Eliminating Needless Conflicts

                In all of literature there are three variations of plots which center on conflicts, for any and all storylines.  One of them is known as man vs. environment, which could manifest itself in one person’s struggle against causes, values, and other substantive endeavors.  Another conflict realm is understood as man vs. himself, which is when the main character of the story grapples with himself, being torn between emotions, difficult choices, and the like.  The third conflict we find is man vs. man, which is when two human entities don’t get along and are at odds with each other.  This type of conflict will be the focus this week.  As we try trimming our lives of needless things in order that we might be more readily available for God’s service, we need to take a close look at interpersonal conflict…man vs. man…brethren vs. brethren…and so on…

                 With respect to quarreling with the brethren, 2nd Timothy 2:4 says, “No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.”  God has chosen us to be soldiers in His army.  We are to fight the enemy, which is the evil of this world and all its many facets.  We are not to fight the brethren.  Can we wage war against the dark forces of the enemy while entangling ourselves in strife and anger and bitterness toward each other in a type of civil war?  Of course not…the church will be weakened.

                 At the time of Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, Jefferson Davis had just been elected the President of the Confederacy.  Lincoln had the Civil War looming just over the horizon, and he knew a divided government meant divided loyalty, and ultimately a divided nation.  His sentiments were…in part, “In your hands my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war.  The government will not assail you.  You can have no conflict without you yourselves being the aggressors…we are not enemies, but friends.  We must not be enemies…” (March 4th, 1861).  Three years earlier, Lincoln saw the country either becoming all slavery or all free, but no way would the country survive while remaining divided.  “A house divided against itself cannot stand.  I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free.  I do not expect the Union to be dissolved; I do not expect the house to fall; but I do expect it will cease to be divided.  It will become all one thing, or all the other…”  We can’t be united and fight two different fronts…one being evil, and the other being fellow Christians.  History shows us one side prevails. It’s up to us to join forces with each other to ensure that the Church, though the ultimate victor, wins each and every battle God sends us into…fighting united.

                 This is why we must learn to put aside interpersonal conflicts for the good of the church.  According to Matthew 5:23-24, peace, harmony, and unity among the brethren is so important to God that He expects us to be right with each other before we come to worship Him.  Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; FIRST be reconciled to they brother, AND THEN come and offer thy gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).  Imagine that!  Don’t sing Me songs.  Don’t pray to Me.  Don’t give Me your tithes and offerings.  God believes there are more important matters to tend to if you’re at odds with anyone.  Because if conflict is not resolved, and contention and anger grow unhindered, there can be serious consequences.

                 According to Matthew 5:22 we see that there are three depths that anger can take someone.  First, there is the simple matter of the person who was wronged in the conflict desiring to take vengeance.  Vengeance belongs to God and God alone (Psalm 94:1).  Once one’s desire for vengeance cannot be quelled, personal character attacks will soon follow and people will get into name calling and their will be a desire to kill someone’s reputation.  Lastly, according to Matthew 5:22, the final level of depravity will be when you actually wish death upon the person with whom you are in conflict.  Imagine that…wishing a member of the brethren death, all because of an unresolved conflict.  Anger is the seed that will grow murder…all because of an initial conflict that was not dealt with as God wants it to be dealt with in accordance with Matthew 5:23-24.

                 If you study James 4:1-3, you’ll find three sources of conflict.  Lusts, dissatisfaction with life, and a frustration with not getting what we want.  We may harbor jealousies over the material goods, prestige, honor, reputations, or pleasures that others enjoy and have, and we don’t.  But notice something very interesting in what James says:  “From whence come wars and fightings among you?  Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?  Ye lust, and receive not: ye kill, and desire to obtain, and cannot obtain:  ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.  Ye ask, and receive it not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”  We don’t truly kill each other over our conflicts, but remember that Matthew 5:21-24 tell us that the seed of murder is anger. 

                 With respect to being jealous over what others have that we do not, we need to eliminate this source of conflict by recognizing that it’s possible to be happy and joyful regardless of what we have…or don’t have…relative to other people.  Paul said, Not that I speak in respect of want:  for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content(Philippians 4:11).  If we’re content with what God has given us, we won’t covet and be jealous of other people’s lives.  No jealousy yields one less opportunity for conflict and anger and hatred to develop between brethren.  Remember, the two basic needs God promises to provide us with…food and clothing (Matthew 6:33), Paul says in 1st Timothy 6:8 that that is all we need to be content…that’s it!  If we have “needs” beyond that, we must take them to God in prayer, and leave our lustful desires out of it (James 4:3).

                 Because God is aware of our tendencies toward conflict and anger, He calls on human governments and rulers to set laws in place to keep the peace.  “I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.  For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our savior(1st Timothy 2:1-3).  Living peaceable and quiet lives is what God desires.  It’s pretty much a sin to live contentiously with other brethren.

                 So if we take the approach that living contentiously and in constant conflict with the brethren is sin, it must be possible to repent and change our ways.  Romans 12:18 says, If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.  This shows that we are to do all that is within us to bring about peace between ourselves, and those with whom we are in conflict.  Hebrews 12:14 reminds us that we should follow peace with all men, meaning that it’s possible to sow the seeds of peace and harmony just as it is possible to sow the seeds of murder.  Another Biblical exhortation toward peace is found in Psalm 34:13-14:  Keep thy tongue from evil, and keep thy lips from speaking guile.  Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.”  Remember, slander and character assassination is one of the depths conflict will bring us down to, but if we are to seek peace, we must hold our tongue.  We, and our words, are driving forces behind conflict, but with God’s help, we, and our words, can also be the driving forces toward peace and reconciliation. 

                 How important is peace to God?  On the night of Jesus’ birth, the angels sang songs ushering PEACE on earth and good will toward men (Luke 2:14).  Jesus allows PEACE between us and the Father through salvation (John 14:27), with which we are able to experience the same peace He desires between the brethren.  John 16:33 says, These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have PEACE.  In the world ye shall have tribulation:  but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”  Among the unbelieving world we are going to have tribulation, yet Jesus says His PEACE will keep us, so wouldn’t it stand to reason that when the brethren cause us strife, troubles, hatred, wrongful persecution, and so on, we should just lean on that PEACE that Jesus gives us and leave it in His hands instead of getting involved in conflicts?  But again, it’s up to us to work with God.  And let the PEACE of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in ONE body; and be ye thankful (Colossians 3:15).  God will bring about peace in our hearts between He and ourselves, as well as between ourselves and the brethren…IF we let it rule.

                 Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s concern over a divided America and the looming Civil War, did you notice that Colossians 3:15 spoke of “one body?”  The Book of Ephesians, Chapter 4:1-6 goes even further.  There is so much to digest here, that in the end, I hope it’s crystal clear that conflict is sin and that it is a very destructive force to the Church and its work.

                 “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is ONE body, and ONE Spirit, even as ye are called in ONE hope of your calling; ONE lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism, ONE God and the Father of ALL, who is above ALL, and through ALL, and in you ALL” (Ephesians 4:1-6).

                 What else can I say…God expects us to get along and be as ONE!  A church divided cannot stand strong in this present darkness.  We cannot adequately love the unsaved world if we cannot love our own brethren!  The innuendos, and name calling, and backbiting, and vengeful acts, and cold shoulders, and stubborn mule-like attitudes must grieve the heart of God!  As the enemy is hurling grenades into our foxholes, we’re wrestling with each other trying to make the other guy fall onto the grenade to save ourselves…UGH!!!  Have you ever seen clips of two people on the same sports team getting into a fight during a game?  What’s the first thing we think of?  We say, “What’s WRONG with those two?”  Well, what’s wrong with us?

                 In Philippians 4:2-3, Paul shows us that two people on the same team (church members) were, for lack of a better term, fighting with each other.  There’s not much detail about the tiff, but that’s not all that important.  Paul gives us more insight into solving the conflict.  Anyway, the two women were Euodias and Syntyche.  Paul writes, “I beseech Euodias and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord.”  Again, it doesn’t matter whether the issue was a big issue or a little one.  The fact that it caused a riff between two people made it severe enough for Paul to get involved.  But notice, all you pride-filled people who think you’re the one who was wronged…Paul beseeches BOTH Euodias and Syntyche to get back to playing nice-nice with each other…to remind them to focus on the Lord and His work.

                 Paul goes on in verse 3, And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlaborers, whose names are in the book of life.”  Paul sought the help of a strong brother in Christ to help ease the situation (Galatians 6:1) and restore unity between these two women.  Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) the Bible leaves us to wonder if things resolved or continued to fester between these two women.  But I tell you this…if these women were going to shed themselves of this conflict; that is, if they were going to trim needless conflicts from their lives, certain things needed to take place.

                 First of all, they needed to see that the health and effectiveness of the church was bigger than their petty issues.  Second, there needed to be a spirit of humility on the part of both of them to begin to be able to lay the groundwork for reconciliation.  Third, reconciliation needed to be achieved.  Lastly, a decision to love one another as brethren had to be reached in each their own hearts…then…extended in tangible ways toward each other.  Now how about you?

                 Are you at odds with someone else in the church?  Do you shy away from getting involved because you want to avoid working with that person?  Do you sit back secretly hoping they’ll have a spiritual fall so you can enjoy it with sadistic glee?  Do you badmouth them to anyone who will listen?  Do you seek out allies that you can count on to take your side against them? 

                 You know…no two people were at greater odds than Christ and us before we got saved.  Jesus didn’t shy away from us, but rather sought us out and got involved in drawing us to Himself.  He wasn’t interested in seeing us fall spiritually, but rather, He wanted to spiritually raise us up!  He never badmouthed us, and now, He makes intercession for us.  Jesus never garnered a multitude of allies against us, but rather, all the angels rejoiced with Jesus when we got saved.  But Jesus first humbled Himself, took the form of a servant, and died for us…to enable you and I to have no conflict between ourselves, Christ Himself, and God the Father.  Then, when we humbled ourselves, and accepted His free gift of salvation, and were washed in the blood, we were reconciled, and the conflict was then resolved.

                 So how about it?  Make the first move to reconcile with someone with whom you have conflict!  The church should be filled with soldiers fighting the enemy side by side.  Too often, the church resembles a giant playpen.  Meanwhile, the world, with all its sophisticated weapons, picks Christians off one by one, while we’re too busy pacifying our hurt feelings by taking it out on those who’ve wronged us.  I ask the question again…What’s wrong with us?!?!?!?

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