This message was shared at Centerville UMC on Sunday, May 31, 2015. John 3:1-17 served as the morning’s Scripture.
Can anyone say that they have lived a life free of conflict? How many of us would love to be able to say that we have lived a life free of conflict? How many of us can say that, while conflict can be difficult, we have grown, matured, and learned as a result of conflict?
The reality is that we all face conflict in some manner. Now, if everyone would just learn to agree with me, we could avoid so much conflict!
We encounter conflict in our homes, within our families and circle of friends, in our workplaces, schools, and even in the church. It seems that just about anywhere people are gathered, there will be conflict. How we handle conflict has a major impact on our Christian witness.
Where does conflict come from? There are times that conflict stems from some kind of injustice. We see people being treated unfairly and we decide we can no longer stay silent. So, we speak up and there is conflict.
Sometimes conflict stems from having unrealistic expectations. Maybe we set the bar too high and are disappointed when those around us don’t hit the bar. So, conflict comes from disappointment because our expectations (whether realistic or not) were not met.
Sometimes conflict is birthed out of fear. It’s my considered opinion that most conflict grows out of jealousy, envy, bitterness, selfishness, pride, ego, misunderstanding, and judgmental attitudes. James 4:1 would tell us that conflict comes from the selfish desires that are at war within us.
I’m convinced that, at times, we Christians believe it’s our job to judge and condemn. Here, in John 3, Jesus makes it clear that he came to save, not condemn. We, as individuals and as the church, are called to follow Jesus’ example. That means, we are called to save, not condemn. We are called to be His agents of salvation, His agents of hope. Yet, too often, we’re more consumed with the business of judging and condemning others than the loving and saving business. If we are going to be honest with ourselves, we would be willing to admit, that at times, this rings true.
Some of the most loving, kind, caring, compassionate, joyful, peace-filled people I’ve ever met are church folk. Yet, at the same time, some of the grumpiest, most mean-spirited, gossipy, judgmental, combative and downright hateful folks I’ve met are church folk too. Why is that? Human nature? Maybe? But, it might be because we really don’t take Jesus and the Bible seriously.
It’s easy to get caught up in gossip, slander, spreading half-truth and lies. It’s easy to get caught up judging and condemning others because it’s easier to judge and condemn than to offer the saving grace and love of Jesus. Maybe the source of conflict between churched and unchurched folks is that we are more prone to judge and condemn than offer hope and love. At the very least, we have to admit that we are known more outside the church for our judgmental attitudes and hypocritical actions. Too often, we Christians are known more for what we stand against than what we stand for.
So, we often attempt to justify our judging, condemning, gossip, slander, half-truths and lies about others by saying, “Well, I’m just trying to hold so-and-so accountable.”
Listen, there is a huge difference between accountability and judging, condemning, gossip, slander, half-truths and lies. One is motivated by love and sincere concern. The other is motivated by selfishness and pride. We judge, condemn, gossip, and slander others in an attempt to make ourselves feel better or superior to the other. And, when we are judging, condemning, gossiping, slandering, spreading half-truths and lies we are avoiding the very person we are talking about. If we’re holding so-and-so accountable, we would actually go to “so-and-so” instead of everyone else! There are times that, when we finally go to “so-and-so” we’ve done so much damage, reconciliation will be much more difficult.
Our tendency to judge and condemn rather than offer love, grace and mercy might indicate that, as followers of Jesus, we don’t really take the Bible seriously. We like the Bible. We pick and choose the parts we want to follow. But, we don’t really take it seriously.
We avoid Biblical conflict resolution because it’s uncomfortable and difficult. We prefer the road of judging, condemning, gossip, slander, half-truths, and lies. Let’s be honest, it’s easier to talk about someone you are upset or disappointed with than to actually talk to them. How many of you have ever been the last person to find out that someone else is upset with you? Everyone else in town knows, but you!
So, how should we handle conflict? How should we deal with those whom we are upset with, disappointed in or with whom we disagree? Maybe the Bible has something to say about conflict?
Matthew 18:15-17. This passage gives us a great roadmap for dealing with conflict. “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.” (MSG)
- Go directly to the person
- Take 1-2 witnesses
- Go to the church
- Witness to God’s love and forgiveness – not judging, just offering Jesus
But, that’s not really how we tend to do things, is it? Here’s how we tend to deal with conflict:
- Get upset
- Talk to anyone who will listen, except the person we have a problem with
- Speculate, gossip, judge, condemn
- make a mountain out of a molehill
- Place more concern on the splinter than the log – and we don’t attempt to take steps to understand the other person.
Matthew 7:1-5- “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you. Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye.”
We are called to deal with ourselves first. When we have it altogether, then we can concern ourselves with others. Seriously, who do we think we are? Most of us have enough junk to work on in our personal lives…we have enough logs in our eyes that we’ll be working on ourselves until we meet our Maker. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to work on my own junk, I won’t have any time to deal with some else’s junk. Maybe, just maybe that’s what Jesus was trying to point out!
So, how should we deal with gossip and slander?
- Refuse it and call it out- When someone starts going down that road, stop them and politely let them know you don’t want to hear it…and then mean it! Sometimes we don’t refuse it and call it out because we all love some juicy gossip!
- Rebuke it and redirect it- Inform the person you will not entertain the conversation. Ask them if they have talked to the offending person about the issue. 9 times out of 10 they have not and most likely won’t. Encourage them to go talk to the person with whom they have an issue or conflict. Tell them you won’t talk about the issue until they have gone directly to the other person.
- If and when they have talked to the person, ask if they have resolved the issue. If so, you should encourage them to stop talking about it. If not, you can work through the remaining steps of Biblical conflict resolution. Many times, I’ve found that people continue to talk about situations that have already been resolved. However, the person gossiping and complaining simply did not like the resolution because either they didn’t get their way or they had to compromise. So, they continue to stir up controversy and trouble. In this situation, it might be time to do a little Biblical conflict resolution on the gossip. Now, of course, this kind of stuff would never happen in this church because we’re all good Christian folk, right?
If we would take Jesus and the Bible seriously and practice Biblical conflict resolution, we just might have less conflict. If we would actually talk with those we are in conflict with, we might better understand one another…there might be less jealousy, envy, selfishness, pride, ego trips, and judgmental condemnation. We might stop making mountains out of molehills. When we avoid the person we have a conflict with and talk about it with everyone but the person, all we do is get ourselves more and more worked up about the situation. Then, more often than not, when we finally do talk to the person, we realize we made a big deal out of nothing and wasted a lot of time and energy.
In this morning’s passage of Scripture from John 3, Jesus talked about being born again. He talked about baptism of water and spirit. Water is symbolic of cleansing. The spirit is symbolic of power. In other words, when we are born again, we are powerfully cleansed and made new.
When we have been born again, our desires will change from being hyper-critical, negative, judgmental, and condemning to having a great desire to offer the hope God’s life-transforming salvation with all we come into contact. Because of our baptism by water and spirit, we truly can embrace the ways of Jesus. We don’t have to be bound by the world’s ways of handling conflict. Jesus would not call us to a way of living He did not believe possible. And, so, through this holy mystery of baptism by water and Spirit, we have the ability to live as Jesus calls us to live. May we remember our baptism this day.
Our world and our community need hope. We don’t have to watch the national news to realize that hope is desperately needed, not just outside our doors, but in our midst. Recently in our community, we’ve seen the results of escalating domestic violence, we’ve seen the repercussions of drug and alcohol addiction, we’ve seen the pain and hurt caused by racism and bigotry, we’ve seen increases in crime, we’ve seen a rise in the number of families who are food insecure and families in need of greater amounts of financial assistance (just this morning, before church, 2 different individuals sought assistance from the church). These are no longer things that just happen to “those people” in “those places”. These things happen to these people, our families, our friends, our neighbors, right here in this place.
As the church, we have this great hope in Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t call us to judge or condemn those in our church, community and world who are hurting and struggling or live differently than we live. Jesus called us to love and to go, to meet people where they are, to meet their basic needs in practical and tangible ways, and offer them hope. When we share our hope, our faith in Christ is strengthened.
How will you be an agent of hope in our community today, tomorrow, and in the days to come? Who will you share our Great Hope with today, tomorrow, and in the days to come? Will you practice Biblical conflict resolution? Will you choose to share hope and love, rather than judge others? Will you choose to save or condemn?