Church Life, Outreach, Missions
Peace and Harmony
by Ed Vasicek
Arguments, disagreements, conflicts...who needs them? Yet they are as much a part of life as the air we breathe. We cannot always be at peace with others. That's why Paul, in Romans 12:18 only urges us to do our part: "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men."
Peace is such a valuable entity that the Jewish people greeted (and still greet) one another with the phrase, "Shalom Elechem" ("peace to you") to which the other responds, "Elechem Shalom ("to you peace").
Jesus did not find it possible to be at peace with all men. His ministry involved telling the truth about who He was--and exposing the false teachers of His day. He probably broke every rule in the book How to Win Friends and Influence People and ended up "despised and rejected of men" (Isaiah 53:3). Sometimes the truth is offensive, even if presented lovingly.
But most times, conflict is unnecessary. It usually occurs when one or more persons do not feel respected. If we go out of our way to communicate our respect for others, that often alleviates many tensions. But, as in the case with Jesus, sometimes truth gets in the way of peace. Sometimes misunderstanding clouds the issue. Sometimes a disagreement brings up baggage in a person's life that is not even connected to the issue at hand. Since there are many varieties of conflict in life, we cannot address them all in the same way. Let's look at a variety of ways to address conflict Biblically.
The first way is Overlooking. God overlooks many of our sins, sins we commit while walking in the light (1 John 1:7). Sometimes people insult us or hurt us unintentionally. We can easily irritate others simply by being ourselves. It is easier to overlook a wrong if we realize the wrong was not done maliciously.
First Peter 4:8 refers to overlooking these small offenses as "covering" sins: "Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins." The Old Testament term for "atonement" literally meant a covering. Yom (day) Kippur (of atonement) is actually the day when sins were covered. The Hebrew name for a skullcap worn by Jewish men in a synagogue is "kippa" (covering). So Peter is telling us that our love for others can sometimes "atone" for their sins in our relationship to them.
The problem is that we cannot always overlook offenses. Indeed, sometimes this is a very individual thing: I can overlook offenses that might give you a grudge, and you can overlook offenses that might give me a grudge.
That leads us to a second way to address conflict biblically--Discussion. Jesus spoke about this in Matthew 5:23-24 where he suggested confronting a brother with whom you are offended. Jesus' words are probably a commentary on Leviticus 19:16-18, "You shall not go about as a slanderer among your people, and you are not to act against the life of your neighbor; I am the LORD. You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may surely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD."
When something is not minor enough to overlook, you need to kindly bring up the issue to the person who has offended you. If not, you will be tempted to slander that person (16), hate that person (17), get even (18) or bear a grudge (18). It takes a little courage to bring up an offense, but it is a way to "love your neighbor as yourself." If you let the offense fester, you do not love that person; instead, you are constructing a wall to isolate yourself from that person.
If discussion fails to correct the problem, it is time to move to the third way to address conflict, Negotiation. This takes great humility of mind, a real Philippians 2:3-4 attitude: "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others."
In negotiation, you must be willing to compromise and meet another part way. You might consider suffering some loss just for the sake of peace and getting along. Nothing stands in the way of negotiation like pride; a humble person really attempts to put himself in the shoes of another.
In Philippians 4:2, Paul urges two women to negotiate their differences: "I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord." If there is one thing I have learned in the ministry, it is how to negotiate! My first reaction is often one of pride, so I too have to force myself to humble myself before I can honestly compromise.
What do you do if you cannot overlook an offense, discussion gets you nowhere, and you have failed at negotiation? The next resort is Mediation, bringing in a solidly Christian and neutral third party to offer direction.
If Mediation fails, it is on to the fifth means of addressing the conflict, Arbitration. In Arbitration, the decision of a board or committee is binding. Both parties agree beforehand to submit to the ruling. Arbitration is a function of church leaders, as Paul implies in 1 Corinthians 6:1-4:
When one of you has a complaint against another, do you take your complaint to a court of sinners? Or do you take it to God's people? Don't you know that God's people will judge the world? And if you are going to judge the world, can't you settle small problems? Don't you know that we will judge angels? And if that is so, we can surely judge everyday matters. Why do you take everyday complaints to judges who are not respected by the church? (CEV)
If an individual will not abide by the arbitrated decision, then it is on to Church Discipline in which the Elders will determine what needs to be done, even to the extreme of excommunication (Matthew 18:17). But such a decision loses its potency if the members of a church do not back the decision of the Elders. Church solidarity is crucial in such situations.
Ephesians 4:3 tells us that we should be willing to work hard to be at peace: "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace."
But because we are willing to work hard at being at peace does not mean it is always possible or reasonable. As Christians, we also need to remember what Peter said, "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). Making a generous effort to be at peace is not the same as "peace at all costs." We must remember, "love rejoices with the truth but not with iniquity." This brings us back to where we began, with Jesus whose teachings were true but detestable to the religious and political establishment. Christ often broke the peace, but He did so only because it was necessary. Yet His general approach was, "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Matthew 5:9).
The main outline for this material is from "The Peacemaker" by Ken Sande, but the rest of the material was supplied by yours truly, Pastor Ed.
Reprinted from the February 2007 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church
516 West Sycamore Street
Kokomo, Indiana, USA