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Christianity and Conflict Resolution — Roger L. Leonard

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!  It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes.  It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever” (Ps. 133, NASB).

I will sadly add the words, “Behold, how ugly and how unpleasant it is for brothers to be divided due to conflict!”

People do have conflict. Christians have conflict. It is a part of life. Sometimes it is due to mere misunderstandings and easily settled, so life goes on. At times is it can be healthy and good because matters can be clarified and sins can be forgiven.  Sometimes, however, it is unresolved and continues in cycles of verbal and physical abuse. Unresolved conflict can cause divorce. Christians can have conflict and never settle their differences. Christians and churches can separate from one another. It can cause unbelievers to avoid the church and weaker saints to forsake the Lord.  Conflict can even end with murder. Worst of all, people can be lost in eternity over it. Are there no answers? No resolutions?  Yes, there are.

The Old Testament records examples of conflict.  Cain killed his brother, Abel (Gen. 4:8-10).  Sarai had conflict with Hagar (Gen. 16).  Jacob and Esau had conflict (Gen. 27).  Joseph and his brothers had conflict (Gen. 37).  In a mere two chapters — 1 Samuel 18 and 18 — Saul tried to kill David at least twelve times!

The New Testament also records examples of conflict.  Jesus had conflict with the Pharisees over several issues.  The Lord’s disciples had conflict over a power position in the kingdom (Lk. 22:24ff).  Stephen faced conflict for being truthful and direct in his message (Acts 7).  The Christians in Corinth had conflict over spiritual leaders, the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, and more.  Euodia and Syntyche had conflict (Phil. 4:2).  Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark had conflict (Acts 15:37-40).  Diotrophes caused conflict by seeking to be first, making unjust accusations, and turning good men away (3 John).

The Scriptures also give us examples of resolutions.  Jacob and Esau finally made up after Jacob’s deception.  They wept, Jacob offered gifts, and they peacefully went separate ways (Gen. 33).  Joseph forgave his brothers for selling him as a slave, fed them during a famine, and eased the heart of his grieving father, Israel (Gen. 42-50).  Eventually the Lord’s disputing disciples became apostles and served Him until their deaths.  Although we don’t know how, Paul and John Mark worked out their differences and Paul found him useful (2 Tim. 4:11).

What Is The Lord’s Plan For Unity In The Church?  How About Conflict Prevention?

Consider the Lord’s prayer in John 17.  He prayed that His disciples would be one and at peace in several ways.

“Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one as We are” (v. 11).  The Lord repeats this plea for oneness in verse 23, with a special emphasis on their behavior so positively affecting the world that it would believe the Father had sent Him.

He prayed, “…that they may have My joy made full in themselves” (v. 13).  He wants His people to be spiritually joyful!

He prayed that the Father would not “take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (v. 15).

Finally, Jesus said, “…I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (v. 26).

We should carefully examine the key points Jesus made and understand how this oneness can prevent conflict.  Note especially verse 26 and the love that exists between the Heavenly Father and the Son!  These petitions do not mean that Christians will never have conflict, and Jesus knew that.  They do mean that our first and foremost desire should be the same as His: seek the oneness that He and the Father had for which He fervently prayed.

How Are Conflicts Supposed To Be Resolved?

Conflict, disunity, and divisions arise from two approaches:

  1. I want my way. It is all about me and what I want.
  2. Not seeking God’s will to promote unity or prevent strife and division.

When unity is broken, the only way to repair it is by using the Scriptures.

Consider Matthew 18:15.  Break down the verse and you’ll see a pattern emerge:

If — Situation.  There must be certainty.

Your brother— Connection.  Someone in Christ.

Sins— Infraction.  A violation of God’s will (cf. 1 John 3:4).

Go and tell him his fault — Confrontation.  The charge needs to be made clear and explained.  Clarify.  Get everything out in the open.

Between you and him alone— Condition.  This is to be dealt with privately.  (Unfortunately, this is not the usual pattern.  Brothers will tell everyone except the one with whom they had the problem.  That is a sin!  Neither does it resolve the conflict.)

If he hears you— Contrition and confession.

You have gained him— Communion.

Jesus illustrated the contrite heart in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Lk. 18:10-14).  The humble repentance which God desires is contrasted with self-righteousness.  The eloquent prayer of the proud Pharisee did not reach the heart of God, but the humble cry of the repentant sinner did and brought about his forgiveness.  They both needed mercy, but only the contrite heart was in a position to receive it.

Now consider Matthew 5:21-24.  As used in this passage, Mounce’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words defines “angry” as a sustained anger.  “Raca” means “good for nothing; empty-headed; stupid” and “fool” means “moron; one without reason; morally worthless.”  One of the reasons conflicts are often unresolved is because people do not have a Christ-like attitude toward others.  Like the Pharisee, they look down on them and speak evil words, even calling them names.

There are those in the kingdom who are always in conflict with others and love to fuss!  In Luke 22:24, “dispute” is a compound Greek word, “philoneikia,” which accourding to Mounce means “a love of contention; rivalry, contention.”  How are conflicts often handled?  Quite often they are not dealt with at all.  If they are dealt with, oftentimes they are not done so biblically.

In an article titled “Animal Instincts” published in Leadership, authors Norman Shawchuck and Robert Moeller identified “a variety of conflict management styles” and shared what “psychologists…labeled” as “responses with animal names: sharks (“I win; you lose”), foxes (“Everyone wins a little and loses a little”), turtles (“I withdraw”), teddy bears (“I’ll lose so you can win”), and owls (“Let’s find a way for everyone to win.”).

The personality types and approaches were described as follows:

The Sharks.  “Sharks tend to be domineering, aggressive, and open to any solution as long as it’s the one they want.  Sharks use whatever it takes to prevail: persuasion, intimidation, power plays.  Sharks don’t always appear menacing and may even possess a quiet demeanor, but make no mistake — they play to win, even if others lose.”

This attitude is diametrically opposed to seeking God’s way and a fellow saint’s good.  The “shark” needs to look at the humility of Jesus, who had all power and yet submitted to the will of God (Phil. 2:6-11).

The Fox.  The “wily fox” represents someone who makes an “attempt to help everyone win-a-little, lose-a-little.”  The desire is for compromise to keep everyone from “breaking apart.”  And while “their primary interest is the common good, if people don’t immediately respond to their bargain they aren’t above arm-twisting and manipulation to impose an agreement” to resolve the conflict.  The fox seeks ways and means to get conflicting “parties to accept” their “solution.”  The problem with this is that “the problem will emerge again later in a different form.”  Compromise does not “address the underlying issues” which will “eventually re-emerge.”

Furthermore, no solution should compromise God’s truth nor leave sinful issues unsettled.  It is wrong to manipulate people (2 Cor. 4:2).

The Turtles.  “The turtles are so frightened by conflict that they pull into their shell.”  This reaction could be the result of abuse or a home where children were not allowed to voice their feelings in conflicting situations.

That said, the turtle reaction could also be the result of pent up anger or repressed feelings.  So the withdrawal approach can be counterproductive to remedying the conflict, because people can and do hold on to bitterness or anger for years.  Paul instructed to not “let the sun go down on your wrath” (Eph. 4:26); that is, deal with it quickly.  There are times when people need to speak up, even when it is uncomfortable or fearful to do so.  Often people are afraid to do what Jesus said in Matthew 18:15.  That’s fine if the offended can let it go.  Stephen did so (Acts 7:60).  Yet if one cannot let it go, fear has to be overcome and a meeting or confrontation must occur.

The Teddy Bear.  Described as “cuddly and accommodating,” the teddy bear “is typical of the most lovable creature in the conflict management menagerie.”  “In a threatening situation, teddy bears readily surrender their own interests to accommodate the disagreeing party” and “will maintain peace at almost any price.”  The article concluded that while there is value in surrendering selfish goals in pursuit of peace (Phil. 2:3ff), the downside is that relationships should not override the settling of legitimate issues.

The loving thing to do is solve problems God’s way.  Paul urged Euodia and Syntyche “to live in harmony in the Lord(Phil. 4:2, emp. added).  He obviously realized that the conflict was known by and affecting the church.  He expected the dispute to be resolved, and not to just have them give one another a hug and move on.

The Owl.  The “Collaborative Owl” will “‘co-labor’ with all parties until they arrive at a mutually satisfying solution.”  They “see disputes as opportunities to strengthen…not destroy.”  This fits the “spiritual” ones described in Galatians 6:1-2.  These Christians seek to help others who are overtaken in any sin.  The owls could also be the ones who would go with an offended brother (Matt. 18:16) with a goal to help resolve the conflict.  The wise owls will seek God’s wisdom and not take sides with anyone but the Lord!

Brethren Must Settle Their Differences God’s Way…But Often They Do Not

Jesus made it clear that further actions must take place if brothers cannot reconcile alone (Matt. 18:16ff).  Ultimately, a withdrawal by the church is commanded by the Lord if there is no repentance by the sinning offender.

Some brethren see this as optional — at least in practice — because they will not do it.  Yet the same Lord who commanded Mark 16:16 commanded this.

Conclusion

Those “who cause divisions (are) worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 19).  Solomon wrote, “Through insolence comes nothing but strife, but wisdom is with those who receive counsel” (Prov. 13:10).  Some brethren need to receive counsel and repent.  Some are able to give it.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9).

Roger and his wife Alisa live in Valdosta, GA.  He preaches for the Adel Church of Christ in Adel, GA.

Endnotes:

Norman Shawchuck and Robert Moeller. “Animal Instincts: Five ways church members will react in a fight.” Leadership, Vol. XIV. Number 1 (Winter 1993): Pp. 43-44.

William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.

 

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Job’s Miserable Comforters — Roger L. Leonard

The book of Job addresses perhaps the most difficult of life’s questions: “Why does God allow human suffering?” This article deals with Job’s three friends who tried to answer this question. Some things they said were wrong and some right…but mostly they were wrong. We must also bear in mind that God allowed Satan to bring this suffering on Job.   (Note: Only chapter and verse citations are used for Job references.)

Job’s three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, “made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him” (2:11). When they saw him “they did not recognize him” and “they raised their voices and wept” (2:12). They sat with Job for seven days in silence (v. 13), which they eventually broke by launching into an oratory on Job’s problems. Becoming weary of their unhelpful counseling, Job eventually said, “You are miserable comforters, all of you!” (16:2) In the end they were condemned by God (Job 42:7-9).

But did they get everything wrong? They got a few things right.  Job’s friends were helpful in at least three ways (2:11-13): 1) They came to him when he was suffering. 2) They had empathy; “they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads” (v. 12). 3) They were with him in silence for seven days (v. 13).

However, they finally broke their silence.  In chapters 4 through 25, we read a series of speeches with many false notions, primarily concerning why God allows suffering.  To them, Job’s suffering was because he had sinned.  So they insisted that he confess and repent so that God would bless him again.

Eliphaz

Eliphaz the Temanite is introduced in the first verse of chapter 2.  He is one of Job’s would-be comforters.  However, all three failed in their attempt to comfort their suffering friend.  Their sympathy shown in verses 12-13 of chapter 2 was replaced by accusations, false theology, and challenging Job’s character.

After Job’s complaints (3), Eliphaz speaks first (4-5) with a thesis of the innocent prospering.  In other words, Job was obviously not prospering because he must have done something wrong.

In response, Job declared his innocence. Then in a second speech Eliphaz asserts that Job does not fear God (15).. If Job feared God, he reasons, he would not face such suffering. Job responds that his friends are “miserable comforters” (16:2).

Eliphaz’s third speech is recorded in chapter 22. This time, he says, “Is not your wickedness great, and your iniquities without end?” (22:5). He enumerates Job’s supposed sins (vs. 6–9). From his perspective, God would only allow great evil to befall someone who had done something very bad. Job replies by asking for God to intervene on his behalf (23).

God intervenes and rebukes Job’s friends: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has” (42:7). These men are required to offer burnt offerings, and Job prays on their behalf. In the end, Job’s fortunes are restored (doubled), and he is blessed with new children in place of those whom the devil had taken.

Eliphaz exemplifies the world’s wisdom to suffering. To him that suffering was the consequence of sin and worthy of punishment by God.  He was wrong. Job’s life is a clear example of how the innocent sometimes suffer. God can allow suffering to strengthen a believer’s spirit and to change the lives of others for His glory.

Bildad

Bildad the Shuhite is first seen as one of three friends who come to comfort Job (2:11). He, Eliphaz and Zophar visit Job after hearing of the calamities that had befallen him. Bildad cannot believe Job’s horrific condition. He mourns silently with him for seven days (2:12-13).

Bildad is the second of Job’s friends to speak. In chapter 8, he suggests that Job’s children got what they deserved (v. 3). And of Job he said: “If you would seek and implore the compassion of the Almighty, if you are pure and upright, Surely now He would rouse himself for you and restore your righteous place” (8:5-6). The implication is that Job is not pure and upright and that material prosperity is directly linked to righteous behavior. Job responds in chapter 9, desiring to plead his case before God and lamenting the fact that there is no one to intervene for him.

Bildad’s second speech focuses on the theme that God punishes the wicked (18). His logic is that Job must have done something wrong since he is being punished.   In chapter 19 Job responds by saying: “How long will you torment me and crush me with words?” (v. 2). He also asks for his friends’ pity (v. 21) and declares that his God is alive and knows all things. God would be the one to judge him fairly, and Job trusts in Him (vs. 25–27).

Bildad‘s third speech focuses on the idea that a person cannot be righteous before God (25).  He says, “How then can man be just with God?  Or how can he be clean who is born of woman?” (v. 4)   Job answers in chapter 26, sarcastically arguing that God alone knows all things and fully understands the situation.

As noted above (42:7), Bildad and his two friends are rebuked by the Lord.  Job’s three friends then obey the Lord’s command to offer burnt offerings (42:8-9), “and the Lord accepted them.”

Job’s friends’ speeches exemplify how people often view suffering from a human perspective, assuming that suffering is always the result of personal sin.  In the end, these friends learn that God had allowed Job to suffer as part of His divine plan and that Job was not at fault for his trials.

Zophar

Zophar the Naamathite is first mentioned as the third friend who came to comfort Job (2:11).  The verses following show their response to his distress:  “When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept.  And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky.  Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great” (vs. 12-13).

Zophar’s speech begins in chapter 11. Giving the strongest of the three initial speeches, he stated, “Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves” (v. 6). Job responds in chapter 12 that the Lord brought this suffering upon him, and in chapter 13 maintains his innocence: “…I know I will be vindicated” (v. 18).

Zophar’s second speech states, “The increase of his house will depart; his possessions will flow away in the day of His anger.  This is the wicked man’s portion from God, even the heritage decreed to him by God” (20:28-29).  In chapter 21, Job says of the wicked:  “They spend their days in prosperity, and suddenly they go down to Sheol” (v. 13).  Job was suffering and yet had done no wrong, while others who did evil lived “…safe from fear, and the rod of God is not on them” (v. 9).  This was why Zophar’s assessment of Job’s condition was in error.

Following Job’s long defense after Bildad’s third speech, a fourth man, Elihu, speaks up.  His two concerns are expressed thus:  “But the anger of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram burned against Job; his anger burned because he justified himself before God.  And his anger burned against his three friends because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job” (32:2-3).

In the end, God rebuked all three.  “My anger burns against you…for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (42:7).  Yet all three repented and offered sacrifices to God (42:9).

Zophar and his friends exemplify how suffering is often viewed from a human perspective.  While it is true that those who do wrong often suffer, God also allows suffering for reasons often unknown to us.  Instead of assuming all suffering is due to our wrongdoing, we should joyfully endure trials, pray in faith for wisdom, and consider God’s compassion (Ja. 1:2-8; 5:11).

Job erred in professing his righteousness (42:1-6), yet his trials and suffering were not caused by his behavior.  God used them as a lesson on His sovereignty in the end, blessing Job with twice as much as he had before (42:10).

What can we learn from the errors of Job’s friends?  We should not assume that troubles are due to personal sin (cf. John 9:1-3).  Instead of telling a hurting person to confess wrong and repent (especially when we do not know why they are hurting), we can encourage them to faithfully endure.  God always knows their pain and He has a purpose in allowing it.

What good might we learn from Job’s friends?  When a friend is hurting, go to them and cry with them, spending time together.  Our presence is powerful, even if we don’t know the words to say.

People do not need our surmising as much as they need our sympathy.  The apostle Paul wrote:  “Mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15).  Let us do our best not to be “miserable comforters.”

Roger and his wife Alisa live in Valdosta, GA.  He graduated from Lipscomb University in 1988 and the Nashville School of Preaching in 1992.  He preaches for the Adel Church of Christ in Adel, GA.

 

 

 

Adding Godliness To Steadfastness — Roger L. Leonard

The second epistle of the apostle Peter was written to strengthen God’s saints in view of two challenges: persecution and false teachers. Dunn stated that the theme of 2 Peter is “Spiritual growth, as seen in each chapter: Chapter 1 – The Ingredients of spiritual growth (vs. 5-11). Chapter 2 – Opponents of spiritual growth – false doctrine, false attitudes, false promises, and false living. Chapter 3 – Motivation for spiritual growth – the coming of Christ.” (605)

Peter begins his letter by saying of God that “His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (1:3).  Notice how “godliness” is seen up front as a critical aspect of the believer’s life.  The ultimate goal of the letter is for the child of God to take on the “divine nature” (1:4) and “abundantly enter the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (1:11).

Beginning with verse 5, Peter wrote, “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue (moral excellence, NASB), to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.  For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pe. 1:5-8, NKJV).

Lenski states:  “In v. 8 ‘barren and unfruitful’ imply that Peter thinks of the seven as fruits of faith.”  With regard to adding these fruits together, Lenski further states that “all of them are to be traced to faith.” (266)  It should be further noted that these “fruits” are accomplished in an order, and that one cannot move forward without having added the previous steps.

The Meaning of Godliness

So we come to our assigned word in this growth process: “godliness” (v. 6).  It comes from the Greek word Eusebia, which can have several meanings depending on use and context.  In a broad, secular sense, Bauer says it means “piety, reverence, loyalty [exhibited towards parents or deities],” and in a stricter, biblical sense, “fear of God…and in the LXX [Greek translation of the Old Testament] only of awesome respect accorded to God, devoutness, piety, godliness (412).

First, consider the word eusebia as “godly.”  It is found in the New Testament as an adverb two times.  The first is in Paul’s warning to Timothy:  “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Ti. 3:12).  The second is in Paul’s letter to Titus, where he wrote that God’s grace teaches us that “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Ti. 2:12).  Note how both passages are in reference as to how to “live godly.”  Peter uses it again as a noun to refer to “the godly” (2 Pe. 2:9).

Second, eusebia is found in the Greek New Testament as “godliness” in its various forms some fifteen times, four of which are in 2 Peter (1:3, 6, 7; 3:11).  We will examine some of these later in this article.

Wayne Jackson states that godliness “does not mean God-likeness,” as we often often say, but “God-towardness” (unpublished).  It is then that quality of life which honors, respects, reveres, worships, and obeys God.

The Location of Godliness in the Christian’s Growth

It is critical again to notice that in this growth process, before one can possess the qualities of “brotherly kindness” and “love” (agapeo) which follow “godliness” in Peter’s list, they must first possess godliness.  Duane Warden wrote concerning our text:  “Persevering in faith, the Christian pursues the goal of godliness.  The word is oriented more toward disposition than it is toward action.  It signifies a presence of mind where God is always near.  It is a pious frame of mind that draws Him into every realm of life.” (333)

Consider the order of spiritual progress in the words of the Lord Jesus:  “…‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it.  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets” (Mt. 22:37-40, NASB).

Before one can love others, they must first love God with all their being.  At this point one attains godliness as a fruit in their life.

The Practice of Godliness

Considering other references for eusebia, note the following:

  1. It is a quality of life for which to pray (1 Ti. 2:2).
  2. It is the opposite of giving heed to fables (1 Ti. 2:10).
  3. In contrast with “bodily discipline,” godliness “is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Ti. 4:8, NASB).
  4. In contrast with “men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain,” Paul says “godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment” (1 Ti. 6:5, NASB).
  5. Pursuing godliness can prevent one from stumbling (2 Pe. 1:11) and departing from the faith (1 Ti. 6:10-11).

     

Now for application.  We may often refer to someone as “godly.”  What is it about that person that makes us say that?  They are humble.  They are kind.  They are generous and sacrificial.  They know the Bible and repeat its teaching.  They respect both God and their fellow man.  They care for the lost.  They edify the saved.  They are reverent in worship and are sober-minded.  They are prayerful in all matters.  They do not compromise their character.  They walk and talk as a person who knows the Lord Jesus and God the Father.  It is obvious that they live to make their “calling and election sure” (2 Pe. 1:10).

rt.leonard@yahoo.com

Roger and his wife Alisa live in Valdosta, GA.  He graduated from Lipscomb University in 1988 and the Nashville School of Preaching in 1992.  He preaches for the Adel Church of Christ in Adel, GA.

Sources

Dunn, Frank J. 1996.  Know Your Bible. Houston: Firm Foundation Publishing House.

Lenski, R.C.H. 1966.  The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude. Augsburg Publishing House.

Bauer, Walter, et al. 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. University of Chicago: Chicago, IL.

Jackson, Wayne. Unpublished audio recording.

Warden, Duane. 2009. Truth For Today Commentary—1 & 2 Peter and Jude. Resource Publications: Searcy, AR.