One of the most common experiences in life, in every culture, throughout history, and in every relationship, is conflict.
We all hate it, but it is as common to us as leaves are to trees. Something to do with the season known as The Fall–you know, that time when all the leaves turn yellow, then orange, and brown, and finally they shrivel and fall to the ground to compost the soil for later generations.
Our recent family devotion time raised this topic, while reading through Claiming Christ. As the book notes, many claim to be Christian, but if a believer applies the words of God in shedding light on divergent behavior in another, conflict is guaranteed. If only everyone always agreed with us, we could live in perfect harmony–the problem is in deciding which of us all the others should agree with.
The Bible instructs those who claim faith in Jesus, when they see a fellow Christian possibly caught up in sin, to eventually confront them through a series of escalating approaches. It really doesn’t matter how gentle, patient, or otherwise compassionate the method may be; suggesting to another that choices they prefer may not be right before God will most often drain the sap that sustains the leaves in the relationship.
As Proverbs reveal, the wounds of a friend are to be trusted far more than the kisses of an enemy. And yet, our natural inclination is to kiss those who kiss us, without any consideration as to whether or not the person is speaking truth into our life or just pandering to what we want to hear. You can always find someone to say whatever you want to hear, even within the Church, but that is no assurance that your choices are right before God.
To this end, New Testament Scripture declares that conflicts have to happen, in order to show who has the approval of God. In other words, conflict moments are chances to shine or shrivel in the forests of heaven. Those who are being confronted are being tested by God to see if they will respond to the critique as instructed within Scripture. Those who are doing the confrontation are equally being tested to see if they will do so in a manner and with the heart reflective of Christ, rather than per their own personality or feelings. Of course, when we find ourselves on the other end of a rebuke, we are equally being tested, but the emphasis at the moment is on the circumstance of being the one expected to “go to your brother”.
There are many guidelines presented in Scripture, for dealing with conflict, but two are worth highlighting (in order to generate photosynthesis) for those with green leaves. The first is found in Mt 18; the other is found in 1 Tim 5.
Mt 18 contains instructions, worded by Jesus, on the escalating manner he expects for believers in approaching fellow Christians with whom we either have a disagreement or with whom we are attempting to reveal some apparent sin in their life. They are presented as a general guideline, from which we need to adjust to our particular circumstances as noted more specifically in other related passages of Scripture. So, for example, conflict between a church member and an elder, regarding something related to the conducting of that elder’s service in ministry, is a more specific situation, for which 1 Tim 5 presents instructions that supersede the more general guidelines presented in Mt 18.
The difficult truth, is that if we obey God’s words, then approaching others with issues that the other party refuses to respond to in a biblical manner, results in the Lord’s command to separate the relationship.
In a Christian culture that finds it popular to promote the idea that “it’s all about relationships”, that command seems unthinkable. But each of us is being tested. It is not just in our willingness to help others see their faults before God, nor in our gracious methods, but ultimately in our follow through in cutting off all relational connection with those who refuse to bow to God’s word, while still claiming to be Christian, that our own standing before God remains under review.
As our Lord told “those who believed in him”, “if you hold to my teachings, then you are really my disciples”. He continues to state that it is upon that basis of faithful application of doing all that he says, rather than just the pieces we like, that he says “then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” And in another place he announces, “if you love me, then you will do what I command.”
The sad reality is that most are desperately trying to avoid the painful circumstances of conflict with each other, without realizing that by so doing, they are causing conflict between themselves and God. Not a good move.
Perhaps this is why Jesus confronted the now popular Christmas theme of “peace on earth”, by saying “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He proceeds to describe how he fully intends to cause conflict between people and their most intimate relationships, such that our enemies will become the very members of our own families.
For those willing to humble themselves and submit to his instructions on dealing with conflict, in spite of how painful and distasteful the process or momentary conclusion may be, Jesus promises to give them access to the Tree of Life. In Revelation, he speaks of the leaves from that tree as being for the healing of the nations.
What may appear to contribute to the shriveling leaves from man’s Fall, by confronting sin as the Bible instructs, is promised to result in not only healthy, green leaves on our own tree of life, but leaves that will actually be finally able to heal conflict.
But, only those who apply his difficult remedy now, will be granted access to that incredible privilege of being able to reconcile, heal, bless, fix, and restore others to the Spring season of real life.
How are your leaves looking today? Try exposing them to the light of his word, and watch how they grow and cover your exposed branches in radiant beauty.