Zealous For Peace
Scripture: Romans 14:19
Zealous For Peace
Sunday, May 19, 2019
Pastor Randy Smith
Every five years or so, I like to review a subject that is all too familiar to all of us. It splits families and churches. It divides countries, breaks friendships and contaminates a work environment. Personally it results in sleepless nights, temptations to sin and a general loss of peace. And as long as we share this planet with at least one other person, we will all and always experience it. Few are trained to do anything about it and most of our attempts to correct the problem often tend to make matters worse. What I am talking about is conflict.
So what causes conflict? How do we deal with it? Why is reconciliation with others so important? What can we learn this morning from the words and actions of Jesus Christ? That’s where we are going and what we plan to cover this morning.
1. Principles Regarding Conflict
Last month our small group studied Romans 14. Back then in the Greco-Roman world it was eating meat sacrificed to idols. The sources of conflict may be different in the church today, but the principles from Scripture are applicable.
As we move to the first point, I’ll read a reference. Please look at the verse yourself and see if you can extract a principle that helps us to deal with interpersonal conflict, especially conflict among believers.
14:1 – Accept one another
14:4 – Do not judge one another
14:7 – Do not live for yourself
14:8 – Live for the Lord
14:9 – Die to self like Jesus did
14:10-12 – Realize you are accountable to God
14:15 – Act in love to others for whom Christ died
14:17 – Pursue righteousness, peace and joy with each other
14:19 – Pursue the things that make for peace and the edification of others
15:1 – Bear with one another and do not seek to please only yourself
15:3 – Even Christ did not seek to please Himself
15:5 – Depend on God’s strength
15:6 – Live unified for the glory of God
15:7 – Accept one another as Christ has accepted you (bookends 14:1)
2. A General Look At Conflict
As you can see in your sermon outline, let’s move to a general look at conflict.
According to Ken Sande, conflict can basically be defined as: “A difference in opinion or purpose that frustrates someone’s goals or desires” – Sande, p. 29).
In one sense Christians should be individuals who avoid conflict. We are called to live lives that are “peaceable” (1 Tim. 3:3; Tit. 3:2). James even says that the “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable (and) full of mercy” (Jas. 3:17). Again, our text this morning: “Pursue the things that make for peace” (Rom. 14:19). Christians always in the center of controversy are a problem and are living contradiction to the command “to lead a quiet life” (1 Thes. 4:11; cf. 2 Thes. 3:12; 1 Ti. 2:2).
Oftentimes those with abundant interpersonal conflict experience it because they fail to listen, fail to communicate, act like busybodies, jump to hasty conclusions, lack perspective, display an obstinate or thick-headed mentality or are simply way too sensitive. Some harbor a contentious or pugnacious attitude. Others sadly know nothing but conflict and are almost uncomfortable in the absence of it. Oftentimes conflict along all these lines that I just mentioned is sin and able to be avoided in the first place.
On the other hand, at other times, conflict is unavoidable. We live in a sin-tainted world. In the world of conflict “it takes two to tango.” Yes, sometimes it is our sin. But even if we contributed nothing negative to the matter, oftentimes we are drawn into conflict by the sin of another.
James 4:1-2a, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.” Consider the deeds of the flesh mentioned in Galatians 5. No doubt they add much to our present conflicts. Peace is always unattainable when the other party is manifesting strife or jealousy or anger or dissentions or disputes or factions. Other times it may be an inability to submit to the authorities God has placed in their lives (family, church, society). Sometimes it may simply be the inability for the other person to listen or understand or consider the other side of the story.
Furthermore, we all share different values and goals and gifts and callings and priorities and expectations and interests and opinions – even within the church. These accepted differences can also easily erupt into conflict if they are not handled correctly by both or one of the individuals. Consider the “sharp disagreement” in Acts 15 between two godly men named Paul and Barnabas over whether or not an individual should join them on a missionary trip (Ac. 15:39).
Bottom line, if we live among other people, especially in intimate proximity like a family, conflict this side of heaven is bound to occur.
So when it comes, how do we deal with conflict? Do we let it rock our world and leave us paralyzed and depressed? Do we try to sweep it under the carpet hoping that it will go away by itself? Do we enter a state of denial and pretend that everything is fine? Do we harbor bitterness in our hearts? All of these are sin because none of these responses imitate how God resolved conflict for us (I’ll come back to that).
All the tools are at our disposal (Fruit of the Spirit, the Bible, the example of Christ). And conflict when viewed as a sovereign opportunity and dealt with God’s way, actually has the potential to bring us many blessings. Few people think about it from this perspective, but I can personally testify to the benefits of God-ordained conflict. It has never been pleasant, but I believe it has added much to my spiritual growth.
- It has increased my tenderness to the pain and affliction of others.
- It has broadened my outlook that life is not as black and white as I often think.
- It has helped me to listen better and understand good perspectives that might differ from mine.
- It has encouraged me to search the Scriptures and be able to better articulate my beliefs.
- It has pushed me out of my comfort zone and increased my faith in God and in His Word.
- It has taught me to work harder to be a more effective communicator to express my feelings.
- It has helped me consider other people more important than myself.
- It has helped me understand that relationships are more important than the conflict and compromising (when biblically appropriate) is more important than being right.
- It has increased my love for unity.
- It has manifested the love and power and forgiveness of God both received and extended.
- It has taught me that my desires and plans do not lie at the center of the world.
- And in many cases, when resolved correctly, it has even strengthened the specific relationship.
3. Dealing With Conflict
So once we understand the benefits of conflict and the need to resolve conflict, the next logical question is how do we resolve conflict in a way that most honors our Lord? The third point on your sermon outline.
Oftentimes when we are in conflict we almost always seek to resolve the matter in one of three ways. The first two are wrong and self-defeating. The last one is biblical, effective and God-honoring.
The first way is escape. These tactics are common, and we are all guilty of employing them. They also vary in levels of intensity.
It could start off with simple denial – a refusal to acknowledge that a problem even exists. This may give some temporary relief, but it often only increases the conflict. Nothing is more frustrating to a person than when a serious problem exists and the other party refuses to even acknowledge it.
Another widespread escape tactic is running away from the problem (self-pity, “unfriending,” cold shoulder, ignoring, distancing). Along these lines, I am not dismissing the need for a “cooling-off” period nor the fact that situations like physical abuse and heretical doctrine may warrant an extended escape in some cases. But I am convinced that too many spouses leave the marriage, too many children leave the home, too many friends leave the relationship and too many Christians leave the church over situations where reconciliation should have been sought.
The last and most extreme way to escape from our conflicts is the permanent response. Suicide concedes that all hope is lost and death is the only alternative and solution. One of Satan’s greatest lies.
It goes without saying that all of these escape tactics fail to trust God and prefer the other individual. They are unbiblical, unloving, unproductive and unacceptable.
A second improper strategy people use to deal with their conflicts are attack responses. Before it was “flight” and now it is “fight” – animal instincts. Like escape responses they vary and increase in intensity.
Attack responses often start off with simple assault. Someone has hurt you so you take matters into your own hands to execute some revenge. Possibly it is a verbal attack to the person’s face like angry words (yelling, mocking), or behind their back like gossip and slander. Maybe it’s nonverbal like dirty looks. Maybe it is an effort to ruin them financially or professionally. Maybe it even goes so far as to damage their property or injure them physically.
Consider the Jews in Acts 7 who stoned Stephen to death because they were offended by his message (Ac. 7:58-60) or the men who sold their bother Joseph into slavery because of sheer jealousy (Gen. 37:26-27).
Sometimes people take their attack responses further and it results in litigation. This was a problem in the Corinthian church addressed and refuted by Paul. “Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? … I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren” (1 Cor. 6:1, 5-8).
Finally, the severest attack response is murder. Like before, the ultimate and incorrect way to escape from your problems is to kill yourself, or now, to kill the other person.
And although this response is obviously extreme, let’s not forget the words of our Savior when He said anger in our hearts toward another is murder in His eyes (Mt. 5:21-22). Think about this. If we have the attitude that we want someone out of our family or out of our church because of our own interpersonal conflict, are we not participating in the spirit of murder? Oh we may never pull the trigger, but are we seeking to eliminate people through more civilized means.
So with both wrong responses stated, permit me to close with the proper way God wants us to deal with interpersonal conflict. It is called the peacemaking response. In the words of Jesus Christ, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mt. 5:9).
As I already mentioned, God (the “Prince of Peace”) wants us to be at peace with others especially those within the home and church family and to pursue it aggressively. Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Romans 14:19, “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” Ephesians 4:1-3, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
To pursue this peace and preserve the unity, our Lord has provided two easy to options for us to follow.
The first option is to overlook the situation. Proverbs 19:11, “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression” (cf. Pr. 12:16; 17:14; Col. 3:13; 1 Pet. 4:8).
People sin against us and offend us daily. Not everything needs to be addressed or taken so personally! Not everything needs to be a “federal case.” Give others the benefit of the doubt. Let it go! Overlooking a transgression is “a deliberate decision not to talk about it, dwell on it, let it grow into pent-up bitterness and anger (or use it against the person later)” (Sande, p. 83). Overlooking a transgression is taking the “high road” and is suggested when the offense is not creating a wall between you and the offender or the offense not causing serious harm to God’s reputation, others or the specific individual him or herself (like a child doing drugs or a divisive individual within the church).
While overlooking is passive, the second option is active. If the situation cannot be overlooked you have a biblical responsibility to address the other individual.Again your goal in all this is to preserve the relationship and honor the Lord.
Because this can be so volatile, permit me to provide some biblical suggestions.
- Pray before, during and after the time together (1 Thes. 5:17).
- Get together and talk about the matter face-to-face (i.e. not an email).
- Be sure to go to the individual in a loving and reasonable and gentle manner (1 Cor. 4:21; Eph. 4:2; 1 Tim. 6:11). Make sure your heart is right.
- Make sure you have removed the log from your own eye before you seek to remove the speck from your brother’s (Mt. 7:3-5).
- Go seeking to believe the best, hear the other side of the story (Pr. 18:17).
- Attack the problem not the person, value the relationship more than the issue.
- Deal with one problem at a time.
- Find common ground – I hope as Christians you both want God’s glory and unity – start there (1 Cor. 10:31)!
- Add how you may have contributed to the problem – people will always listen to how you might have wronged them (Pr. 28:13).
- Be prepared to extend and receive forgiveness if appropriate (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13).
- Seek to fully reconcile the relationship and put the matter behind you. Remember, there is a big difference between forgiveness and reconciliation.
Listen beloved, if a matter cannot be resolved and conflict is present in a relationship, you have a responsibility to pursue the other individual. Biblically speaking, there is never a time for you to “sit and wait” or ignore the problem. For example, if you have a problem with another person you must go! Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins (against you), go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” And if you know another person has a problem with you, you must go as well! Matthew 5:23-24, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” Zealously pursue peace with all men as much as it depends upon you (Rom. 12:18)!
In the Peacemaker, Ken Sande said, “According to the teaching of Jesus (see Mt. 5:23-24) we must seek reconciliation with a brother (or sister) even ahead of worship! He teaches that we cannot love and worship God properly if we are at odds with another person and have not done everything in our power to be reconciled (1 Jn. 4:19-21) (p. 49). He goes on to say, “Christians (must) agonize for peace and unity. Obviously, token efforts and halfhearted attempts at reconciliation fall far short of what (the Bible) had in mind” (p. 52).
Escape responses focus on “me” and make me a “peace-faker.” Attack responses focus on “you” and make me a “peace-breaker.” But peacemaking responses focus on “God” and make me a “peace-maker.”
So why is the peacemaking response the right way? Why is it the only effective way? It is because our Lord said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mt. 5:9). Peacemaking imitates God – it is His technique and it brings glory to Him.
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom. 5:8-10).
Reconciliation from God at the greatest cost to Himself!
Have you received the forgiveness from Christ? Have you experienced the forgiveness from Christ? Do you love the forgiveness from Christ? The greatest proof will be your desire and ability to extend grace to others.
All out to reconcile relationships and pursue peace – all for your joy and God’s glory!
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