Gospel Living with One Another
Author: Richard Matthews & Hong Ke
In heavy-hearted reflection about painful conflicts that ACCCN has endured in recent times, the English Sunday school took on a series on “Gospel Living with One Another” to try to learn how to live out the Gospel message when conflicts arise. We didn’t focus only on our church; we looked at experiences that everybody has. We thought it would be beneficial to share some of the things we learned.
Human beings will always have conflicts, but why are they so quick to escalate and so difficult to settle, even for Christians? We came to realize that there is a chasm between what we know about Gospel living in our heads and how we live out that message. How can we reduce that damaging gap?
It doesn’t take much for a conflict to start — sometimes as little as a simple difference of opinion or a rude or insensitive word.
The character traits we should have as Christians are humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, compassion, kindness and commitment. The opposites are pride, harshness, impatience, intolerance, hard-heartedness, and unkindness.
If we can look at ourselves honestly, we may be saddened to have to admit that we possess— and inevitably practice —more of the opposite traits, the ones that do most to cause escalation of minor clashes into major battles.
Very quickly we find ourselves not dealing with the conflicts themselves, but getting entangled in hurt, anger, and sadness; when that happens, the original issues may become irrelevant or even forgotten. A perfectly good, practical resolution, fair to both sides, won’t be accepted. At that point, it’s all about the emotions, each party focusing on the pain the other “caused.”
Out-of-control conflicts produce broken relationships. Other things get broken, too – marriages, friendships, businesses, teams, churches, you name it. One of the sources we used for the series added this:“Churches and Christians are not immune from conflicts. Pastors are fired or forced to resign, people leave church individually or in groups or even leave the faith. Every single time, the reputation of Christ is at stake.”Does that sound familiar?
In conflicts we often focus entirely on ourselves; that’s not what the Bible tells us to do. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4) We also insist on our “rights” as the price for resolving a dispute. But Paul, speaking of differences over clean and unclean food, warned directly against that: “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Corinthians 8:9) Or, to put it another way, many times we need to “forgo the right to be right.” After all, which is more important — to convince an enemy that you are correct or to convince a friend that you care?
We can’t prevent all conflicts, but think how good it would be to at least stifle them BEFORE they escalate. Some of us can never let a perceived slight or criticism from a stranger, friend, or spouse go unavenged. Emotions rise with each exchange; neither is willing to let the other “win.” This is clearly not biblical behavior: “Repay no one evil for evil…. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:17-18) After one of these artillery exchanges ends, ask the warriors who the winner was. If they are honest, they will admit, “we both lost!” The best way to break the chain is to compete instead to see who can be first NOT to strike back (Jesus: “turn the other cheek”), thus stealing the malicious momentum from the battle. As Paul concludes, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)
Have any of us judged anybody critically lately? Why are we even doing that? Are we following Jesus’ instructions? Hardly. In Luke 6:37, He plainly says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. His brother James agreed: “But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12)
This doesn’t mean we can’t have opinions about others, their ideas, or their actions. The Bible gives specific instructions for assessing the qualities of people – when choosing deacons and other church leaders, for example. But in situations that involve conflict, or may lead to it, we tend to judge not people’s actions but somehow their worth – as friends, coworkers, clients, or even Christians.
In researching for the series, we learned about “positive judging” and “negative judging.” The first means to evaluate others’ words and actions carefully to discriminate between truth and errors, right and wrong. But we must keep an open mind when we do that, and should do so only for the purpose of helping everyone become better and more Christ-like.
Negative judging comes particularly in four forms:
- Thinking negatively of the qualities of others. We latch on to a habit of selective data gathering that “builds a case” to support our disapproval.
- Thinking the worst of people’s words and actions, producing incorrect judgment
- Assuming the worst about others’ motives. Maybe a person says something we don’t like, but it comes for the purest of reasons, but we leap to assume it is grounded in selfishness, greed, pride, stubbornness, etc.
- Speculating about aspects of an event that are not known, leading to exaggeration or inflation of existing facts (or even invention of unknown ones) in ways that produce unfair prejudgment
When we do these things, we dishonor God, hurt other people, and weaken the ability of His church to do His work and spread His word.
When we judge, we should judge charitably. Think about the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”We want people to interpret our motives, actions and words in the best possible way; shouldn’t we do the same for others? We can’t look into others’ hearts and judge their motives. God is the only one who can do that, and to believe we have that same ability and try to act in his place is to sin.
Well-known author Ken Sande said, “Christians are the most forgiven people in the world. Therefore, we should be the most forgiving people in the world. And yet, to us humans, even Christian humans, forgiveness seems like an unnatural act.”
Forgiveness costs us something — maybe our “rights,” or some benefit that we think we should receive, even the “opportunity” to get even.
Forgiveness is not the same as trust; the latter can take time. But is refusing to trust someone after trust has been earned an example of Christian love? Jesus said we should love everyone, even our enemies. If we do that, surely we will lovingly interpret what that someone does and says, rather than seeking ulterior motives or imagining lurking evil.
Rebuilding trust may take a while, but we must always trust God. If we reject a person because he has sinned, doesn’t that mean we don’t believe God can change him? If we reject any person because he has sinned, doesn’t that mean we have to reject ourselves?
Forgiveness is an act of will power.“(If your brother) sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:4) Remember what the disciples said in response to this, realizing how hard it would be to live up to that command?“Increase our faith!” Do we have enough faith to forgive?
Breaking the cycle of ungrace means taking the initiative, instead of insisting it’s the other guy’s obligation. Yes, that’s hard. And forgiveness is not a magic trick; it doesn’t resolve all the issues that led to a conflict or decide matters of blame and fairness (many times it has to avoid such decisions), but it causes the parties to put down their weapons and start over, hopefully with a new approach to relationships.
Lewis Smedes made a critical point about this process: “The first and often the only person to be healed by forgiveness is the person who does the forgiveness…. When we genuinely forgive, we set a prisoner free and then discover that the prisoner we set free was us.”
Maybe a lot of us agree with most of these thoughts but don’t think we can apply them. The most important thing to say about that is a simple biblical truth: For a Christian, forgiving is NOT OPTIONAL.
We all know the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35): A king forgave the debt of a servant who owed him 10,000 talents, but then the servant violently demanded payment from another servant who owed him 100 denarii. When the king found out, he said, “You wicked servant!… should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.” What did Jesus say about this in verse 35? “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
In Colossians 3:13, Paul advises living in kindness and patience, “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Maybe the most direct and powerful reminder comes with the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). It asks several things of the Father, and a key one is this: “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”After the prayer ends, Jesus’ next remark is a stark and frightening warning: “If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
All of this advice is easy to say or write. After the classes, most of us were challenged to think honestly about whether it was easy for any of us to do. Maybe this discussion will prompt many to ask the same question and to examine our hearts. After all, what good is it for someone to profess to be a Christian but to find it inconvenient to live out its principles?
It is Oct. 18 as we are finishing up this article, and this morning we read the devotion for that day in Oswald Chambers’ famous book，“My Utmost for His Highest.” Here is his reminder about the absolute necessity to DO what we believe in rather than just saying all the right things: “The true test of my love for Jesus is a very practical one, and all the rest is sentimental talk.”
Can we take to heart the “practical” steps outlined here — especially since most also happen to be biblical commands? When someone offends us, we must always remember — and act upon — one essential truth: that our heavenly Father dearly loves that person, whom Christ also died to redeem.
Author: Richard Matthews & Hong Ke