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How Should Christians Handle Conflict?

Christianity is unique in that it brings people together from all walks of life to live in community with one another. While our hearts have been changed, we are still sinners, which means we are bound to experience conflict with one another. How we handle that conflict is important because it often means the difference between ongoing fights that throw us off mission or increased unity that brings us together on mission for Christ.

How Should Christians Handle Conflict?

(1) We have to address conflict quickly.

In Genesis 13 a conflict arises between Abraham and Lot’s shepherds over the land allotted for their livestock.

“And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land. Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen.” (Ge 13:5–8)

After realizing there was a conflict between his shepherds and Lot’s, Abraham goes to Lot right away. He doesn’t let it stew. He doesn’t start a family feud by telling his men to fight back. He doesn’t do any of those things. Instead, he addressed the conflict soon after he found out it was happening.

We are to do the same. In fact, the urgency with which we handle conflict should be of top priority. Jesus makes this clear in Matthew 5:23-24 when He says,

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt 5:23–24)

Jesus’ words tell us that God takes unresolved conflict seriously, so seriously that if you are at the altar about to sacrifice and you remember that your brother has something against you, you are to leave the altar, presumably your sacrifice as well, to go reconcile with him. Only once you have sought reconciliation, should you come back and move forward with your worship.

Conflict should not only be dealt with quickly because it hinders our worship, it should also be dealt with quickly because it hinders our witness to the community.  In verse 7 of Genesis 13, there is what seems like an unremarkable statement about the Canaanites and Perizzites living in the land. That statement, however, is important. Its inclusion reminds us that the world is watching. They see how we interact with one another. What they see may help or hurt our witness. Think about it, if all the world sees in our churches is conflict and disunity, our witness to them about the power of the gospel to change lives will fall on deaf ears. On the other hand, if the world sees people who are loving and forgiving one another in ways that they would never think of doing, if they see people dealing with conflict well and are, for the most part, unified, they may begin to think there is actually something about the message we are proclaiming.

So for the sake of the gospel and for the glory of God, we need to deal with conflict when it arises. We can’t wait until sometime in the distant future or just hope it will disappear. We must deal with it quickly if we want our worship and witness to be God honoring.

(2) We have to approach the other person in a tender, gracious, and loving manner.

Notice how Abraham approaches Lot in verse 8. He says,

“Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen.” (Ge 13:8)

I quoted verse 8 out of the ESV, but if you read it in the NASB or NKJV verse 8 begins with the word “Please”, so that Abraham says, “Please let there be…”. I believe the translators chose to include “please” to emphasize the manner in which Abraham approached Lot. He didn’t go at him in a harsh, domineering, or aggressive way. Instead, he appeals to him in a tender, gracious, and loving manner.

Like Abraham, we have to approach others in a tender, gracious, and loving manner if we want to de-escalate the situation and work towards a resolution.

So while we should handle conflict quickly, we must also choose our approach and words carefully. If we don’t, things can quickly escalate or get worse, even if that wasn’t our intention.

(3) We have to be willing to stand down, even taking a loss for the sake of our relationship.

After Abraham approaches Lot, he says in verse 9,

“Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.”” (Ge 13:9)

Of course, this means that Abraham is giving Lot the opportunity to pick the best land for himself. Certainly, Abraham knew this could result in a loss. A loss that he didn’t have to take. God had given him the land, not Lot. He could have told his nephew where to go, but he didn’t. Instead, he was willing to stand down, even willing to take a loss for the sake of their relationship.

Taking a loss for the sake of our relationship might seem radical, but in doing so, we are modeling the gospel. Starting in Philippians 2:4 we read,

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Php 2:4–8)

You see, Jesus took a loss for us. He died a death He didn’t have to die. He did so to pay the penalty for our sins so that we might have a restored relationship with the Father and everlasting life.

We must, as Paul tells us, have the mind of Christ. We must not only look out for our own interests but for the interests of others as well. So following in the footsteps of Jesus, we should be willing to stand down, even to take a loss for the sake of another and our relationship with them.

Of course, doing so goes against all that is natural to us. As one commentator says,

“The world’s way of getting ahead is to look out for number one, but God’s way is to look up to number one and to be a blessing to others.” [1]

As Christians, we not only have the example but the power to be a blessing to others by taking a loss because we have been changed by the gospel. As well as we have God’s promise to provide for all our needs. The latter half of Matthew 6 comes to minds. In verse 31, Jesus says,

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Mt 6:31–33)

When we believe God’s promise to care for our needs, we are freed to be generous even to take a loss because we know that God is in control and He will provide for us.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How do you handle conflict?
  2. Are you willing to take a loss for the sake of resolving conflict?
  3. Are God’s glory and your witness foremost when you consider dealing with conflict in your relationships?

Resources

Post adapted from my sermon: Do Our Choices Matter?

[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/17-tale-two-men-genesis-135-18 

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You Must Forsake Your Old Way of Life to be a Christian

Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear: forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him.” (Ps 45:10–11)

The Psalmist tells us that those who desire to be the Lord’s should forsake their past life. They shouldn’t hold on to it, instead, they should let it go, turning to live as God’s people in His kingdom.

Something We Must Do

Forsaking our past life not only pleases God but it is something we must do in order to be Christian. We cannot worship two Masters. Nor can we live a divided life. We must give of ourselves fully to the Lord, allowing Him to lead and guide us. He must be both our Savior and Lord.

The Mistake We Make

Mistakenly, many believe coming to Christ doesn’t involve forsaking their past way of living. This error is partly the product of our sinful nature wanting to hold on to control, and it’s partly the product of a decisionism culture that tells us all we need to do it accept Christ and everything will be alright. While we must believe/accept/profess the gospel message about Jesus – that God saves repentant sinners through the death and resurrection of Jesus – we must also give our life fully over to Him.

Repent – What Does it Mean?

Repentance is a key component of becoming a Christian. When we repent, we are essentially doing a 180. We are turning from a life lived for ourselves to a life lived for God. We are forsaking our desire to be our own god, and we are recognizing God’s right to be the God of our lives. When we repent, we not only tell God we are sorry for sinning against Him, but we also tell Him that we want Him to lead and guide us. We tell Him that we recognize His rightful place as our King and that we are willing to submit to His lordship over our lives.

Repentance, then, is a necessary part of becoming a Christian. If we haven’t repented, we haven’t forsaken our old way of life, and we aren’t citizens in God’s kingdom.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Have you forsaken your old way of life?
  2. Have you repented?
  3. Do you recognize that God is the King of your life?

Resource

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Does a life of faith always lead to a life of ease?

In their book Health, Wealth, and Happiness David Jones and Russell Woodbridge, open by saying,

A new gospel is being taught today. This new gospel is perplexing. Instead of promising Christ, this gospel promises health and wealth…According to this new gospel, if believers repeat positive confession, focus their thoughts, and generate enough faith, God will release blessings, upon their lives. This new gospel claims that God desires and even promises that believers will live a healthy and financially prosperous life.”[1]

While these authors ultimately go on to show that is false teaching, there are many people who believe what these authors have described. Some even come to faith in Christ because they think it will provide them with a life of ease – a life free from pain, worry, difficulty, and hardship. But is that the case?

Does a Life of Faith Always Lead to a Life of Ease?

Well, I believe when we look at the latter part of Hebrews 11, the teaching is clear: A life of faith does not always lead to a life of ease (Heb. 11:32-40). If you remember, chapter 11 is considered the hall of faith. The chapter highlights for us the faith of the great saints of old. Near the end of the chapter as the author begins to wrap things up, he recounts for us in rapid fashion some of the things the saints of old faced. We are told they experienced war, injustice, lions, fire, torture, imprisonment, hunger, and even death.

If you remember, chapter 11 is considered the hall of faith. The chapter highlights for us the faith of the great saints of old. Near the end of the chapter as the author begins to wrap things up, he recounts for us in rapid fashion some of the things the saints of old faced. We are told they experienced war, injustice, lions, fire, torture, imprisonment, hunger, and even death.

Even though they faced these things, some of these faithful saints, by the power of God prevailed. Beginning in verse 32 we read,

“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” (Heb 11:32–34)

However, if you keep going in the text, you see a different picture. Beginning in verse 35, we learn that:

“…Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (Heb 11:35–38)

Reading the latter verses may cause you to think that the faith of those who suffered and died wasn’t as strong as those who conquered, but that is not true. Their faith was just as strong. They made it into the hall of faith after all. What this teaches us, then, is that living a life of faith doesn’t always mean we are going to live a life of ease.

What About Those Who Preach a “Best Life Now” Theology?

Those who preach and teach a “best life now” theology for the faithful are simply preaching a false gospel. One that is foreign to Scripture. Scripture never claims that our life if going to be great now. After all, the founder of our faith was lied about, attacked, and ultimately nailed to a cross. As His followers, we can expect something similar. Jesus tells us just that in John 15:20,

“Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you…” (Jn 15:20a)

Living a life of faith, then, doesn’t always mean we are going to live a life of ease. It is crucial we take hold of that truth as we enter these tumultuous times.

The Times are Changing

As Christian Americans, we have experienced a number of years of freedom and peace. For the vast majority of us, persecution has been limited to sneers, jeers, and name calling. Times, however, are rapidly changing. Just consider some of the current headlines:

As these headlines from the last week make clear, the cultural and sexual revolution is pushing forward at an unprecedented pace. A pace that is causing Religious Liberty and Erotic Liberty to clash head on. As these two ideologies collide, persecution of the faithful is bound to occur, just like it did in biblical times and throughout Church History. A life of ease for the faithful, even the relative ease we have experienced in this country, may soon be coming to an end.

As we see the slow (or rapid) fade of a persecution-free life take place before our eyes, we need to think hard about what we believe because a “Best Life Now” theology won’t provide the hope, encouragement, and strength we need to hold fast to the faith when persecution is knocking at our door.

Question for Reflection

  1. Does your theology provide you the hope and strength you need to face persecution?

Resources

[1] Health, Wealth, and Happiness David Jones and Russell Woodbridge, 14-15.

[2] See also for in-depth commentary on these issues http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/08/02/briefing-08-02-16/ and http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/08/03/briefing-08-03-16/

Post adapted from my sermon: Is a Life of Faith Always a Life of Ease?

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