So, here’s the story. It was raining and dreary last Wednesday night. I was speaking at our church for the mid-week service and Doris was playing the piano. Just like old times. She said, “Why don’t we ride together. I have to stay after for music practice so I will get a ride home.” (We live 5 minutes from our church.) I said, “No, I don’t want you to find a ride home. I’ll come back for you.” (See note above about 5 minutes.) She said, “No, I don’t want you to have to come back.” Isn’t that sweet? I am interested in her well-being. She is interested in mine.
But here’s where it gets complicated. She SAID, “No, I don’t want you to have to come back?” I HEARD, “so I will drive separately.” I SAID, “Okay.” She HEARD, “I will be waiting for you in the car.” I opened the garage. (It was now pouring rain.) She said, “I’m going back for my raincoat.” I got in the Jeep. She came outside. I smiled and waved and drove off, leaving her standing there. (See note above about pouring rain.) In the words of that famous theologian, the Captain in Cool Hand Luke, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” Doris came into the church a few minutes later, dripping rain water and puffing steam.
Jesus implied we would encounter conflict. Mark even describes an example of conflict among the disciples in Mark 10. James and John get Jesus aside and ask Him for a big favor. “When you get to your Kingdom can we be big shots with you? Can we sit one on the left and one on the right?” That’s pretty nervy of them. “Hey, Jesus. We want to be your favorites in Heaven.” But the real conflict arises because the rest of the disciples overhear them. They are irate. “Can you believe those guys? How dare they ask Jesus such a thing?” Probably behind that righteous indignation was the regret that they didn’t think of it first. Conflict. Steam. And Jesus quickly takes them in a whole new direction by saying, “Hey, even I did not come to be served but to be a servant, and to sacrifice my very life for others.” (Mark 10:35ff) That will quiet the crowd. “You think you’re being treated unfair. Look at the cross.”
There are two things that Jesus says about conflict that can help us when we are left standing out in the rain and somebody has done us wrong. In Matthew 5:23-26 He says this, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar, and go and be reconciled to your brother, then come back and offer your gift.” He says in verse 25, “Settle matters quickly.” In Matthew 18: 20 He says the same thing in a different way, “If your brother sins against you go and show him his fault, just between the two of you.” My sister would read these two passages and say, “See, it’s always the BROTHER that is messing up.” Jesus goes on to say, “If he won’t listen, take one or two others with you and try again.”
Listen, there is going to be conflict. At work, in the church, among friends, even in your marriage. In fact. I would say conflict is not a bad thing. Some of our best ideas have come as a result of trying to reconcile conflict. The German philosopher Hegel called it, “Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis.” The French guy, George Gurdjieff called it, “Affirmation, Denial, Reconciliation.” They were both saying that when there is conflict there is always the possibility that a good solution will come out of it that probably wouldn’t have been thought of without the conflict. That’s what Jesus is doing when the disciples are squabbling over who sits where in Heaven. He uses that as a place to teach a powerful lesson on sacrifice, submission, and servanthood.
So, as Christ followers, how do we handle conflict? Jesus says four things:
- Do it quickly- While good can come out of conflict, it is also the breeding ground for hurt, anger, and rejection. Don’t put this thing off. Go and make it right.
- Do it face to face- Not Facebook to Facebook, not in a terse text, probably not even in an email. There is something about looking your brother, OR SISTER, in the eye and saying, “I love you enough that I want to make this right between us.”
- One on one- The smaller the circle, the less repair we have to do. As soon as I stand up in church and make this a “prayer request” I have increased the hurt and broadened the distance between me and the other person.
- Finally, if it doesn’t work, get help- Take somebody else. Get a mediator. Ask a friend to intercede. But, here’s the thing. Keep going back. Don’t give up. We really do need each other. Too often in the church, or in our homes, we throw-in-the-towel too quickly and say, “It’s too hard. I’m quitting and going somewhere else.” No. The body of Christ, your family, the whole community is made less when we fail to reconcile conflict. Think how much better our country could be right now if we could get Republicans and Democrats, blacks and whites, Tennessee fans and Florida fans to sit down and say, “There is a better way. Let’s keep working until we find it.”
Well, I don’t know where this finds you today, but in our little study of the Words of Jesus, it seems important to me that Jesus took the time to address how we handle conflict. Maybe you have a relationship that has gone south and you have been putting off that hard conversation. Pick up the phone today. Take over a pie. Meet for lunch. And reconcile. We will all be better off if you do. As for Doris and me, I’m going to buy her a better raincoat.
Have a blessed day.
Two notes: As usual, I won’t write on the weekends. I get to sleep in a little. Second thing, this is actually the topic that I spoke about in Wednesday night. (I know…crazy isn’t it?) I will include a link to the podcast right here and you are welcome to listen. It’s about 30 minutes on the FWC website. http://familywc.com/sermons/with-friends-like-this-who-needs-jesus/
Remember Simply Free, October 20-21!