Be at Peace with One Another-Part One
July 18, 2004 | Randy Smith
Be at Peace with One Another-Part OneRomans 12:18
Sunday, July 18, 2004
Pastor Randy Smith
Last week we began a series entitled, "Church and Home Unity," and we began the series by discussing the biblical command to encourage one another. Encouragement furthers unity and promotes an environment conducive to spiritual growth. A church without its members encouraging one another is a sure ticket to stagnation. I hope you have both received and provided biblical encouragement this past week to your siblings in Christ. For the sake of God's glory and our joy we must make every effort to excel in this area!
Since my time is very limited this morning, I must move quickly to another issue that is essential for church and home unity and that topic is conflict resolution.
I believe we can all testify from personal experience that there is no relationship on this planet, whether it is from the institutions of marriage, family or church that is immune from the potential of conflict. The reason being is we as humans are ridden with misunderstandings, ignorance, convictions, perspectives and opinions that can easily drive a wedge between us and another. Moreover, even as Christians, we are ridden with sin which is the ultimate cancer in any relationship. It seems the more intimate any relationship gets, the more we are bound to face conflicts. As the old saying goes, familiarity does breed contempt. I'm sure we've all experienced the emotional pain of a strained relationship. Additionally, we all know these conflicts often lead to other sins (Jas. 4:1-2), the dissolution of the relationship and the negative impact on the corporate community.
Therefore, it is imperative that we mend our relationships. The Apostle Paul often went through great lengths to rebuke the sin of unmended relationships, even to the extent of publicly mentioning the individuals by name. "I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord" (Phil. 4:2). In that same letter he provided God's goal for the Christian relationship. "Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose" (Phil. 2:2).
I trust we are all aware of the negativity when conflict is not resolved and relationships are not restored, but possibly you are unaware that those unmended relationships need not and must not be present in our lives as Christians. The Scriptures provide sufficient counsel to assist us in this vital area of our lives. Though we do face differences with each other, we do not face the inability to preserve the relationship and maintain the unity. It's difficult at times, but by the grace of God, it's not impossible. And like encouragement, conflict resolution promotes the peace and offers tremendous opportunities for spiritual growth in our pursuit of Christlikeness.
For example, Stuart Scott, in his excellent book, The Exemplary Husband, made the following positive observations regarding our differences if we choice to resolve them biblically.
- They can encourage us to search the Scriptures (Psm. 119:71-72)
- They can help us think carefully about how and what we think or what we believe (Pro. 15:28)
- They can help us work harder at communicating effectively (Eph. 4:25)
- They can produce maturity and endurance (Jas. 1:2-5)
- They can help us sharpen one another (Pr. 27:17)
- They can strengthen our faith in the truth that God is working all things for our good (Rom. 8:28-29)
- They give us opportunity to practice servanthood and preferring one another (Phil. 2:2-3)
- They give us opportunity to love and glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31-32)
(Scott, The Exemplary Husband, Focus, 2000, p. 250)
This sermon may begin to sound more like a Sunday school lesson, but I wish to give you God's practical steps to resolve relational conflicts. Before we begin, however, I would like to present two key thoughts that will hopefully set the stage for the remainder of this message.
First of all, there are theological reasons to resolve disunity. These reasons go beyond the biblical commandments and root themselves in our glorious relationship with Jesus Christ. Just as He forgives us, we are to forgive others. Just as He permits open dialogue with Him, we should permit open dialogue with others. Just as He makes us one with Him, we should make ourselves one with others. Just as He understands our weaknesses, we should understand the weakness of others. Just as He took the first steps to reconcile us to Himself, we should take the first steps to reconcile ourselves with others.
How preposterous it is to assume that we will accept all these grand, undeserving blessings from God and then not extend ourselves one inch to bring them to others? You see, disunity is more than violating the commandment of God; it is violating the reality of His great love in Christ Jesus that we either do not understand or have yet to experience. A unified family and a unified church give a clear picture to a disunified world the reality of being reconciled with God.
Allow me to continue. In Matthew 5:8, Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." Exhibiting peace to others reflects our heavenly Father conforming us into the image of His favorite Son, Jesus Christ (the ultimate peacemaker) and therefore gives evidence of our mutual sonship. However, when we practice the deeds of the flesh that promote disunity, "enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, (and) envying" (Gal. 5:20-21), we reflect the character of Satan (the master of disorder) and give no evidence to ourselves, to the church or to the world that we should be called "sons of God." God wants His church unified because it best reflects and promotes His work of reconciliation and character of order. Ephesians 5:1, "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children."
Second, though reconciled relationships are commanded, they are not always possible - Not because God has failed to give us the ability, but because one or both individuals in the conflict simply refuses to reconcile.
Initially you must understand that God does not hold you accountable for others' actions. Resolution in a relationship is definitely a two-way street. But God does hold you accountable for doing all that is within your power to resolve the conflict. That's why in Romans 12:18 we read, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men" (cf. 14:19). God expects us to make every effort to build peaceful bridges with others without compromising our faith.
You ask, what if I try to reconcile with another Christian and he or she refuses to restore the relationship? Answer- The individual must be called to repentance for his or her sin. Both of you are commanded to glorify Christ through your unity. Both of you have the guidance of God's Word. Both of you are indwelt with the Holy Spirit who doesn't wage war with Himself. There is no excuse! You may not see eye-to-eye or be the best of buddies, but you are called by Christ and able by the power of Scripture to live at peace with one another. You do not have the right to be at odds with another believer. God knows there's too much at stake! Therefore, harmonious relationships are not an option, they are a serious command to be pursued and corrected by church discipline if necessary. And for God's glory, we must hold one another accountable to this standard.
Well, with these very general opening remarks in mind, allow me to continue with both the correct and incorrect methods of Christian conflict resolution. First the incorrect. Following are four ways believers incorrectly seek to resolve their differences.
Attack the individual (Gal. 5:15; 2 Cor. 12:20). This is an immature and sinful tactic simply designed to hurt the other in conflict. Obviously attacking the individual only heaps sin upon sin and further estranges the relationship. This could result in verbal assault such as slander and gossip (what a contrast these sins are to last week's sermon to encourage one another). Lying is another common verbal assault. Emotional assaults include inducing guilt ("look how you made me feel") or manipulation (using people to further our prideful desires) or the silent treatment (intentional avoidance of the individual). Some pursue legal assaults such as litigation, legal for the world, illegal for Christians against each other (1 Cor. 6:1-8). Physical assaults include property or physical harm, culminating in the ultimate act of murder (one way to fully rid yourself of the individual). Sinful acts of retaliation and intimidation can fit in all of these classifications.
Others may have better intentions to resolve the conflict but their course of action is also biblically incorrect and insufficient to produce meaningful peace and resolution. They usually fall into three categories:
Fight to Win (Pr. 26:12; Jas. 4:1-2). These people may wish to resolve the conflict so long as they are proven to be correct. They enter conflict resolution with a win-lose mentality. These individuals care more to restore their pride than to restore the relationship. The relationship, which should be the primary concern, takes backseat to their own egos.
Withdraw (Mt. 5:23-24; Heb. 12:14). These people seek to avoid conflict at all costs. They either see no hope in resolution or lack the strength and courage to confront their another who is at odds with them. They try to bury the problem (which is a good way to allow the conflict to get bigger and ignore the biblical injunction to make amends as soon as possible- Mt. 5:23-24; Eph. 4:26) or pretend it never happened (which is a good way to irritate others). They commonly use the excuse that time will heal their differences. They run away from their interpersonal conflict which may result in leaving a marriage, leaving a church or leaving a job. In a few cases they may commit the ultimate act of withdrawal - suicide. Nobody has a right to withdraw until the conflict is resolved, even if the resolution is an agreement to disagree (Heb. 12:14). Remember, a half-settled argument is still an ongoing argument!
Yield (Mt. 18:15; Gal. 6:1). These people simply go along with another because they despise confrontation. Often conflicts are approached with a "whatever" mentality ("ok," "anything you say"). The two may appear to be at peace, but unfortunately the disharmony is never confronted and the relationship will be unfulfilling, disingenuous and at best superficial.
I hope you see that conflict between two believers must be reconciled. Unresolved conflict dishonors God, leads to personal bitterness and/or emotional anguish, fails to prefer the other individual, further damages the relationship and hurts others in the body of Christ indirectly through the poor testimony or directly through personal involvement. As the Bible says, we must be "diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3).
Though many wrong approaches to conflict resolution have been attempted in the past, God has given us everything we need to purse peace with other believers. Everything I've said thus far is only an introduction to the practical steps necessary to resolve conflict. Understanding and implementing this procedure is crucial and effective! But unfortunately we are out of time. So you be sure to return next week as we resume and conclude this discussion on conflict resolution.