This article will be posted in Thursday’s Kernersville News under the Words to Live By Column.
Recently, I’ve been attending a weekly seminar on conflict resolution and mediation or as the Bible would call it, peacemaking. I know you’re thinking, “Why would a pastor need training on that? The church is full of peace-loving congregants and wholesome marriages.” Indeed, study after study show that the church fares no better than the world in scandal, conflict, and divorce. For many this is confirming evidence that Christianity is no different than any other religion and that being a Christian doesn’t work. I know it looks discouraging, but in reality we shouldn’t be surprised. We know full well that the church is full of sinners—the same may be said of most of her pulpits. As I’ve sat through this class there are three things that have jumped out at me which I’d like to share.
Firstly, conflict offers us an opportunity. Relational conflict provides a unique opportunity to demonstrate the power of the gospel and to glorify God. As the offended and injured forgive and as the offender and sinner repents the categorical distinction between those who believe and those who don’t is delineated. In the humility of obedience as we engage with those with whom we have conflict or as we step in to mediate, we exemplify the ministry of Jesus Christ who has given us this ministry of reconciliation and peacemaking. Jesus himself says that peacemakers will be called the sons of God. In making peace, not in avoiding conflict, do we show ourselves to be His children.
Secondly, our ability to forgive is directly proportional to our apprehension of the forgiveness we have received. Jesus himself taught us this when he said to Simon the Pharisee, “He who has been forgiven much loves much”. The conclusion we may draw from this is that unforgiving people do not believe they have been forgiven. And that may be in two ways: either the unforgiving person is proud and self-righteous or the unforgiving person is ashamed and self-contemptuous. In both cases contempt is present. As one pastor has said, “Either it’s I hate thee, or I hate me”. The presence of contempt in any relationship is the most common indicator that the relationship will not last. Surprising enough, we don’t stick it out with people we perceive hate us. However, when a person who has offended sees love and compassion in the face of the person they have offended, a wall of hardness and fear crumbles and a breakthrough happens. Regardless of what situation you face, do you have full-confidence that if you look to Jesus, you will see compassion, love, and forgiveness? Sadly many of us don’t, and many of us profess to be Christian.
Lastly, if we bear the grudge and or allow the bitter root to grow in our hearts, it will destroy us. Ken Sande, in his book The Peacemaker, notes, that “unforgiveness is the poison we drink in hope that others die”. Sadly, too many people are in bondage to the compounded effects of shame, contempt, resentment, and regret. Though the road to reconciliation and restitution may be a long journey, the way out of the maze of despair begins first with looking to and trusting the One who paid our debt – who stood in our place before the judge and bore the condemnation we should have received. In His face, we see mercy and love, and the wealth of that resource is sufficient for every need.