Biblical peacemaking is inherently counter-cultural. No matter what people group or country we come from, none of us is naturally inclined to obey Jesus' commands to love our enemies, confess our wrongs, confront in love, submit to our church, or forgive those who hurt us. Whether we are Chinese, African, Asian, Latin American, European, or North American, our natural instinct in conflict (as illustrated by so many stumbling people in biblical narratives) is usually to do just the opposite of what God calls us to do.
Christians in China face challenges that are unique to their time and place. But regardless of the circumstances, God calls his church to grow in peacemaking. This happens through his relationship with each of us who are his followers. The church, his precious bride, is changed as he transforms each of us.
He transforms us through the gospel, the good news that "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15). God sent his Son to pay the price for our sins through his death and resurrection. When we believe this and put our trust in Jesus, God forgives all our sins. Through the gospel he also enables us to learn how to resist temptation, obey his commands, and live a life that honors him.
This wonderful news can radically change the way we respond to conflict. Through the gospel the Lord enables us to become Christ-like peacemakers. As we stand in awe of his matchless grace in our own lives, we find more joy in glorifying God than in pursuing our own selfish ends. When we realize that God has mercy on those who confess their sins, our defensiveness lifts and we are able to admit our wrongs. As we accept and benefit from the way the gospel lovingly shows us our sin, we are inspired to gently correct and restore others who have done wrong. And as we rejoice in the liberating forgiveness of God, we are empowered to go and forgive others in the same way.
Through the gospel, God provides us with the model and motivation for peacemaking! This model is built on four pillars.
1st Pillar: Glorify God
When the Apostle Paul urged the Corinthians to live "to the glory of God," he was not talking about one hour on Sunday morning. He wanted them to show God honor and bring him praise in their daily lives, especially by the way that they resolved personal conflicts (see 1 Cor. 10:31).
You can glorify God in the midst of conflict by trusting him, obeying him, and imitating him (see Prov. 3:4-6; John 14:15; Eph. 5:1). One of the best ways to keep these purposes uppermost in your mind is to regularly ask yourself this focusing question: "How can I please and honor the Lord in this situation?"
2nd Pillar: Get the log out of your own eye
One of the most challenging principles of peacemaking is set forth in Matthew 7:5, where Jesus says, "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
There are generally two kinds of "logs" you need to look for when dealing with conflict. First, ask yourself whether you have had a critical, negative, or overly sensitive attitude that has led to unnecessary conflict. One of the best ways to do this is to spend some time meditating on Philippians 4:2-9, which describes the Christ-like attitudes Christians should have even when they are involved in a conflict.
The second kind of log you must deal with is your actual sinful words and actions. Because you are often blind to your own sins, you may need an honest friend or advisor who will help you to take an objective look at yourself and face your contribution to a conflict.
When you identify ways that you have wronged another person, it is important to admit your wrongs honestly and thoroughly. One way to do this is to use the Seven A's of Confession.
- Address everyone involved (all those whom you affected)
- Avoid if, but, and maybe (do not try to excuse your wrongs)
- Admit specifically (both attitudes and actions)
- Acknowledge the hurt (express sorrow for hurting someone)
- Accept the consequences (such as making restitution)
- Alter your behavior (change your attitudes and actions)
- Ask for forgiveness
The most important aspect of getting the "log out of your own eye" is to go beyond the confession of wrong behavior and face up to the root cause of that behavior. The Bible teaches that conflict comes from the desires that battle in your heart (James 4:1-3; Matt. 15:18-19). Some of these desires are obviously sinful, such as wanting to conceal the truth, bend others to your will, or have revenge. In many situations, however, conflict is fueled by good desires that you have elevated to where they are now sinful demands, such as a craving to be understood, loved, respected, or vindicated.
Any time you become excessively preoccupied with something, even a good thing, and seek to find happiness, security or fulfillment in it rather than in God, you are guilty of idolatry. Idolatry inevitably leads to conflict with God ("You shall have no other gods before me"). It also causes conflict with other people. As James writes, when we want something but don't get it, we kill and covet, quarrel and fight (James 4:1-4).
There are three basic steps you can take to overcome the idolatry that fuels conflict. First, ask God to help you see where your have been guilty of wrong worshipthat is, where you are focusing your love, attention, and energy on something other than God. Second, specifically identify and renounce each of the desires contributing to the conflict. Third, deliberately pursue right worship, that is, fix your heart and mind on God and seek joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction in him alone.
As God guides and empowers these efforts, you can find freedom from the idols that fuel conflict and be motivated to make choices that will please and honor Christ. This change in heart will usually speed a resolution to a present problem, and at the same time improve your ability to avoid similar conflicts in the future.
3rd Pillar: Gently Restore
Another key principle of peacemaking involves an effort to help others understand how they have contributed to a conflict. When Christians think about talking to someone else about a conflict, one of the first verses that comes to mind is Matthew 18:15: "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you." If this verse is read in isolation, it seems to teach that we must always use direct confrontation to force others to admit they have sinned. If the verse is read in context, however, we see that Jesus had something much more flexible and beneficial in mind than simply standing toe to toe with others and describing their sins.
Just before this passage, we find Jesus' wonderful metaphor of a loving shepherd who goes out looking for a wandering sheep and then rejoices when it is found (Matt. 18:1214). Thus, Matthew 18:15 is preceded by and introduced with a theme of restoration, not condemnation. Jesus repeats this theme just after telling us to "go and show him his fault." He adds, "If he listens to you, you have won your brother over." And then he hits the restoration theme a third time in verses 2135, where he uses the parable of the unmerciful servant to remind us to be as merciful and forgiving to others as God is to us (Matt. 18:2135).
Jesus is clearly calling for something much more loving and redemptive than simply confronting others with a list of their wrongs. Similarly, Galatians 6:1 gives us solid counsel on what our attitude and purpose ought to be when we go to our brother. "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently." Our attitude should be one of gentleness rather than anger, and our purpose should be to restore rather than condemn.
If repeated, careful attempts at a private discussion are not fruitful, and if the matter is still too serious to overlook, you should ask one or two other people to meet with you and your opponent and help you to resolve your differences through mediation, arbitration, or accountability (see Matt. 18:16-20; 1 Cor. 6:1-8).
4th Pillar: Go and be reconciled
One of the most unique features of biblical peacemaking is the pursuit of genuine forgiveness and reconciliation. Even though Christians have experienced the greatest forgiveness in the world, we often fail to show that rich forgiveness to others. We cover up our disobedience, using shallow statements like, "I forgive herI just don't want to have anything to do with her again." Just think, however, how you would feel if God said to you, "I forgive you, I just don't want to have anything to do with you again"?
Praise God that he never says this! Instead, he forgives you totally and opens the way for genuine reconciliation. He calls you to forgive others in exactly the same way: "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Col. 3:12-14; see also 1 Cor. 13:5; Psalm 103:12; Isa. 43:25). One way to imitate God's forgiveness is to make the Four Promises of Forgiveness when you forgive someone:
- "I will not dwell on this incident."
- "I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you."
- "I will not talk to others about this incident."
- "I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship."
Remember that forgiveness is a spiritual process that you cannot fully accomplish on your own. Therefore, continually ask God for grace to enable you to imitate his wonderful forgiveness toward you.
Even when you resolve personal offenses through confession and forgiveness, you may still need to deal with substantive issues, which may involve money, property, or the exercise of certain rights. These issues should not be swept under the carpet or automatically passed to a higher authority. Instead, they can be negotiated in a biblically faithful manner.
As the Apostle Paul put it, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Phil. 2:3-4; see Matt. 22:39; 1 Cor. 13:5; Matt. 7:12).
Focus on What Christ Has Done for You
A Christian should never close the Bible. When you try to resolve a conflict but do not see the results you desire, you should seek God even more earnestly through prayer, the study of his Word, and the counsel of his church. As you do this, it is essential to keep your focus on Christ and all that he has already done for you (see Col. 3:1-4).
Even if other people persist in doing wrong, you can continue to trust that God is in control and will deal with them in his time (see Psalms 10 and 37). This kind of patience in the face of suffering is commended by God (see 1 Pet. 2:19) and ultimately results in our good and his glory.
Adapted from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, 3rd Edition 2004. Used with permission. Copyright 2011 by Peacemaker Ministries. All Rights Reserved.
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