This week we are going to begin a series on Biblical conflict resolution. We are going to take four weeks to look at it before Advent, then we will focus on advent for the next four weeks, and then we will pick this back up after the first of the year. Today we are just going to look at the truth that conflict happens. We should never be surprised by it, fear it, or run from it. It is a matter of fact. If you are a person, you will have conflict in your life. When I originally set out to do this series at the beginning of last year, it was going to be based on a book called “The Peacemaker” by a man named Ken Sande. Since then I have read several other books around the topic of conflict, and forgiveness and reconciliation. I will mention them, just to let you know that I am drawing from all these resources to help us study this topic.
“Unpacking Forgiveness” by Chris Brauns, “When You Bite and Devour One Another” by Alexander Straugh, “From Forgiven to Forgiving”, by Jay Adams, and “Redemption” by Mike Wilkerson.
Each of these books takes the approach of looking at conflict and understanding how do deal with it not based in modern psychology, or practical means, they take a look at what the Bible has to say about conflict, and try to make it understandable and applicable to everyday life. What we are going to be looking at over the next four weeks, and then for several weeks after the new year are how to deal with conflict in a Biblical way. This will be a deeply theological study at times and a very practical study at the same time, because as you study the nature and character of God, and His word, it should play itself out in practical, real life situations.
This message series is a long time in coming, and honestly comes out of some conflict that has happened since I have been at Emmaus, and also that happened before I even arrived at Emmaus. What I mean by that is that since I have been here there has been conflict that I was not prepared for. As I teach this, I want to be totally clear. I am not teaching this, or anything I teach for that matter as though I have done this perfectly. This topic is exactly like any other thing I preach on, I need this material as much as anyone, and I have learned a lot about myself and my mistakes through studying what the Bible has to say about this stuff.
I don’t share this to condemn anyone, or to be down on the church, or any member of it, but this church has seen a lot of conflict in a short period of time. As I understand it this small body of believers has been a church for over 18 years. Going on the word of several people here, this body has split 3 times in that short amount of time. Now, lets take this a little bit farther from home, here are some statistics I found compiled by Dr. David Nobel.
More than 19,000 congregations experience major conflict every year.
25% of the churches in one survey reported conflict in the previous five years that was serious enough to have a lasting impact on congregational life.
Only 2% of church conflict involves doctrinal issues.
98% of church conflict involves interpersonal issues.
Control issues ranked as the most common cause of conflict (85%)
About 40% of church members who leave their churches do so because of conflict.
Very small numbers (16%) of churches report positive outcomes from conflict.
Toll of Conflict on Pastors
The average pastoral career lasts only 14 years – less than half of what it was not long ago.
1,500 pastors leave their assignments every month in the United States because of conflict, burnout or moral failure.
45% of the pastors terminated in one denomination left the ministry altogether.
34% of all pastors presently serve congregations that forced their previous pastor to resign.
(see page 171 of “Winning The Real Battle At Church” for documentation)
Now, the reason I share that is because I have a vision for our congregation. I have a vision for the next year that we would be great at dealing well with conflict. I want us to excel at dealing with conflict. Now the challenge is this. Our track record as a church is not great, and if we do not change how we deal with conflict, learn from our past, we will be doomed to repeat it. I am sure you have all heard the definition of insanity right? “Doing the same things over and over expecting different results.” Well, we need to be mindful of that as we approach this topic. We must be willing to lay down our preconceived notions and instincts of how to deal with conflict and be willing to learn from scripture as to how do deal with conflict in our lives.
Furthermore we all have family members, friends, coworkers, and other people in our lives who we have the potential of having conflict with, so this series goes well beyond just the church context. I could have brought statistics of divorce, and workplace conflict as well. So don’t just think that this is about church conflict.
Today I want to begin our study looking at something that may or may not be a given in your mind but the truth of the matter is that conflict happens. It is part of everyday life, and it is normal. I am going to make a statement that may seem surprising, or strange, but I believe this. “Jesus did not die to set us free from conflict, He died so we could handle it well.” So we are going to look at a few stories from scripture that show conflict as a normal, and sometimes necessary thing. We are looking at conflict from three different angles. There are Disagreements, Offenses and Sins. now,before we look at these stories, know that these aren’t separate things that happen independently of each other. often, they are intertwined and mixed together, but hopefully having these categories can help us untangle our feelings in these areas. Before we look at the first one, I want you to think about your most recent conflict, bring it up in your mind and write it down. As we go along, I want you to think about that conflict in the terms we are going to use, untangling your own conflict as we go.
Disagreement: Acts 15:1-9; 36-41. Here we see two disagreements, and their remedies. When two people see the same thing differently, or have differing views of the same situation, there is not always sin involved. There are lots of different things that Christians disagree on. Baptism, communion, end times, creation, worship styles, paint colors, the list could go on. Now, this may not happen very often anymore, but the thing that differentiates a disagreement from an offense is that a disagreement is not personal. they are usually ideas, practices, preferences, opinions about things. As soon as a disagreement becomes personal, it becomes an offense.
Offense: Matthew 15:10-14. here we see in scripture a presentation of a time when Jesus offended someone. The reason I use this example is because we have in our day and time this strange sense that if we are offended by something someone has said or done, they are automatically in the wrong. If that is true, then here is an example of Jesus committing sin by offending someone. Now, Let me make this simple. A disagreement moves to an offense the second you change your focus from what the person said to why they said it. This is delicate because you can disagree with someone in a great spirit of debate and discourse. Those conversations are all about ideas, and theories, and things that don’t have feelings. As a Christian, you should be able to have conversations with people about baptism, creation, leadership, worship styles, or any number of topics without it being a personal conversation. The danger for us in the culture we live in is that the tendency in politics, and religion is to not only vilify the opposing viewpoint, but to vilify the opponent. So in any political race, the issues typically get framed in such a way that they never stay with issues, they always go to attack. That is the world we live in, and as Christians, I believe we should very carefully guard our hearts from moving to offense too quickly. Especially in disagreements over non-essentials. I will also like to note that if you are offended by someone’s actions, you cannot automatically accuse them of sin, unless you have heard from them why they said or did something. That comes with a conversation. We will get to that later in the series, but for now remember, if you have a disagreement with someone, and in your heart you have judged a person’s motives and are offended, you need to reevaluate your thought process. You may be like the Pharisees. Offended by Jesus. Remember this about being offended: “Just because you are offended, doesn’t mean you have been sinned against.”
Sin: Galatians 2:11-14: So, how do you know if you have been sinned against? Well, we will address that topic in the series, but today, I just want to note that it is going to happen. Here is this story, Paul recounts going and getting in Peter’s face about his sin. He had done something that was counteracting the gospel, and Paul opposed him to his face. He called out His sin, to his face, and in public. Furthermore, he published it in scripture to be read by us almost 2000 years later. There are times when someone’s actions go in direct contradiction to scripture and need to be addressed. Thee are also times when we have a disagreement with someone and have been offended that they have sinned against us, and we have sinned against them.
In the weeks to come we will look at what causes offenses and sinful actions and how we can address them with one another, but for now, know that they do happen. You will disagree with others around you, and you maybe offended by people, and they may sin against you, but just because they disagree, and just because you are offended, don’t assume that there is sin involved, and don’t commit sin yourself by assuming you know their hearts.
take some time now and look at he conflict you wrote down. Think about and write down the details of these three things:
What was the core disagreement about?
What were you offended by?
Do you believe there was sin on their part? What areas of sin did you contribute? (Uncharitable judgment, assuming motives, vilifying an opponent)
Now, rejoice in the truth that the gospel has a lot to say about this. You can take both your own sin, and the sin of the other person and bring it to the cross…