Responding to Conflict, part 2
Hebrews 11 is known by many as the Hall of Faith. It is like a Hall of Fame for Old Testament saints, chronicling how the faith of those men and women was demonstrated in their life.
By faith, Abel offered to God an acceptable sacrifice and was then murdered. By faith, Enoch walked with God amidst a perverse world, and was taken into heaven. By faith, Noah built an ark, condemning the world and saving his family. By faith, Abraham left his home, waiting for the promised land.
By faith, Sarah, at the age of 90, conceived a son. By faith, Abraham was prepared to sacrifice that son as an offering to God. By faith, Isaac passed on a blessing to his sons, Jacob and Esau. By faith, Jacob blessed his grandsons, the sons of Joseph. By faith, Joseph instructed Israel what to do with his bones, knowing that the nation would leave Egypt one day.
By faith Moses’ parent hid him in the Nile river, defying the command of Pharaoh. By faith, Moses turned his back on the prestige of Egypt and united himself with the slaves. By faith, he obeyed God and instituted the Passover, saving them from the judgment of God. By faith, the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry land and saw the Egyptians drown.
By faith, Joshua and his men marched around Jericho and saw the walls fall down. By faith, Rahab hid the Israelite spies, and her family was saved from destruction.
Those are pretty heroic acts. Those are some of the major stories of the Old Testament. And as the author of Hebrews wraps up that list, in verse 32 he adds this:
“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. Women received back their dead by resurrection. 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.”
It's an impressive list, chronicling the power of faith. And Given that kind of list with those kinds of descriptions, you might ask yourself: What has my faith done recently?
That can be a pretty daunting question. We could even add to that list the men and women in church history who have died for their faith, translated the Bible into new languages, and even crossed the globe in a missionary enterprise. How do you rank against them?
Again, that’s an intimidating question. The proper response, however, shouldn’t be intimidation, but rather motivation. Because whatever those men and women did, they did by faith. And that is the same faith you have if you’ve surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
God is not necessarily calling you right now to start a seminary, or to pack up and move to a different country, or to die for your faith. It might mean that one day, but today, more than likely, that’s not what God is calling you to do.
He is, however, calling you and me to live a radically new life. As Ephesians 4:1 puts it, all of us who follow Christ are to walk in a manner worthy of the calling we have been called to. That’s a very high bar, isn’t it?
Colossians says: “Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” First Thessalonians 2 says “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.”
Go ahead and turn to Ephesians 4. This is a passage we’ve already seen several times in our series on unity, but I want you to turn to it one more time. And I hope it serves as a reminder for you.
What does that radical new life in Christ look like? What is supposed to characterize that “worthy walk”? Moved by the Holy Spirit of God, the Apostle Paul describe it for us with a list. And it starts in verse 2. Ephesians 4:2.
We are to live “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
This is the radical life Jesus calls us to, and which Paul highlights for the Ephesians. A life of humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, love, unity, and peace. I’m not sure if that sounds radical to you, but if it’s done rightly, it is other-worldly. That’s not how the world operates. It’s not how this world interacts with one another, particularly with those with whom they disagree. But it’s what Jesus wants for us.
As a Christian, then, you need to have and be developing your knowledge and ability in dealing with conflict. And that’s what we’re going to be concluding with today.
Last week we started talking about Conflict Resolution, and we are using Ken Sande’s Four Principles of Peacemaking, or the 4 G’s of Peacemaking. Again, these are taken from his larger book The Peacemaker, which I highly recommend to you. And more recently, it has been condensed into a smaller book called Resolving Everyday Conflict, and there are a dozen copies of that book, in both Spanish and English, at the book cart which will be out during the fellowship break between services.
It’s not just an instruction manual. It’s a book filled with the hope of Jesus Christ, and real-life examples of the transforming power that we can bring into a conflict.
Those books divide conflict resolution into four principles, which we started looking at last week when we covered the first two.
Principle number 1 was Go Higher and Glorify God. And that was a reminder that instead of thinking about how to win the conflict and get your way, or thinking about how to get out of an uncomfortable situation, our greatest motivation, our greatest desire, should be to honor, worship, and glorify our Lord Jesus Christ, who is with us in the conflict.
Principle number 2 was Get Real, or Get the Log Out of Your Eye. And it was a reminder that we need to be more concerned, and think more deeply about, our own sin first, rather than the sin of the other person.
And that now brings us to principle number 3, which is called: Gently Engage or Gently Restore. Gently Engage or Gently Restore. Once you’ve oriented yourself properly before God with a heart of worship and a repentant spirit over your own sin, now you’re ready to start thinking about how to gently restore the other person.
And keep in mind, this step doesn’t mean go and talk with the other person. That’s step 4. Step 3 is still a planning step. You need to ask yourself a couple questions here.
The first question to ask yourself is: Do I need to talk to this person about what happened? Will it honor Christ if I talk to this person?
And, just to be clear, it’s not a question you’re supposed to answer based on your emotions. The question is not, “What do I feel like doing?” The question is, “What best honors Jesus Christ?” Along the spectrum of ways that we can deal with a conflict, one option is to overlook the offense, meaning we choose not to talk to the other person about what happened. We make the decision to forgive in that moment, and move forward.
First Corinthians 13:5 says “love is not irritable; it is not resentful.” NASB says “it is not provoked; it does not take into account a wrong suffered.”
The point there is that a loving spirit can at times overlook somebody else’s sin. And that’s especially true when it’s something minor or unintentional. You took your friend out to lunch on Monday and it costs $25. And they said they’d pay you back by taking you out to lunch on Tuesday. But when you go out to lunch on Tuesday, the bill was only $20. So, do they owe you those $5? Should you talk to them about it?
A loving spirit can look past that, right? It’s not that big of a deal. Or somebody stepped on your toes in the hallway and didn’t realize it. Or they were distracted and they didn’t stop to say hello. That kind of stuff can be forgiven automatically, and without saying a word.
There’s a helpful article, which you can find on the Grace To You website (gty.org), which has some helpful principles for deciding whether or not to talk to someone about a sin. The article is called “Let ‘Em Know or Let It Go?”
John MacArthur writes: “If every fault required formal confrontation, the whole of our church life would be spent confronting and resolving conflicts over petty annoyances. So for the sake of peace, to preserve the unity of the Spirit, we are to show tolerance whenever possible.
Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”
Overlooking an offense, doesn’t mean you’re excusing what happened, or that you’re compromising your principles. It means you believe that it’s in the best interest of the other person and your relationship to drop it. That’s forbearance and forgiveness. That’s the patient heart of God, against whom we sin all the time, and yet His discipline doesn’t always come. So, along those lines, we don’t need to have a meeting with someone every time we feel they’ve sinned.
But there will be times when that’s the best thing to do. If a sin would dishonor a Christian testimony, of if a sin brings some kind of breach in a relationship, or if there’s a danger to someone (either physically or spiritually), or if there’s the possibility of damage to the church, then it would honor Christ for there to be some kind of confrontation.
And I want to be careful with that word, because when you hear the word confrontation, it sounds so negative and harsh. And for some of you, that’s what you want. You want the other person to feel the sting of what they’ve done.
But once you’ve asked the question “Should I talk to this person?”, the second question you need to ask is: “HOW should I talk to this person?” How should it be done? And that requires a bit of forethought.
I’m going to summarize many of the principles in Sande’s book, but hopefully, they set you on a trajectory to make your own preparations before God.
For starters, if it’s possible and appropriate, that meeting should be one-on-one. It should be a private meeting. That what Jesus says in Matthew 18—“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.”
Sometimes, the best-case scenario is a face-to-face, but that’s not necessarily mandatory. The point is though, that you want to guard against others being unnecessarily involved. Again, it should be private.
At the same time, the meeting should be sensitive to the specific person and situation. In some cultures, an intermediary might be best. Or if there’s some kind of intimidation that that brings about, or an abusive situation, or there may even be a better person who is more suited to have that discussion.
In his larger book, Sande many biblical examples of meetings other than one-on-one. But again, the main point is to be respectful of the other person, and any cultural sensitivities, and includes as few people as possible.
So you want to be private; you want to be sensitive to the situation. And thirdly, you want to be appropriate, because there are many different ways we can approach someone.
First Timothy 5, for instance, says, if it’s an older man, treat him like a father. Or a younger man, like a brother. So their age in relation to you matters.
Go with me to First Thessalonians 5. I want you to see this verse particularly. First Thessalonians 5:14. Look at how Paul, in the wisdom of God, describes how we’re supposed to approach people differently. 1 THESS 5:14.
Let’s imagine that we’re all hiking up a mountain together. And we’re on some kind of a deadline. We need to make it to the top at a particular time. But along the way, a handful of people see a tree lying along the path, and they sit down. But you know we need to keep moving. How do you talk to those people?
Well, according to 1 Thessalonians 5:14, it depends on why they’re sitting. Admonish the idle. Those are the lazy people, they don’t want to stay with the group, they don’t want to keep moving forward. They get admonished, or corrected.
But it could also be that someone sits down because they’re scared or they’re tired. What does the verse say? “Encourage the fainthearted.” That group doesn’t need to be corrected. They need encouragement.
And then maybe a third person say down because they’ve got some kid of pain in their knee or in their foot. What’s the next phrase? “Help the weak.” Help them. So you don’t address the weak person the same way you address the tired person or the lazy, disobedient person. Do you get that?
I think about this in regard to parenting. Sometimes kids do dumb things because they’re disobedient. And sometimes, hid do dumb things because they're tired or they don’t know any better. So, does he need a nap? Or doe she need a spanking? Maybe he needs both.
My point is, though, that we’re not going in guns blazing. We need to go in with a humble heart, sometimes even asking questions to help get to a deeper issue. And then we need to talk to them appropriately.
But no matter what the reason for someone’s fault, the end of the verse says “be patient with them.” Be patient with them all.
And this brings us to my final point here for the confrontation. It should be gentle. Gentle.
In the Matthew 18 passage, the context includes the story of a shepherd looking for a lost sheep. He’s not angry; he’s concerned. And when he finds it, he rejoices. So the proper attitude and the proper goal is restoration. And that’s what the language indicates. We want to “win” our brother.
And you don’t win someone with a harsh attitude.
Skip over to 2 Timothy 2:23. Paul is talking about how to respond to the opponents in the church teaching false doctrine. And he wants Timothy to deal with them. Look at what he says. 2 TIMOTHY 2:23-26.
Maybe that surprises you. It doesn’t say “kick them in the rear.” It says be gentle. And that points us back to the name of this principle: Gently restore, or gently engage.
The main verse this principle come from is Galatians 6:1, and I want you to turn there. Galatians chapter 6, verse 1.
Paul has just finished talking about the fruit of the Spirit, and about the importance of love and unity. And now, he says this: GALATIANS 6:1.
The idea there of someone being caught would mean you caught them doing it. But it could also mean that the person is trapped by the sin. They weren’t expecting the temptation, and they gave in to it. Like Hebrews 12 says, sin entangles us.
So when that happens, and you know about it, you are, in this context, the spiritual one. You have a better spiritual perspective. This guy, might think he’s justified in talking to his wife the way he did, but you see it differently. You see it clearly.
So, what’s your responsibility? Restore him. That word was used for setting a broken bone. You’re helping. And we are to do it with a spirit of gentleness.
Proverbs 15:1—A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
And how do you maintain a gentle spirit? Look at the end of the verse—keeping watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. You might not be tempted to sin in the same way that brother or sister did, but you’re tempted to not be gentle.
You’re tempted to think, as I’ve heard Richard put it, “Even if I wasn’t a Christian, I would never do that.” That’s just not true. And that’s why principle number 2 is so important. Recognize the log in your own eye. You’re a sinner just like them.
Many of you know the words attributed to Jesus, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone.”
Ecclesiastes 4:10, speaking of two people, says: “For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!”
We’re not there to throw stones. We’re there to restore. We’re there to lift them back up. We’re there to win them back. We’re there to unite with them in honoring God, purifying the church, and working together for the gospel.
The closing verse of James’ epistle say: “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
Don’t you want to be a part of that? So again, ask yourself if this is something worth bringing up. And if it is, then plan how you’ll do it. Be prepared for it. It should be private, sensitive, appropriate, and gentle.
There’s a lot more that you can read about in Ken Sande’s book, so I’m going to stop there and move on to the final point.
Principle number 4 is Go and Be Reconciled. Or Get Together. All the planning in the world won’t mean a thing if you don’t actually follow through on your plans.
And again, back to principle number, the primary goal is that God be glorified. No matter how the person responds, no matter how that meeting goes, God can be honored if you went with a prepared heart.
Once you go to them, you need to go with a heart that’s ready to forgive, and ready for some work if necessary. Not every problem has a quick solution. Sometimes you might need to have some kind of negotiation, or even bring in some outside help for what’s going on. And I’ll let you read more about that in Sande’s book.
But what I want to focus on is the heart of that kind of meeting. And the heart behind it all should be a heart of forgiveness.
I think it’s best to understand forgiveness as having two phases.
The first phase is internal and private, and it’s dealing with the attitude of your heart. The second phase is external and public, and it’ s dealing with the relationship between the two of you.
The first phase of forgiveness is unconditional. Mark 11:25 says “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
No conditions there. That aspect of forgiveness is a reflection of God’s heart, even toward a person who hasn’t repented yet. You’re entrusting God with the situation, and your desire is the other person’s good.
That’s part of loving your enemies. That’s a reflection of Jesus’ prayer on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And Stephen made a similar prayer as he was being stoned to death—" Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
That’s where your heart needs to be when you go talk to someone about an issue. You’re not bitter. You’re not angry. You’re not looking for revenge. You need to be hoping for their best, and ready for the second phase of forgiveness.
The second phase of forgiveness is conditional. It won’t always happen because it depends on the other person’s repentance.
Luke 17:3-4 says: “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
This is talking now, not just about some kind of release in your heart. This is talking about a restoration in the relationship. If they repent, forgive them and reconcile.
So the first phase of forgiveness is between you and God. The second phase is between you and the other person. And it’s a reflection of God’s hear toward His own children who repent.
What does God do to everyone who repents? He forgives them. He accepts them, because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross who paid the price of all our sin. And God’s not hiding that from you. He wants you to know it.
So, as we are reconciled to a repentant brother, we should reassure them, “I forgive you.” I’m moving past what happened. I’m not going to hold it against you. I’m not going to throw this in your face.
That, by the way, should be the response of the church, whenever someone has been restored, even if they were in the process of church discipline.
It doesn’t mean there won’t be some consequences, especially if they need to make some kind of restitution, or if we still need to act in their best interest and protection. But the heart behind it all is mercy and grace and forgiveness. Because that’s the heart of God.
All of you need to understand that, whether you’re a Christian or not. You need to get this about the Christian faith. The Christian philosophy on life is not “live a certain way, and then people and God will be nice to you.” That’s legalism.
The Christian philosophy of life is: we’re all miserable sinners. And none of us deserves God’s kindness. We deserve hell forever. But God sent Jesus as God in human flesh, as the perfect sacrifice, to showcase God’s love by dying on the cross to take the place of sinners. And if you will turn from pursuing life your way, and if you will entrust yourself to Jesus, who died and rose from the dead, and is coming again, He will forgive you and cleanse you, and reconcile you to Himself.
The Christian philosophy is not: “clean up your life and then God will accept you on the basis of what you’ve done.” The message of Jesus is: “Come to me and I will cleanse you on the basis of what I’ve already done. Repent and believe in me, and you will be restored.”
That’s the attitude we want in our churches for every single person. Like God, we want our arms flung open, pleading with people to repent and to trust in Christ, and then gladly accepting all who will come.”
And that’s the attitude we want in our homes, right? Whether it’s between parent and child or husband and wife, or whatever. We want genuine, God-honoring, Christ-exalting reconciliation. “Reunited and it feels so good.”
I’ve mentioned this passage before, but I want to mention it again. Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:9—"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
If you want to be an imitator of God, then you will be a peacemaker. This is part of our calling, for the glory of Christ and the effectiveness of His mission.
This is the radical, faith-driven life we’re called to. This is the mark of a stellar Christian—that you know and are helping others be reconciled to God and also to one another.