Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Editor's note: While Patrick Lafferty is on vacation, Every Thought Captive is being written by PCPC member Barbara Smith.
The Christians in Corinth were quarreling, creating divisions over matters of religious preference. In his first letter to them, Paul wrote admonishing them that their conflicts compromised their calling (1 Cor. 1:11; Acts 1:8). Christians who quarrel still confuse the world and themselves. Some of our conflicts are worthwhile debates about doctrine, as Pastor Mark Davis reminded us on Sunday. Others are destructive and have lead to division. Too often we quarrel over what we prefer, instead of God’s principles.
Quarrels amongst believers hurt; and they should hurt for they reveal a breach in a relationship established by God for His glory and our good (Gal. 3:26–29; Jn. 13:34–35). The pain can be a useful goad, however, forcing us to reexamine our own hearts (Jas. 4:1–4; Ps. 139:23–24). But too often we speak our minds, or hit the send button, making the best speeches we ever come to regret, paraphrasing Ambrose Bierce. Or, we may stop talking to our opponents, freezing out a fellow believer for whom Christ died. I gather from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that there were too many speeches and scant reconciliation going on (1 Cor. 6:7, 12:3).
How we handle conflict—everyday conflict—shows what we believe about God, Who is our peace.
Conflict happens when [we] are at odds with another person over what [we] think, want, or do. Conflict happens when [we] don’t get what [we] want . . . And it isn’t always bad . . . [They can] come from God-given diversity, [or] simple misunderstandings, . . . [or] are the result of sinful attitudes and desires that lead to sinful words and actions (Ken Sande, Resolving Everyday Conflict, pages 9, 11, 12) . . .
We need to line up our responses with our words if we hope to reconcile conflicts.
- We believe God so loved the world that He gave His only Son to die for our sins; this love also covers the sins of the person who is irritating, exasperating, or confounding us (Jn. 3:16–17).
- We say nothing happens without His permission; this includes any misunderstandings or disagreements with other souls (Jas. 1:2–8, 17).
- We say God has a solution to all our problems, even before we can describe them (Jer. 33:3; Psa. 139:4; Jas. 1:5). What does this mean in the middle of a conflict?
- We know He’s up all night with answers for all our problems (Psa. 121). How does this change our response to a quarrel?
Conflicts with other people—believers or skeptics—can be God-given moments to bring glory to Him and healing to hurting hearts. Yet, I flinch at confronting conflict, having been through a few tough conflicts, including some in the body of Christ. Through them, I have seen how all of us can be both shallow and condescending. We can be a mess—often worse than kids in a crowded sandbox on a hot day. I think that is what Paul saw in Corinth (1 Cor. 1:10–13).
Conflict is inevitable, and often fruitful. Professor John Lederach writes, “Conflict is normal in human relationships, and conflict is the motor of change.” Conflict is part of life—it shouldn’t surprise me (Jn. 16:33). And it need not escalate into fights that confuse or harm. Remembering and practicing a few simple principles might dampen the embers of resentment. I follow Christ—that means He did not die and leave me in charge of His world (Mt. 6:25–34). Because He leads, I can give up the right to control others, and having the last word. Being willing to let go and let God act, listening before I speak or write might fireproof a few of our more combustible relationships.
When Christ taught His disciples, He gave them and us a great promise: "You're blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That's when you discover who you really are, and your place in God's family (Mt. 5:9 from The Message).
How can we be peacemakers in a generation that is like the ancient Corinthians—cosmopolitan, prosperous, and wrestling with unbiblical practices? Pastor Mark suggested using the closing hymn, “For the Gift of God the Spirit,” as pattern for prayer:
If you don't know what you're doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You'll get His help, and won't be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who "worry their prayers" are like wind-whipped waves. Don't think you're going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open (Jas. 1:5–8 from The Message).
Worthwhile resources for your summer reading:
- Peacemaker, by Ken Sande
- The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace, John Paul Lederach
- Oneness Embraced: A Fresh Look at Reconciliation, Through the Eyes of Tony Evans, The Kingdom and Justice.
- For Women: Resolving Everyday Conflict, PCPC, Wednesdays, June 1–29, 10:00 am–11:30 am, Susan White and Barbara Smith, facilitators.