Background Scripture: Matthew 5:21-26
Quotes of the Week:
Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means. Ronald Reagan
Conflict. Ugh! For some people, their approach to conflict is easy - turn around and run. For others, they will turn and run towards conflict, because they love to get their adrenalin going. I believe that approaches to conflict are often learned in families and environments that we grow up in. As a child, in my family, we tended to avoid conflict for the most part. I can't think of any of us - my mom or dad, or my brothers that really 'like' conflict. So, I am generally the one who would love for everyone to just get along. However, I have learned that conflict is inevitable and we all can't simply join hands and sing Kum Ba Yah, as if everything is A-OK. There are others whose familial experiences may be much different. In their homes, when something comes up, it gets dealt with pretty quickly, and either gets solved, or escalates. I have seen how this has happened and while it can be quite 'scary' for a few moments, they tend to work through issues and be okay with one another. There are pros and cons to both sides, I would imagine. Perhaps the best approach would be somewhere in the middle.
In watching sports for the past year (primarily a lot of baseball), I had seen many promos for Colin Cowherd's program, Hard Knocks. The blurb in the promotion was something like Embrace Conflict. I searched for a little more information and though he is talking mostly about sports, he makes some good points that are applicable in life. This is by no means an endorsement for his show, but there is some truth in what he says. Rather than summarize, you can go here and listen to his own words - Click Here to Watch!
For there to be conflict, there have to be at least two sides. Unfortunately, some people's view of conflict is that they should have the ability to say anything about or to somebody else, but they do not want to listen to the other side. This is the equivalent of launching grenades into your neighbor's yard and then say "I'm okay now", as if they should just deal with the damage they just caused! Unfortunately, I have learned much more about this in the past few years than I would have liked, and I have sought counseling for how to deal with these situations, in a manner that would honor Christ. You will notice in many lessons the encouragement to get help if you cannot handle resolutions to a situation on your own. I cannot emphasize this point enough. How many relationships could have been saved if people just learned to approach conflict in the right manner, or sought help from others when it would have been beneficial? And, as stated before, this conflict avoidance (or handling conflict badly) gets passed to the next generation and so forth, until somebody chooses to do something about it.
As we have been studying different things that make Christians distinct, we now come to conflict. Just to think about conflict among believers (within churches or families) poses interesting thoughts in our minds, doesn't it? At least it did in mine! When we talk about conflict in general, we normally think of personality types that either run away or towards conflict. But, when we talk about a Christian's approach to conflict, this should transcend personality types and how we deal with conflict should be shaped by the person we are becoming 'in Christ'.
Conflict involves two (or more) different people that have disagreements. I've never seen two people that truly agree on everything. Often, the disagreements come from skewed perspectives and the unwillingness to put ourselves in the 'opponents' shoes. Unfortunately, to become a Christian does not mean that you will not have conflict (or necessary even minimize conflict). In fact, some of the biggest conflicts occur in the church (or among believers). In some cases, people have a very good idea of what they want to happen and they are unwilling to budge on anything at all. For example, conflict may come based on the color of the new carpet, or pads in the pews, or chairs rather than pews or getting rid of the hymnals. Am I hitting close to home for conflict you have seen or experienced in churches? These types of things will lead to business meeting conflicts and may resort in name calling and character assassination. Shocking, isn't it?
In other cases, our churches and leadership tend to forget that people are human and that they will make mistakes and choose wrongly from time to time. It certainly presents a dilemma, as the church does need to take a stand on God's Standard for life, but we also need to learn how to minister to those who have missed the Standard. In fact, we all miss the Standard, but we tend to hope that nobody find out, so that we aren't the next focus of the long arm of the law! There will be conflict among believers.
As you read this lesson, and as it is written, I would encourage you to take a step back and examine your own life. Where is there conflict today? How you have handled it? What have been your approaches to conflict? Put that in the back of your mind, as you read through this short lesson and ask yourself - what should have I done differently? What can I do now? Do I need help? Whatever God is speaking to you, listen and then I pray that you will act.
Yet Jesus continued by saying that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Wait! Anyone who is angry? Isn't this a big leap from murder to being angry? In past lessons, we've tried to hit this concept over and over. We have not been called to do or not do (i.e. murder), but we are called to be (not angry). Face it, we all get angry and all of us have thought evil of others at some point. We all have done it - and chances are that you may be angry with someone right at this moment. When you allow that anger to stew, it will never turn out good. Anger leads to rage which leads to very irrational behavior. Whenever you are angry, it is always a good idea to take a step back and try and find another perspective. Try to understand if you are missing something.
Jesus continued to say that if anyone calls a brother or sister "Raca", that was tantamount to murder. Raca was a derogatory term meaning empty-headed, implying that someone was stupid or inferior. I read that it came from the root word 'to spit'. Whether the word was said, or whether someone actually spit on someone else, it certainly shows contempt. Jesus went on to say that calling a person a fool was also problematic.
We need to keep watch of our attitudes (which can lead to stewing anger) and our words, which can escalate conflict. Isn't it amazing how our speech can cause problems, leading to conflict? Words are something that you can never unsay. And, when our 'names' for others are heard by others, they have a way of propagating. This is one of the problems with gossip, because things will propagate to others and only a partial truth may be told. And, this can be even more dangerous when said around children. You have heard the song "Be careful little ears what you hear". There is a correlation that would go something like this - "Be careful big mouth what you say"! There are many stories that we could all tell where a child has parroted a parent in the most inappropriate time.
Some may say that they have never murdered another person, nor have they been part of murdering a person. However, we know of character assassination all to well, which is akin to murdering. There are many instances where people within the church engage in this openly. I had heard of a situation where a group of people were attacking a person (who was not there) rather openly, and when told that what they were doing was wrong, they routinely ignored the words and said that they would only do it a little more. The issue gets much, much worse when there is no remorse. It continues to get worse if the people sharing the misinformation do not step up and say that what they said was wrong to say. For example, there may be things that may actually be true about a person's past, but that does not give a person the right to continue to propagate the story. In fact, it escalates conflict. But, it's true, as a tag line should remind us "But, it's wrong to say".
Jesus continues in these verses to say something that should hit home to all of us as believers. I believe we have heard this often, but most have grown show numb to allowing these words to penetrate our hearts. Many act as if these words are not applicable to 'me'. Jesus says that if you are offering your gift at the altar and are aware that your brother or sister has something against you, you should set your gift aside at the altar and go and reconcile. Then, you can come and offer your gift. I have been in churches for over 50 years, although the first several years I probably wasn't paying that close attention. Not even once have I seen anyone go to another to reconcile prior to Communion or during any other time of giving (I have heard of this happening, but have not seen it). Instead, relationships remain strained and what may have been a smaller issue to settle at one time becomes larger than life. If you are at odds with anyone else now, does this weigh on your heart, as you approach God? Have you taken the steps to try and reconcile, or are you content to just let it fester longer?
In verse 25 and 26, Jesus warns people to settle matters quickly with their adversary, otherwise they may be taking them to court. Have you seen the result of people unwilling to peacefully work through issues? If you have been involved with the court, you realize that seldom will going to the court make anything better. It leads to bitterness and a financial drain. Certainly, there are times when the court may need to get involved, but in the rare case where that is true, it should only be based on truthful information. When this is what has to be resorted to, especially among believers, something is truly wrong. It opens so many new wounds that are much harder to heal.
Many will take strong stances on other parts of Scripture, but will allow this area of their lives to go unbridled, which will allow it to spiral out of control. This is the seed to gossip and character assassination, often based on much less than the truth. This approach to conflict escalates, which is NOT what is what Jesus is telling us to do.
As we began this lesson, we talked about how people want to avoid conflict. I truly understand that and it greatly increases stress in my life and makes me feel much more uncomfortable. Since my diagnosis of ALS, I have found that stress is one of the worst things that contributes to my symptoms, so you can see how much I detest conflict. But, if you (or I) are not willing to address issues and have honest conflict when it is needed, it is liable to balloon into something that is way out of control and could even cause relationships to end.
At the earliest possible time, issues need to be dealt with truthfully. How would all of our relationships be impacted if we would just deal with what we need to deal with at the onset, as opposed to letting it spiral out of our control? We all need to be willing and able to step forward and admit when we are wrong, and learn to seek forgiveness. And, when we have conflict, it is imperative that the truth comes out. There will always be different perspectives of things, but our perspectives must be based on the truth of the situation, as opposed to what we may have been led to believe. I feel sorry for people who have made decisions based on what they have been told wrongly, and are unable to find out that they were not told the truth until it is too late to rectify a relationship.
I realize that not every situation can be settled in a short time, and I also acknowledge that not every issue will be settled. If you are at odds with someone now, have you truly done all you can do? Romans 12:18 says "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." Certainly, there are people in the world that it is inconceivable that we could ever be at peace with. But, there are others who are near to us - family, friends and others, what is the source of conflict there? In James 4:1, we learn that our own selfish motives are that the heart of all relational conflict. The most difficult thing for us to do is stop blaming the other person and take responsibility for our own side of the conflict.
As has been stated previously, getting help is often necessary if you truly want to resolve conflict. This does not mean talking to another person actively involved in the conflict, or someone who has already taken a position and will only parrot your own thoughts. Finding a Biblical counselor can help you begin to understand key concepts in dealing with conflict, as well as perhaps more importantly beginning to understand the perspective of the other party. While you may not agree with another's perspective, it is helpful and beneficial to try and understand where they are coming from.
I suppose that how we deal with conflict comes down to an individual by individual basis. We clearly see that Jesus tells us to deal with it in a certain manner, but to do so may mean that we have to swallow some pride and say that we are sorry. That is incredibly hard for some people to do. However, there is release that can be found in those words, from both sides. But, those words cannot be forced.
Our prayer for you is that you will do whatever is needed to resolve conflict. You can choose to continue to avoid conflict, and find yourself mired in the mud with what you are thinking, and unwilling to listen to other perspectives. Perhaps this lesson does not prompt any change in your own behavior. Unfortunately, this pattern will not stop with just the conflict at hand. If you cannot figure out how to resolve conflict, this will undoubtedly impact relationships in the future. We pray that you will listen to what God is saying to you right now and seek to resolve conflict in your life.