claimed it was on their land, along with a part of our backyard.

He had anger issues, to say the least. He also liked his alcohol which made things worse. A police man who was later involved in an incident called him “Mr. Testosterone.” He was abusive and a bully. And if anything, I thought she was worse. At one point she was hanging over the fence, taunting and insulting me and the church as I worked in my backyard.

Anyway, I had a trustee over for dinner and told him about all this since our house was owned by the church at this time. I had to go talk to the neighbor about some issues, so we both went over to his house. He went nuts. I was nose to nose with him, kind of looking down on him because I was taller. And he was just screaming and threatening. My trustee and I calmly walked away.

At another point, when I wasn’t home, my wife engaged him about the tree and at that point, full of alcohol, he threatened to shoot her in the head. That’s when the police were brought in to try to talk some sense into him.

Well after the lawyers were brought in an agreement was made whereby the tree would come down and the church would survey the border and put up a fence (which we wanted).

I have to admit it was funny. After the surveyor was done I happened to see the neighbor wife come out to see where the  stake was put. She was standing on it looking out beyond it into our yard, thinking it was hers. But, of course it wasn’t. The border was pretty much right where we thought it was.

It was also sad in a way. The truth is that they had two structures that were too close to the border, without a variance. Although we never required it, it was a bit surreal to see him one day with a chainsaw cutting a part of an overhang off of his house – about four by twelve feet, because it was too close to our driveway.

#1. It’s really hard to love enemies. It doesn’t come naturally. When someone harms me, especially if there’s no cause, I get angry (not as much as I used to thankfully). And there is a part of me that wants to strike back – harm for harm. I want to show them how wrong they were and have them feel some of what they gave to me. So for me, to love enemies requires God to be working in me. Because there is nothing in my flesh that wants to do this. And I am guessing that this is true of most, if not all of you.

#2. If we want to overcome evil with good we have to deal with our anger. Romans 12:21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” We are not to let someone’s evil deeds to us, change us so that we do the same thing back to them. That’s what it means to be overcome by evil. Rather we are to overcome evil with good, by returning good for evil.

So all through out this (it went on for months) I had to learn to give my anger over to God. Otherwise I would have been right there with him ‘in the flesh’ screaming and threatening and worse. I had to trust that God would take care of the wrong that was done to me.

What I learned is that when you do this, and I had to do it daily there for a while, it frees you up to focus on doing good and being Christ-like, which is our job as Christians. Instead of focusing on getting even, I could give mercy.

This was a good thing because I learned later that after provoking previous neighbors he had tried to sue them for their responses.

#3. Loving enemies is different than nonresistance. I remember that some in the congregation said that if the neighbor wanted a part of the backyard, it should be given to him, under the idea that we are not to resist the evildoer, but yield and even give more than he asks. This didn’t seem right to me. And, of course, in this case he would have asked for the whole property.

So I really began to struggle with these texts. What do they mean in this situation? What I came to over the next few years was a clearer understanding, I believe, of the context of nonresistance – as I said last week. It has to do with enemies who are also authorities.

And so what should guide my behavior in this kind of a situation is simply the command to love and do good and to pray for my neighbor, which I did.

And also, if love is the standard, not nonresistance, then I have a great deal more freedom in how I respond to my neighbor. As long as I also act with love toward him.

#4. God can intervene on our behalf. Romans 12:19 says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” God can and does act for us many times even now, when we refrain from acting ourselves in the flesh to get even.

I believe this happened in this case. First of all the neighbors moved away not long after the tree came down. And then I heard from a former friend of his that he had a stroke that paralyzed one side of his face. And his doctor told him he needed to calm down for his own health’s sake. We found out that he had moved from house to house fixing them up and selling them, and also harassing neighbors wherever he went. We certainly hoped that this would put a stop to it.

A story about Fred

(I have changed some things in this story to hide “Fred’s” identity).

I met Fred in church one day. We hit it off pretty good and he was interested in the Bible and identified himself as a Christian. His was a sad story – mental illness and time in jail.

Later Fred became angry with the church, and he focused his anger on me and one other person in the church. His demeanor changed, like he was a different person. As I understand it, he was off his medications.

Once he came to the door of my house and was pounding on it – obviously angry. I decided to go out and talk with him, but locked the door behind me. He was making various threats. Stacey was inside and she decided it was time to get the police involved. We had talked about this before as an option.

Another time he showed up at church during Sunday school, high, playing with a knife he had brought along in a menacing way. My goal was to get him away from the church, so I asked him if he wanted to go for a ride and talk. And so we did. I drove him far away and then dropped him off near a family member’s home.

#5. Love and harm are not always a contradiction. I believe that what Jesus forbids to us is non-redemptive harm. This has to do with revenge, retribution, pay back or an eye for an eye. It’s ‘non-redemptive’ because it is meant only to hurt and punish.

Redemptive harm, by contrast, has to do with causing harm to the person for their greater good, or at least with their best interests in mind. This could be called tough love. I always use the example of a doctor that amputates a leg to save a life. This is different than someone who just cuts off your leg!

In this case we called the police. My aim was to get him a psychological evaluation and hopefully get him back on his meds. That isn’t what happened – they just held him for 24 hours. But even then, the situation was stopped. And if he had physically assaulted me I would have sought to restrain him, even if it meant causing him pain.

#6. You can trust God with your life. Matthew 10:29-31 says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Based on this, this is what I believe: If I’m walking in God’s way, I’m not going to die unless God allows it. If I have someone with a knife at church or threatening me at home – I know that it’s not up to them if I live or am hurt. It is up to my Father in heaven. This frees you up to say and do what you need to, to address this situation.

#7. Love will never let me kill someone. This was certainly true with Fred or my neighbor. No matter what they did, I would not be able to do this because I am called to love them.

But this is also why I teach that Christians should not participate in war. There are many issues involved in this, of course, but for me only one is decisive. If love means what the Bible says it means – to give good to others, and I am supposed to love everyone including my enemies, then how can I kill someone and still be faithful to Jesus? How can I both destroy someone and love them at the same time? Even if the government tells me to, I have to refuse. Because as Peter said, “we must obey God rather than men” – Acts 5:29.

#8. Always be open to reconciliation. Luke 17:3 says, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” We became good neighbors with the former friend of our hostile neighbors, even though he was there standing by as threats were made against us.

Also, Fred and I did reconcile. His anger subsided and he apologized. I didn’t see him as much, but talked to him from time to time when he stopped by the church. Last I heard he was doing better and I am grateful for that.

Finally, and not connected to these stories – #9. This teaching isn’t just for “enemies.” Several of you mentioned after last week’s message that you weren’t sure who your enemies are today. In general an enemy is anyone who harms you or tries to harm you.

But even beyond this sometimes it is our spouse who does something that hurts us, or a child, or a friend or a church member. But we would not say they are “enemies.” So in some cases it is best to drop the word enemy, but still apply this teaching.

In these situations as well, don’t respond in kind. Always give what is loving and good to the other – whether they deserve it or not.

  • When your  spouse says something hurtful, don’t simply say something hurtful back. Seek to return good. Deal with the issue in a kind way.
  • When your child is misbehaving, don’t discipline them in anger as payback. Give them something good – loving discipline.
  • When someone cuts you off on the road, don’t transform into a vigilante. Return good and be kind.

It’s natural to highlight more dramatic examples when we talk about returning good for evil. But these more common examples may well be harder to live out – day in and day out.

William Higgins

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We are bringing our summer series to a close today. We’ve been looking at building healthy relationships with each other in our church community. We talked about: Repentance, forgiveness, going to the one who has wronged you to seek peace; anger; gossip; and last week not judging. Today we deal with conflict.

The first thing I want to say is that –

Conflict is a normal part of life

 Given our different backgrounds, life experiences, personalities, and understandings of things – it is inevitable. We will have disagreements in faith and practice – all the way to what the color of the carpet should be & everything in between!

What I am sayings is that it is not a sin to disagree. In fact, it is not even a failure to disagree. Often conflict means that we are getting into real relationships with each other. We are getting past the small talk. Working through these conflicts can be tremendous for building true community.

 Conflict was certainly a part of the early church

  • In Acts 6:1 we find that the Judean Christians overlooked the needs of the Hellenistic Christians in terms of passing out the food rations to the widows. It says, “Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.”
  • In 1 Corinthians 1:11 we see that there was quarrelling among different groups in the Corinthian church. It says, “For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers and sisters.”
  • And in Philippians 4:2-3 we find two coworkers of Paul who could not get along. It says, “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel . . ..”

Conflict is normal and when we see it among us we should not be surprised. I mean, think about it, if the apostolic church had it – certainly we will! The key is how you respond to it. This is where we get into trouble; this is where we can fail or fall into sin. So let me share with you seven things to do when there is conflict that will help us to work toward peace.

 1. Love the person

Let’s look at 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 in terms of conflict. “Love is patient and kind” in the midst of conflict. “Love does not envy or boast. Love is not arrogant or rude” in how it responds to the other. “Love does not insist on its own way.” It is open to hear the other; it is yielding. “Love is not irritable or resentful. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” It is not happy if the other person is shown to be wrong. The focus is on what is best and right. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Even when there is conflict.

This is how we should treat others with whom we disagree. We should never demonize them, tear down, or think the worst of them just because they dare not agree with us. Loving the other person is foundational.

 2. Go to the other person

It is not necessary that we agree on everything, but in some cases we have to come to a resolution to move forward or to get along. In these cases – don’t go to someone else and gossip, go to the person you disagree with. This comes from Matthew 18:15. This is talking about when someone has wronged you, but the principle of face to face contact certainly applies here also.

 3. Work hard to understand the other person’s point of view

James 1:19 says in part, “Know this, my beloved sisters and brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak . . ..” You should be quick to hear the one who disagrees with you. You should be slow to speak, actually listening and not just waiting to give your side. Understand their position clearly and why they hold it. You should be able to make their case for them.

4. Seek to find a mutually satisfying resolution

In Acts 6 we saw how there was a conflict in the Jerusalem church over the food allotment for widows between the Judean Jews and the Hellenistic Jews. Well, they came together and found a solution that satisfied everyone. The apostles would focus on preaching and prayer and they appointed seven deacons to tend to the practical needs of the community, including the widows.

Notice as well that these deacons all seem to have Hellenistic names. So the majority, the Judeans worked hard to take care of the concerns of the Hellenists. They put them in charge of the food allotment.

This is an example to us. Out of love and respect we work to deal with the issues in a way that is acceptable to all.

5. If necessary, accept mediation

 If the two of you can’t work something out, let someone else come in who is good at working at resolutions; perhaps even a conflict mediator. In Philippians 4:2-3 Paul says, “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel . . ..” Paul is talking to a specific person and asking him to help these women get along. For the sake of peace, be willing to accept this kind of help with your conflicts.

6. In some cases we might need to accept the disagreementand move  forward separately but peacefully

 Now often Christians separate over the smallest of issues; even just over having a conflict! But in some cases the disagreement is over central values or issues of  conscience. This is different.

Paul & Barnabas could not agree on an important issue: taking Mark along with them on their second missionary journey. Mark had abandoned them on the first trip. Acts 15:39 says, “And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other.” One did ministry in one place and the other did ministry in another place.

Christians will not always agree on things. This is why we have different kinds of churches. But let it be without bitterness and spite. Notice that we find Paul later praising Barnabas (1 Corinthians 9) and wanting Mark’s services (Colossians 4).

 7. In some cases we might need to allow mature believers to render a  resolution

In 1 Corinthians 6:5, after rebuking them for taking each other to court (which Christians should never do), Paul says, “Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers?” Paul is saying, in essence, form your own (Christian) court. Gather mature, wise believers who can offer a resolution that both parties bind themselves to, even if it is not exactly what they wanted, for the sake of peace.

In all of this –

Our goal is to live in peace with one another

Listen to these admonitions to peace in the New Testament, which certainly apply to situations of conflict:

  • “Be at peace with one another” – Mark 9:50
  • “Be at peace among yourselves” – I Thessalonians 5:13
  • “Live in harmony with one another” – Romans 12:16
  • “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual up-building” – Romans 14:19
  • “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed your were called in the one body” – Colossians 3:15
  • “Pursue peace with everyone” – Hebrews 12:14

We find this peace, not by sweeping conflict under the rug, or living in denial, but by dealing with it in the ways that we have looked at.

Sometimes it takes hard work to deal with conflict

And the temptation is to deny it or sweep it under the rug. Just because conflict is normal, doesn’t mean it is easy. It can be very painful, distressing and trying. But as Paul says, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” – Romans 12:18. This doesn’t mean live peaceably until it seems impossible and then don’t live peaceably. It means for your part do everything you can to live in peace with others. You can’t force someone to live in peace with you. But do all you can from your end.

Let us each commit to do everything in our power to live in peace with one another, by working through our conflicts even when it is hard.

William Higgins

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