"As far as it is possible with you, be at peace with all men." Romans 12:18 Recently, several unfortunate situations have arisen in our lives amongst fellow believers who are creating disharmony--both in a local church situation, a women's ministry group, as well as another issue that has arisen on a national scale amongst leaders of an organization.
The reason for this blog article is that I truly believe that Satan loves for disharmony to flourish and to be nurtured amongst Christians. Whether in marriage, in parenting, in ministry or in organizations, we must fight against relationship conflicts and seek energetically to be those who are generous in love, compassionate in heart, gracious and peace-making as much as possible in all relationships in which we are involved. We are called by Christ to be menders of relationships and reflections of His own unmerited favor and love for us, when we were still sinners.
After being in ministry for almost 40 years, I have lived through many very difficult seasons of conflict: groups or churches dividing and ministries being destroyed; people quitting jobs and ministry teams; hurt feelings, harsh words that have a lasting impact and go deep into the souls; and immature idealistic young Christians who think that the whole world needs to hear their thoughts on all sorts of issues. Gossiping, critical, judgmental groups of women have also created havoc in the pathways I have traveled. The possibilities of conflict are limitless.
Conflict, spiritual warfare and criticism is part of the challenge of being in Christian ministry. I have often told my children, that if one chooses to be a leader and stand up in front of people for ideals, righteousness and the kingdom, they will become an easy target--it comes with the territory. I did not know or understand this when I first committed myself to be involved in ministry as a way of life. I was often shocked at how Christians could so easily abuse each other. Heart-breaking circumstances have also caused me deep anguish and overwhelming sadness in my own life. And yet, God has been so very gracious to pull me through and beyond these incidences and taught me so much along the way. Not all people have been so fortunate as to have survived their battles against the harsh battles of being at the forefront of Christian ministry.
Naturally, most people involved in controversy, have reasons dear to their hearts for being a part of the conflict. Many think it is for the sake of keeping "doctrine" pure or standing for principles that must be debated.
Now I am not suggesting in this article that we, as believers, should not have Biblical ideals. But I have come to look upon conflict and division in the body with seriousness and with caution, because I think most of it breaks the heart of Christ, especially when it concerns fellow Christians. And I have seen that much of the conflict has been over opinions and judgments that have in the long-run, proven to be unnecessary or false.
If the focus of my life is to please Christ, to love Him with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength, then I have to use that as a grid for all that I do. So when I come to a conflict amongst Christians, I must look at it, if at all possible, through the eyes of Christ. How does He see this? What does He value? What is His example? How would He want me to behave? What is my responsibility?
I would like to suggest just a few of the Biblical principles that have guided and guarded my own involvement in conflict.
"While being reviled, he did not revile in return, but kept trusting Himself to God who judges righteously." I Peter 2:23
While being accused, Jesus, the only perfect and just person who ever lived, did not defend himself when he was being unjustly accused in his trial. His decision was to be quiet, still of heart, humble in his righteous position and to wait for God's justice to work. God is committed to justice, to holiness, to disciplining our lives so that we can share in his very character--God is always faithful in His timing to bring about His will.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." Matt. 5:9
"As far as it is possible with you, be at peace with all men." Romans 12:18
Jesus said that those who make peace are like God--as peacemakers, they will appear as children of the Most High who is one who gave his whole life to bring us peace, restoration, redemption. He took the conflict upon himself. We are admonished to use our lives and our very words to bring peace.
"Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word that is good for the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
31Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
32Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. Ephesians 4: 29-32
Of course this passage is filled to the brim with godly advice. But overall, it indicates that God's will for us is to put away any selfish tendency in our hearts (wrath, bitterness, anger, clamor, or malice) far from us, because it grieves the Holy Spirit and prevents Him from living through us.
Instead, we are to choose to be kind, tender-hearted--not hard hearted, and forgiving us in the way Christ has forgiven us. Pretty clear admonition. This passage really tells us not to follow our pride, but to follow humility and gentleness. I think pride has been the biggest reason for most dissension.
Not judging others
"Do not judge, lest you be judged." Matthew 7
I quickly found 6 passages without even working at it that admonished us not to judge others--not to assess them or judge their motives, or their behavior--but not to judge at all. We can so easily as humans see things from our own lives and we "feel" we are right.
Yet, I have learned the hard way, by looking back on my life, that many times I was young, inexperienced, short-sighted, wrong in my judgments of others. To be quiet, peace making, patient, humble of heart is so much more the pattern that Jesus modeled. We are not God, we are not omniscient and cannot see or understand all knowledge--so we had better be very careful that we have a case before we speak against anyone--especially if we have any sin or weakness in our own lives like the very people we are criticizing. It is not wise to jump into an argument or disagreement that is not our own.
There are about 127 quotes in scripture that speak about gossip. God hates gossip--hates it. Gossip is spreading words or thoughts about a person to others which cause the hearer to think badly about the one being gossiped about.
So, unless I know that I am God's agent of truth about a situation, unless I am quite sure He wants me to speak against someone, I had better be very careful of my words, lest I separate myself from God. I must be cautious of self-righteously speaking against someone I think might be wrong or who disagrees with me. This is a very serious offense to God.
God's Supernatural, loving Ways
God's heart is for us to be forgiving, loving, gracious and generous to provide His peace.
"Love covers a multitude of sin." I Peter
"They will know you are my disciples by your love for one another."
"It is to a man's honor to overlook a sin."
"Greater love has no one than this that a man lays down his life for another."
"Forgive 70 times 7."
There are obviou sly so many more scriptures about conflict-resolution. But overall, I think that it breaks the heart of God for us, who are believers, to create dissension amongst other believers or to create any negative suggestions which could in any way harm another believer. Many Christians and Christian movements have been made to look foolish in the eyes of the world for choosing to get caught up in division.
Though I have so far to go myself in learning and applying these truths, I see that if I am to become more like Christ, I must take these and so many other admonitions to heart. May God grant you wisdom and grace as you consider His ways in relating in a Biblical way to others in your own journey with Him through all of your own conflicts. And may His Spirit shine His light and grace through us in this world greatly in need of His light, redemption and love.