Saturday, April 20, 2013

Conflict Resolution

One need not be a rocket scientist to see that this world is deteriorating. Not merely the material order, but society as well degenerates. Forget for a moment the so-called “pagan” nations. America – that which has been called a “Christian” nation – has become anything but Christian. As one contemplates current events, it is not hard to imagine what it was like for Lot living in Sodom and Gomorrah. 2 Peter 2:8 says, “for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds.” I understand, Lot … I understand.

It is not surprising that the moral values of our nation are in decline. As a people, we no longer give God anything more than a cursory lip service. And if in fact the heart of a people is evil, then it is no surprise that “evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).

Such is the state of our union today that people can no longer even communicate. We have technology that enables communication greater than at any time in human history. We've come a long way from smoke signals and the telegraph, from postcards and letters. Now we have cell phones, satellite phones, VoIP, email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Facetime … and the list goes on.

But for all of our communication capabilities, we have actually lost communication ability. Two people are brought forward during a television news segment to represent opposing political views. Both claim to have the facts, and both claim to be in the right. The problem is, logic dictates that for both of them to be right and hold contradictory views is impossible. The easy solution would be for someone to step forward and check their facts to find out who's right and who's wrong. But such a simple thing is no longer simple … a platform of absolute truth is never reached … and both sides resort to name-calling and belittlement.

Unfortunately, this communication breakdown has invaded the church. “One body and one Spirit” (Ephesians 4:4) has degenerated into parties and cliques. As the apostle noted in Corinth, “when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you” (1 Corinthians 11:18). Brother Paul, such divisions still exist. Friend group opposes friend group. Family opposes family. Communication comes in only two forms: 1) thinly-veiled hypocrisy, as everyone pretends to get along, or 2) outright hostility. I have yet to see an earthly congregation in which everyone is “of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Philippians 2:2).

So if we truly desire to be “Christian,” then how should we resolve these conflicts?

First, there are certain things we must NOT do. We cannot give into the flesh and let our base instincts rule. Too many people speak without listening. Too many speak in anger. Too many gossip and slander, considering themselves experts on things of which they have no first-hand knowledge. Too many follow party lines rather than thinking for themselves. Too many are talking behind backs rather than communicating face to face. Too many are whispering in corners rather than bringing their conversations into the middle of the room. Such people are like roaches and rats – bold in the darkness, but scurrying for the holes when the light hits them.

But this is the world in which we live. Cowards become bold behind the anonymity of a computer screen, yet those bold enough to speak face to face cannot disagree or debate without red faces and angry words. Satan has been victorious, because “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).

The Scriptures offers a better pattern for those willing to listen and learn. First, let's consider a conflict presented for our edification. Galatians 2:11-14 says, “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. [12] For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. [13] The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. [14] But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?””
There are three points in particular which jump out of that text regarding conflict resolution. First, this problem was dealt with face to face (v. 11). Second, this wasn't about personal opinion, but about “the truth of the gospel” (v. 14). And third, when the situation did not appropriately resolve itself from a private meeting, it was then dealt with “in the presence of all” (v. 14).

Some might suggest that what Peter (Cephas) did was none of Paul's business, but Peter's behavior was affecting the Christianity of others. His attitude became a stumbling block for the body. Absolutely it was Paul's business. It would have been my business … or your business. “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).

But the right way to deal with such a problem is one which follows the biblical pattern established. In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus says, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. [16] But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. [17] If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

Step #1: Identify the sin. If real sin has occurred, then you will be able to provide chapter and verse for the transgression. If you cannot provide a biblical foundation for what you believe is a fault, then it is probable that you are allowing your own personal feelings to interfere.

Step #2: If you believe sin exists, go to your brother personally and privately. This is not a matter to be shared with others. Nor is it right to simply shove a note in their pocket anonymously. Do you care about the body of Christ or not? The primary goal in conflict resolution is repentance and restoration. Whispering behind someone's back does not suggest credibility, and anonymity only displays cowardice. The only way a person will potentially see sinfulness within themselves is against a backdrop of righteousness.

Step #3: If your brother continues in sin and will not listen, confirm the sin. This is the step that is most often abused. Too often in confronting Joe Sinner, a few people are taken along as “moral support” or as “backup.” Perhaps others are brought in because they share your opinion of the other person. If there's anything worse than being confronted by one person with his chest puffed out and nose in the air, it's two or three more just like him. The verse stated explicitly though why others were involved. They were “witnesses,” so that “every FACT may be confirmed.” Therefore, I don't care what you think you know. Don't come to the table unless you have facts. Someone saw me do something thirty years ago? Really? You “think” I've committed such and such a sin because so and so informed you? Was so and so even a reliable and credible witness? Maybe you and your little gang don't know as much as you think you know. If you are going to truly resolve a conflict in a holy and righteous manner, then it must be based upon FACT. Confirm the sin!

Step #4: Eventually if a sin becomes blatant enough, it will begin to affect others. Trying to keep it behind closed doors will do nothing to protect body members who may be exposed to such sinfulness. As the doctor will tell you if you have cancer cells isolated in one part of your body, cut it out to protect the rest of the body! In the case of willful and blatant sin, the wrong thing is to ignore it. The whole church needs to know eventually … not to expose the shame of the sinner, but to protect those who have not yet succumbed to such temptation. And if the sinner will not repent even after being exposed to the congregation, then reject them even as they have rejected Christ. The modern church falsely speaks of unconditional love. The Bible though speaks of loving discipline, by which real repentance and restoration is brought about.

It is easy to see that in today's world, people don't really want to resolve their conflicts. What is held aloft as idealism is often nothing more than personal favoritism. People believe what they want to believe – regardless of the facts – and all the debate in the world will not change their minds. Such a mindset is not of God. The Spirit of the Lord works to unite, not divide. God “is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

We therefore have a responsibility. “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism” (James 2:1). “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; [4] do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

This isn't about you, it's about Christ. This isn't about your feelings, but about God's word. As the Lord prayed to His Father, so I pray, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.