Peace-faking or peace-breaking. Most of us choose one road or the other when we encounter conflict. And conflict is an inevitable fact of life. What does the Bible say about resolving it and how can we work through it so that it becomes an opportunity to glorify God, serve others, and grow to be like Christ?
Don't Stop if You Get Stiffed: What to do When Conflict Gets Messier
Stepping Up, Staying Strong, Speaking the Truth
How to Get Seven "A"s When You Work Through Conflict
Pseudo-Christianity: The Result of Dealing with Conflict without God in Our Corner
Well, we are going to try to advance his purposes in a different way now. Just to kick it all off with this little topic we're talking about tonight, we're going to have a little fun watching some silly clips of what happens if you don't learn to do this topic right. Here's a fun look at doing it wrong. Check this out.
Michael Buffer: Let's get ready to rumble!
Det. James Carter: Wait a minute! Put your gun down and fight me like a man.
Det. James Carter: You don't know who you're messing with. I'm not that young. Which one of y'all kicked me?
Larry: Sit down!
Curly: I'm a victim of circumstance!
Moe: Who are you hitting? Be quiet!
Inigo Montoya: My name is Inigo Montoya. You kill my father. Prepare to die.
[End of video]
All right. That's great! I love those clips. Those are fun to look at and watch. We are about to embark for the next three weeks on a little series I believe as much as anything we've done in our 10 years together at Watermark has been core to our culture and a significant part of why God has been willing to use us effectively in the lives of folks who are here and, frankly, around the world.
We have gone long and hard at this topic. In fact, I'm going to look at a verse tonight that, as I look back at verses we have talked about here at Watermark over the years, is one verse I guarantee is in the top five verses we have quoted, taught on, preached about, and exhorted ourselves toward that is at the very heartbeat of what it is we're going to look at.
This truth, as much as any other truth we teach as an overflow of the ultimate truth, which is the necessity of your relationship with Christ, is the truth that will transform your marriage, that will change your work environment, that will increase your effectiveness for the kingdom, and that will make you useful to others as they seek to become all God wants them to be.
I believe the reason the church is irrelevant and the reason the church is ineffective and the reasons believers don't experience abundant life can be traced directly back to ineffective application of these things we're about to talk about, so I am thrilled we're going to focus on them again.
I'll just set this up by telling you last night I was where I usually am on Saturday nights, trying to find a quiet place just to be still and read a little bit just to clear my mind and, frankly, to be still before the Lord. I often do that at some coffee shop around town or whatnot. Last night, when I sat down at the particular place I did…
Sometimes you're already at a place. You've nested and you're kind of comfortable and somebody else comes and sits in your space. You take a deep breath because someone has kind of intruded on that little area you thought you were going to have all to yourself. I obviously did that last night with a couple of folks who were already there.
I just sat down in my little chair, and as soon as I did it was interesting because the guy next to me was on a phone conversation, and he was pretty loud with his phone conversation. He felt like it was important enough for all of the rest of us to participate in it, but he kind of continued in the midst of that.
It was interesting. At one point, I heard him say, "Well, listen. I'm not going to do that because I'm a Christian. At least, I'm a pseudo-Christian." Then, he continued on and talked a little bit more. I thought that was an interesting comment. Frankly, at one point I was sitting there, and he got off the phone, and he started to do some of this stuff. He took his legs and stretched his legs out over mine as they were sitting there like, "Hey! I need some space here." I just thought, "Okay. No big deal."
A little bit later, I was sitting there reading, and I did accidentally move my foot. I went over and kind of touched his and hit his. He said, "Your long legs are kind of in the way there, aren't they?" I said, "Yes. Forgive me. I'm sorry. They do get in the way sometimes." I kind of went back to what I was doing.
What was crazy about that was that would have been no big deal except a little bit later a couple of friends from Watermark walked in. We said, "Hi." We talked a little bit. Then, they went outside and sat down. A couple hours later I was getting ready to leave. I walked out to say, "Goodbye," to them. One of them looked at the other and said, "Should we tell him?" The other one goes, "I guess so." I'm like, "I think you should. He's right here and heard that conversation. Why don't you tell him?"
Anyway, they go, "You know that guy who was in there sitting next to you?" I said, "Yeah." They said, "Well, he walked out here a little bit ago." I go, "Okay." They go, "He walked up to us. I think he heard us say, 'Hi,' to you. He started a conversation. He walked up and said, 'I hate that guy in there.'" That's kind of an interesting way to start a conversation.
"We said to him, 'You do? That's our pastor.'" The guy goes, "Oh, man! I'm hating on your pastor. I can't be doing that! He's in there too focused on what he's doing. His legs are everywhere." They said, "Why don't you go in there and talk to him? Why don't you mention something to him? He would really appreciate if there's something that happened that bothered you."
He said, "Well, I don't really hate him. I was just saying." It was just his way to start a conversation, I guess, so he went in and never really said anything to me, but they shared with me that went down. I just thought to myself, "How classic is that, that what pseudo-Christians do when there's an issue is often the way they deal with an issue?" They don't really say something to somebody that bothered them.
I really don't think the guy was genuinely bothered. The good news is I'll probably be back there and I'll get to see him sometime in the future and we'll get to talk about that a little bit. I'll say, "Hey! I heard there's a chance that I might have bothered you some." We could engage with each other and, hopefully, it will lead to great conversation. I hope one day he's here working through his pseudo-faith just like I am every week.
What's going to be great, as I thought about this, is I thought, "If there is ever a place that pseudo-Christianity shows up, it's in this specific application of truth." It's the way we work through conflict and the normal annoyances that come at us through life. Aren't there plenty of them? Don't folks wear you out a little bit? Isn't it difficult to stay in a context of a covenant relationship in a really committed way? Isn't it difficult to really have a great relationship with your parents or friends you've known for a long time or your Community Group?
Those annoying people… "That guy talks too much. That guy has a really strong personality. That individual over there just bothers me somewhat." Hey! The way we work through this will have a lot to do with our witness and testimony to the world. The Scripture says, "They will know we are his disciples by our love for one another."
Folks who love one another work through issues in a way that says, "Your relationship matters to me, and I'm not just going to blow you off the first time it gets a little bit difficult. I'm not going to slide away in isolation or come at you and intimidate you to teach you not to do whatever it is that's annoying me."
Let me just give you a great story that I think reflects the craziness of how we in the church do not model for folks the very thing God said imitators do or folks who walk worthy of the calling do and folks who really are going to be observed by the world who say, "There's something different about you people. There's something about the way you go through life and work through troubles with one another that you're not from this world. It's like your Father is God or something."
It's the one thing, in fact, that the Scriptures say, "If you do this, people will look at you and say, 'Your Dad must be from heaven.'" I'll prove that to you in just a moment. Here's the crazy story. It's the story of a guy who was stranded on a desert island through some traumatic event. He was there for a couple of decades and through some kindness of providence folks had discovered he was there and came to rescue him. They found him and said, "You're no longer going to be a prisoner to isolation, so come on! Get off of this island."
The guy said, "I can't believe it! This is awesome. Let me just run back and get a few remembrances from this island and a few things I'll carry with me for the rest of my life." They said, "Okay. Come on! Let's go get them." They kind of worked their way back through the jungle and came to a clearing. There were these three huge, beautiful, magnificent structures there. The people went, "Wow! What in the world? What is this?"
The guy goes, "I've been here for 20 years by myself. I had to do something." They go, "What is this?" He said, "This first one is my house." They go, "That is an amazing house! Unbelievable!" The guy goes, "Well, thank you." They go, "What's that second building? It's even more impressive than this one." He goes, "That's my church. That's where I worship." They go, "Wow! That's something else. What's that third one over there?" He goes, "Oh, that's the church I used to go to."
That story makes me laugh because there is so much in our lives that what we do when there is a little bit of trouble is we just break off, and we are not what God calls us to be. I told you already this execution of truth and Spirit-informed life is the thing that we are more than anything else compelled to do so the world would see us as people who love Christ, who love God, and want to be like him.
Ephesians, chapter 5, says, "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma." What did God do when he had conflict? When the holiness of God and the righteousness of God and the justice of God were offended by our rebellion and by our sin and by our breaking that oneness relationship, what did God do?
He pursued us. He initiated with us. He chased after us. He did the things he could do to make for peace. Frankly, that's very important for us to get in this little time together, that Christ calls us as much as we are able to be at peace with all men, but mark my word, if you seek to live this way it won't always make for peace with others because the world doesn't do it this way.
The world fakes peace or the world breaks peace. The world doesn't make peace, and it's one of the reasons we should be different. Here's that verse I said I've quoted probably in the top five of all verses that over 10 years, as we've taught and exhorted one another, we've come to this. What Paul always does in his books is he usually lays the foundational basis for any action.
There is no such thing from a believer as a random act of kindness. We don't do anything for a random purpose. We do things in response to truth that has been given to us, and we stand, if you will, on revelation that transforms everything about who we are in the context of a relationship with God where his Spirit now begins to direct and guide us.
What he often does is the first half of his books are about doctrine, and the second half are about doing, or the first section of his book is about orthodoxy, and the second half is about orthopraxy so that we wouldn't just be pseudo in our beliefs but we'd be actual in our obedience. What God wants us to do is know the Word and walk differently.
In chapters 1, 2, and 3 of Ephesians, as an example, what Paul does is say, "This is who God is. He initiates. He's a God of compassion. He is a God who wants to have peace with you though you have declared war against him in saying his way is not the right way. But look what he has done. He has pursued us. He himself has borne our wrath, and he has reconciled you to him if you would just acknowledge that which separates you from him and make peace with God."
Then, he says in chapter 4, verses 1 through 3, "Therefore…" **In light of what God has done,"I, the prisoner of the Lord…"** Paul is not being made to do this. What he means by prisoner of the Lord is, "Compelled by the love of Christ, I am constrained by what he has done for me and called me to."
"I…implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance [or forbearance] for one another in love…" Here's the verse. "…being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." There's a reason we are called to be diligent to preserve what Christ has accomplished: restoration and relationship with God and, therefore, restoration and relationship with one another.
So many folks believe conflict is a sin, and I want to tell you conflict is not sin. Sin always leads to conflict, conflict with God and conflict with one another, but conflict itself… What you do with it is either life-giving or an expression of rebellion and self-will. Conflict isn't sin. All sin leads to conflict.
When you have conflict (when that which creates isolation while God has created you to live in intimacy and while God is glorified when we live together in gentleness and forbearance and humility and patience with one another and love), he's saying, "You have to be diligent to work through that which divides you so that the world can know you are a child of the chief reconciler." It is essential to your faith.
The word diligence implies just that. You have to make an ongoing effort, an effort that is constant, that is painstaking, that is persistent, and that is attentive. What he's saying is, "Be always attentive to this because you're going to always have a problem." Don't believe that you are unique. Don't come up with this idea that you're the only person who got into a Community Group which takes work. Don't believe this idea that you're the only person in a marriage that you got in ahead of yourself.
It will take effort (constant, painstaking, self-dying effort) to love the way God loves, and when we stop being diligent we lose out on the opportunity to glorify God, serve others, and grow ourselves. That, friends, is called a win-win-win, and I like to invest in win-win-win strategies. What I want to beg you to do is to rethink conflict and to relearn the way you respond to it. In fact, when I hire folks here at Watermark, I always have sat down with them and said, "There are a couple of things here we have to be very clear about."
In fact, one of the things I always say is, "To be on staff at Watermark there are a couple of things you have to be. You have to be an initiator. You have to be somebody who doesn't wait for somebody to tell you what to do or who waits for a job description to inform every minute of every day or even the vision of what it is you're supposed to do. You have to be entrepreneurial around here. You have to be somebody who welcomes collaboration but who is going to initiate action yourself. You have to be an individual who is self-motivated and who is excellent in what they do." We talk a lot about professional trust here and competency.
Secondly, we always talk about the idea that we don't walk with Christ because we're on a team here and serving a community. We walk with Christ because it's the very nature of who we are. I tell people all of the time, "You're already in full-time ministry. The question is…Do you want to be on a staff or a leadership team that helps facilitate the development of the body and deploying them for life in effectiveness?" We talk a lot about spiritual trust and the fact that we're going to walk with Jesus, not because it's part of our job, but it's just who we are. Character.
The third thing I've always gone very, very hard on is this issue of relational trust. I will not willingly employ or knowingly tolerate anybody on our staff who in any way is not a freak about this. As much as I've been able to over the 10 years I have led here and in my own life, people have often said, "Todd, this is an area of passion for you," and I will tell you I am trying through this little three-week series to up my passion in this area because if I'm not excellent in this area the world is never going to confuse me with somebody who represents my Father.
I tell folks, "I'm not looking for best friends." I have more friends right now than I can spend effective and appropriate time with, but what I want to know is that you aren't going to live this way, and that is when folks come to you and go, "Doesn't Wagner wear you out? Isn't he tough to work with? Isn't that strong personality and all of that passion sometimes a little overbearing?"
I want them to not ever say, "I'll tell you what. Todd wouldn't make a mistake. Todd's not that way," because I can make mistakes. I do make mistakes. If you work with me, I'm going to hurt your feelings. I'm going to sometimes not yield in the fullness of the way I should to the Spirit, and in that moment, I want to know you're going to be committed to loving me enough to tell me I've wounded you, somebody I want to have the relationship with that God says we should have with one another.
I want you to tell me, not your three best friends or somebody sitting outside of Starbucks. Tell me so I can ask your forgiveness or I can clear up the misunderstanding that created some insecurity in our relationship. When somebody comes to you and says that, I don't ever want you to defend me when you don't know all of the information.
But I do want you to testify to the fact that I know I'm a broken man and I'm not all that Christ wants me to be yet and say, "Todd may or may not have made a mistake there. I don't know. It appears to me that you believe he has, but I do know this. If Todd has offended you, he'll get on his knees and ask your forgiveness or he'll help you understand some context or clarify the conversation or the misunderstanding that was created so there isn't this tension between you."
You have to be an individual who is going to broker that, and if they won't come to me, you'll grab me and we can, in love, go to them together. That's what believers do. We're going to have relational trust here, and if I ever see you whispering on staff or if I hear of you talking about other folks without going to whoever those people are on staff or not, that is a deal breaker for me because folks who lead out here have to lead out with excellence, and this is something God says is a big deal.
Jesus says, "This alone is what will cause people to say that you are my sons and daughters." You go, "Wait. That's a bit of an overstatement." Really? The third sentence out of Jesus' mouth, the third thing he said in public ministry when he was here… Check this out. "Blessed be the peacemakers. Blessed are those who make peace. Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God."
If your life is not characterized by somebody who makes peace, you're going to be called a lot of things, but Jesus says you won't get that label. The Scripture says, "The way you love one another is going to be the means through which men will know you are my disciples, and you live in a world where conflict is rampant."
In fact, a number of years ago I sat down and just jotted down all of the places where conflict shows up. It shows up in race. You have the Croatians versus Serbs. You have black versus white. You have Arab versus Jew. You have Hutu versus Tutsi. It's even tribal. You have, in gender, male versus female. You have husband versus wife.
In politics, Republican versus Democrat, liberal versus conservative, and left versus right. In worldview, you have relativists versus absolutists, nihilists, and fatalists versus those who hope in God's existence and are committed to the idea that he is Creator. You have it in religions with atheists versus theists, monotheists versus polytheists, Catholic versus Protestant, grace versus works, Sunni versus Shiite, Muslim versus Jew versus Christian.
It's everywhere! It's in all of life. Brother versus brother, sister versus sister, sibling versus sibling, mother versus son, son versus father, husband versus wife (I've already said), child versus parent, family versus family, neighbor versus neighbor, ex-friend versus ex-friend. It's everywhere!
Most famously, it was right up here between these guys. You may not know exactly who they are. You might get a clue relatively quickly when you see their pictures of where they generally fall in American history, but these two guys are at the point of the spear, if you will, and the great icon of unresolved conflict.
In fact, their conflict was so great that old "Cotton Top" and squirrel-shooting Sam and Devil Anse and Ole Ran'l and their lineage for generations warred and ended up in the death of 13 of their family members. Most of them were their children. Seven more were incarcerated. It ended up with the governors of two states being at odds with one another and the National Guard of Kentucky and West Virginia being called in.
It ended up with the Supreme Court of the United States having to make a ruling on extradition because there was such a feud between those states, and death and insecurity between the Hatfield's and the McCoy's because Ole Ran'l McCoy and old Devil Anse Hatfield had a bit of a misunderstanding.
Some will say it was political, some will say it was related to business and arguments about the timber industry, and some will say it was about inappropriate relationships between sons and daughters, but, really, when you trace it back the conflict really bubbled over because of a misunderstanding and an accusation over a pig. That led to this iconic conflict. Isn't that amazing?
When you get in conflict with folks and you go back sometimes and ask, "What's this really all about?" sometimes, like that little song we used in the pre-service, we don't even know where this started. All we know is we're in a battle right now. We don't know when the date was, but we often go over a history and a lineage of this relationship.
There were little things that added up to be a big problem because from the very beginning I did not walk worthy of the manner of which I've been called and I was not diligent to preserve the unity which Christ calls us to in that bond of peace. Now, what I want to do is tell you I can relate to why conflict is not something you look forward to. I don't look forward to it. Sometimes it just drives me crazy.
People say, "You love conflict. You're good at conflict." I'm not good at conflict. I'll say that again. I think I am fairly decent at conflict because I've been informed by a great and Holy Father who wants to help me excel, but I certainly don't like conflict. In fact, the reason I'm learning to be more effective at working through conflict is because I hate conflict so much.
I love what the opportunity of conflict is, and that's kind of what I'm going to title this whole series. Conflict: Our Constant Opportunity to Glorify God, Serve Others, and Grow Ourselves. Win-win-win. But the best way to get rid of conflict is to bring peace into it. I say this to folks all of the time. If my job is to make disciples, and it is… That's what Christ calls us all to, to be disciple makers.
I tell folks I spend about 80 percent of my life working through conflict in some manner. That means I can be sure at least 100 percent of 80 percent of what I do I am being obedient to making disciples. The other 20 percent? It's a jump ball. We could debate about whether or not I'm making disciples during the other 20 percent, but every time I'm working through conflict in a biblical way, I am making disciples, and I am modeling what it means to love with the Father's love and to reconcile as he has reconciled with me and to forgive as I have been forgiven and to seek forgiveness as one who knows he is not the Savior.
Abraham Lincoln is the one who most famously said, "The best way to get rid of your enemies is to make them your friends." If you don't like conflict, the best way to get rid of conflict is not to fake like you have peace when you don't or to intimidate people to only make peace with you, because you shouldn't, but to make peace out of conflict. In this, you will glorify God, serve others, and be conformed to the image of Christ yourself. Win-win-win.
Why do we hate it so much? Because it's hard. It's constant. It's never ending. It's humiliating. It's time consuming. I want to show you this is not a surprise. This is what I love about my Jesus. Too many of us have been told, "What God really wants you to do is to be saved in this life of politeness and propriety where you just basically come, show up, shut up, and fold your hands and smile and just kind of dance through life as a good, polite citizen."
No. That's not the calling of Christ at all. I hate the feminization of Christianity. I hate the demasculinization of our faith. There are so many guys who don't really want to follow after Christ because they don't think it's what men do. I want to tell you something. It's the only thing real men do. When the Scripture describes who you are as a servant of Christ, it uses words like farmer, somebody who toils on the land and effectively and wisely brings forth fruit from the dirt. It uses the word leader. It uses the word soldier. It uses the word athlete.
Everything that appeals to a man, and God calls you into this. In fact, when he talked about conflict, there are only two times in the Scripture in the New Testament that the word conflict appears. Word studies can sometimes be pretty enlightening. I'm going to walk you through a little word study, a very simple, surface-level word study, but I want to show you some etymology here, some root meanings.
The very first one is in Philippians, chapter 1, verses 29 through 30. This is what it says. "** For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…"** In other words, you are going to suffer in this world the same way your leader, Christ, suffered in this world. That's a great privilege to suffer for the things God cares about.
God loves this world enough to die for this world, and he loves this world enough to have them be saved into his family that you would pour yourself out as a drink offering on this world the way Christ did. That is a privilege. You are going to be (verse 30) "…experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me."
The word there for conflict I put in parenthesis for you. It's the word agōn. Look. We're not a bunch of Greek scholars here. I certainly am not, but as I go back and look at the root of words and the origins of words, many of the words in our English language come from the romantic languages and many from the classic languages like Greek or Latin, and this is certainly one. What English word do you think we get from agōn? Agony. It's the word for conflict.
If you go today to Greece and you go to the arena or the stadium, it will be called the Agōn. It got that name because it's the place where great men and women go to compete for the prize. All of the words and phrases we think about that go with the word diligent…like constant effort, attentive focus, persistence, painstaking discipline, and pouring out of yourself…are words and phrases that in the agōn individuals go through, and it is agonizing. Conflict is like that. Conflict is not for weak people. It is for folks who are informed by the Spirit of God and want to follow the Son of God.
Let me show you the second one. It's just as stirring and riveting. What God is saying is, "I'm looking for a few good men. I'm looking for a few beautiful women who want to be all that I created them to be to serve for me." Hebrews, chapter 10, verses 32 and 33. "** But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated."**
In other words, here's the idea again. This world is not going to love you and embrace you when you live the way our Savior lived. It's not a surprise that a student will become in his best and finest moment as his teacher, and it should be no surprise that a disciple is going to be treated like his master. This world is not going to love the way you do stuff. This world is not a world committed to peace. This is a world committed to war and winning or pretending and not to love in its very nature.
When you stand up against the spirit of the age and seek to make peace without compromising truth because the Word of God, as it says in James, is first pure and then peaceable, the world will not love you, and there's going to be a great conflict, and many will cower and move toward pseudo-Christianity, and the relationships will be broken, and the marriages in that community (see, the church)…
If divorce isn't rampant, what will happen is there will not be true oneness in the marriage. There will be more people who are un-divorced more than they really and truly experience biblical oneness. Anything which leads to isolation and death and separation is the sworn enemy of God, and not working through conflict biblically falls under that category.
The word here in Hebrews 10 is athlēsis. Scholars, what word do you get from that? Of course, it's athlete. What God is looking for are some studs. That's what he's looking for. He's looking for some folks who are going to step up and train themselves and are going to prepare themselves so when they get in the ring (in the Agōn) they will excel for greatness.
The greatness here is that you would be identified with God in the way you love and serve others, but I want to tell you something. Everybody wants to be ripped. Everybody wants to have a gold medal put over their head. Everybody wants to win the Masters. Everybody wants to run a mile at a certain clip, but very few people are committed to disciplining themselves the way they have to so they can win that prize.
Pseudo-athletes abound; real athletes are rare. What Jesus says is, "If you're really going to be related to me, you are to be a rare individual, holy…which means set apart…because you are informed by my Spirit." If you are an individual who learns to be a peacemaker, you will be set apart.
Now, let me just do this really quickly. I want to show you… This whole series is clearly not about marriage. This series is going to be about relationships. It's going to be about how God wants us to fight for the oneness he created in relationships. I'm going to look at marriage. Marriage is a metaphor for all of life. Marriage is a supreme example.
We're not forced to get married, but we stand up before God and country and we say, "I'm choosing to love this woman. I will love her. Who wouldn't love her? I'm the one who gets to love her. I'm going to be committed to her, and we're going to have a great life together." Then, a little later, some reality sets in.
It has been wisely said that love is blind but marriage is an eye-opener, and it is. In the context of relationships, how many of us get in there and go, "Whoa, dude! I didn't know this! I didn't realize it was going to be this hard!" We start to find reasons why we can't make that one relationship work. The one relationship we said was going to model God's love for the church and the church's right response to that kind of love is the one that blows up most consistently.
Like I said, even if we don't have this great oneness, which is really what God calls us to in marriage, that's what he calls us to in community and church, we just are un-divorced more than we are one, and that's a problem. Here's why. It's because we don't work through the conflicts which are so easily among us. Why? Because we're still broken people.
I don't care how much you're in love. I don't care what your feelings are. There are going to be moments when those feelings leave. Then, it's going to get down to…Do you know what biblical love is? Biblical love has nothing to do with feelings. When the Bible describes love, it never uses feeling. That is a cheap and prostituted definition of love.
The Bible defines love with a cross, with commitment, with sacrifice, so when you find conflict, what are you going to do, child of God? Initiate, make peace, fake peace, or further break peace? Watch this. This is what God calls men to do in marriage. He says, "If you want to love your wife and you want to be a peacemaker, then you will dwell." You'll dwell in a land called faithfulness.
You will say, "This is my three acres of land, and I'm going to love it, and I'm going to nourish that soil. I'm going to cherish that soil. I'm going to protect this soil. I'm going to provide what this soil needs. I'm going to bring forth fruit from this soil. I'm going to make it glorious. I'm going to prove George Strait right that this woman will look so good in love because of the way I care for her.
I'm going to bring forth from her respect for me, and I'm going to bring forth beauty in this relationship. The world will long to have a relationship like this because this is my relationship, and I will dwell here, and I will not blame the land. I will not blame the circumstances around me and say that there is a drought. I will do what I need to do to irrigate, to bring life to, protection to, and fruit from this land. I will dwell here."
That's what men do. They never blame the land. They say, "This is my land to farm. This is my vineyard, and by the grace and glory and provision of God, it will be a blessed vineyard." Women, don't you want a guy who will do that? He'll say, "I'm here for you, babe. I'm going to cherish you and honor you and nourish you and protect you and provide for you and build into you nutrients that will make you blossom and a thing of beauty that the world will marvel at you because of the care I have for you."
It's what every woman dreams of, but what many guys do is get there and things get hard. They find another piece of land somewhere else that responds to them the way they want it to respond to them. The soil is more fertile. That attendant at work, that partner in business is sometimes a little more attentive and hangs on every word and makes you feel certain ways, so you start to go over there, and you don't dwell where you are anymore.
What a lot of guys do when things get hard at home is they, in fact, desert. They won't dwell and stay. They take off emotionally and physically. They pull back. They go somewhere else to find life because life is too hard to get from here right now. The other thing they often do, if they don't desert and pull out, is they stay and they begin to dominate. They begin to be dictatorial.
They get to the land and say, "Let me tell you what's wrong here. Let me tell you what my problem is with you. You're not bringing forth what I want. You're a bad land. Produce more fruit, land. Be a better loving land. Be a good land for me." They intimidate and say, "Do you want share what I have as a farmer? Do you want half of what I take in? Then, you'd better be this." There's not a lot of dwelling there, and it breaks the relationship.
This is not about marriage. This is about every relationship. This goes, singles, with your roommates. This goes, students, with your parents. God calls you to be a leader in that relationship and stay there and go, "What can I do to make this relationship work?" By the way, women, this is what God calls you to do.
What women are called to do is to complete. That's what God says. The reason, women, you have to complete us is because we aren't done baking. We are not done yet being conformed to the image of Christ, so when you marry us, no matter how much we wooed you and convinced you that you were the luckiest woman on earth, the fact is you are marrying a flawed, broken person.
Don't be surprised that there are going to be moments when we don't stay and dwell because we're going to drift off emotionally sometimes or we're going to be abusive in our leadership sometimes, and I want to know that you're going to help me be the man I want to be. When I don't live the way I want to live, I want you to learn with gentleness and reverence in the ways the Scripture talks about and we're going to study together. I want you to come to me and love me and say, "Let me tell you what I just experienced. Let me tell you I know that's not who you are."
"Friend, co-worker, manager, neighbor, I know that's not what you want."
"How do you know that's not what I want? Maybe I do want that. Maybe I want you to learn a lesson."
"Okay. Even the way you just responded to me… I believe that's not who you want to be. I believed you when you said you were a man of God who loved him with all of your heart, and I want to help you understand what you did is going to wound me. It's going to dry up the land. It's going to hurt what God intends for us, and I will see you through to faithfulness."
What a lot of women do is they don't stay and complete. They move away in silence, and they fake peace, and they begin to condone. They often say, "It could be worse. I've seen other guys who are far worse than that. I just don't want to deal with it because he's going to maybe be angry or who knows what he's going to do. I've just learned, so I'm going to condone. I'm going to pull back."
What happens is women typically do this for years. Finally, something happens that just triggers them, and they're through. They often come in and say, "I'm done with this guy! Our marriage has never been what God says it should have been. There have been a few seasons here and there, but by and large, it has been defined by awful land management, and I want to tell you my heart is dry."
What I typically say to those wives is, "Let me just ask you a question. Did I hear you say that largely this has defined your relationship for two decades? If you want this relationship to work, the very first thing you have to do is go to that guy and ask his forgiveness," to which she typically goes, "Are you kidding me? Wagner, I can't stand you! I knew you were going to say that."
I go, "Wait a minute! The reason I say that is because you just told me for 20 years you didn't do what Christ called you to do. Now, you're frustrated with him that he took advantage of that. Guys are idiots! They're going to take every bit of rope you give them. All he's done is walk that dog as far as you'll let him. Now, you're jerking that leash. You've told him you're cutting that leash off, and he can go, and you're calling the dog pound."
Now, he has come back. He's saying, "I'll be a good dog. I'll never wet the carpet again. I promise I'll never bite you again." You're saying, "I'm done with dogs, especially that one." I want to say, "The fact that you're sick of that dog is not just that dog's fault. It's yours, because along the way for 20 years you never told him you were going to love him and say, 'This is what a good dog does. This is what a good man does. This is what a man of God does.'"
The fact that your heart is that dried up and the reason you have 20 years of reconciliation is because you didn't do this 20 minutes into your marriage or 20 days into your problem or two years. We're talking… Plug in your number. What some women do is they don't just condone. They come down here, and what they'll do is they won't complete, but they will compete.
They'll say, "You want to treat me like that? I'll show you yours. Sexually, you're done. I'm cutting you off. I'm going to start bad-mouthing you to the kids. I'm not going to give you any respect. I'm going to roll my eyes at you. I'm going to teach you not to treat me that way, and I'll take you on. I'll help you learn to not be that guy." That's not the way that leads to peace through domination, competition, desertion, or condoning. No.
Dwelling and saying, "This is my land." Staying there and saying, "That's my man God has given me to spur on to the fullness of the image of Christ." "That's my Community Group." What do so many of us think? We have to leave. "If I was just married to somebody like that, it would be so much easier," or "If I was in community with Larry, Moe, and Curly, I wouldn't have this problem," or "If I had different parents, my life wouldn't be like this," to which I want to ask…What's the common denominator in all of those relationships?
Those relationships need a peace-maker. My friend, Ken Sande, has done such great work on this stuff. He came up with something he called the slippery slope of conflict. The slippery slope is this metaphor. If you stand on something and you move too far to one side, you're going to slide very quickly to a very dangerous place. The slippery slope is his metaphor for why you have to stay centered in what God calls you to.
I'm going to show it to you very quickly here. This is it. The middle where God wants you is to be a peace-maker. There are certain times you overlook certain things. When a person just stretches their leg out for whatever reason and it's kind of awkward, "Okay. I can overlook that." That wasn't a sin. It didn't damage my relationship with him. It's okay.
The Scriptures tell us in Proverbs 19 that it's okay to overlook a minor offense. What's a minor offense? I'm going to answer that for you. Just in a quick nutshell in advance, it's not a minor offense if it dishonors God, damages the relationship between you and that person, damages that person's relationship with somebody else, or hurts that person's testimony. You can't overlook that.
If you can't overlook it, the Bible tells you how to go about it. It tells you not to merely look out for your own personal interests but also for the interests of others, so you sit down and say, "Let me understand you. Tell me where you're coming from. Give me a little insight into your life. I want to make sure that together we work to stay centered with one another, so I need to know more of where you're coming from so I can make it easier for you to be near me."
Sometimes we need others to get involved, so we bring others to mediate that with us. That's just Matthew 18:16. Matthew 18:17 is when the community speaks up and says, "We can't just help you mediate. We have to speak in a loving way from a position of authority to help you two reconcile and let you know this is the issue going on right here. Now, we're going to move toward outright disobedience." Accountability and community intervention also play a part in the peace-making process.
A lot of folks say they want to go to church, but when a church starts to do that to help you live in a way that makes for peace and honor God, people go, "Quit mingling. Quit meddling. Quit being judgmental." Well, nowhere in the Scripture are we not called to be honest about actions. The Scripture warns us against judging motives, but there are times when we're told to say, "Look! This is going to break peace because you're not living in a biblical way."
I'll show you something else very quickly in this. Some of the peace-faking things folks do is they move into denial. It works for a little bit. "There's really no conflict there." This is kind of the condoning that happens. This is the deserting that many men do. "It's not too bad at home because I'm distracted from home. I'm not committed to being at home." We just deny.
All of a sudden, you find yourself not just denying but really running away from that relationship, and that relationship is just a shadow of what it was supposed to be. It's a flight response. What's interesting is that there is a time every now and then that you need to remove yourself from a relationship. We find that biblically in 1 Samuel 19. David was not called to sit there and negotiate with an irrational Saul who was throwing spears at him.
When there is abuse and when there is severe behavior that others affirm… For David, that was not an imaginary spear. This is not something you're making up. You ought to remove yourself for a while, but there is a place for that. Too often we make that decision in isolation, and we're running from something that we, frankly, shouldn't be running from. Even that flight you make in the context of community with others being involved in helping you see it.
Then, you have suicide. Do you know suicide is in the top five causes of death from every age group from 10 to 55? Do you know why? Because people go through life faking it, faking it, faking it, isolating, isolating, isolating, relationship removal, relationship removal, relationship removal, not facing the conflicts in life and in their heart in the way they should until, finally, they just opt out of life. Suicide can be traced back to an inability to deal with conflict.
Now, look on the other side. You have peace-faking responses, but we also have pseudo-believers who peace-fake on Sundays. Throughout the rest of the week they peace-break. What's litigation? Do you know what litigation is? It is professionally assisted denial. It's when you pay somebody to not make you face your attitudes which are unhealthy and your biases and your actions. In fact, they are paid to suppress your actions and to highlight the other person's problems.
These are attack responses. All you're doing is telling somebody, "You have to help me beat this person and not reconcile with them." Then, from litigation, if that doesn't work, go to assault. Often assault is verbal or related to financial issues or professional issues, but the bottom line in the midst of that you're moving further and further away toward damage to where they both end in the same place, which is death, the death of the relationship either from you running away from it or running something through you or you running toward them and running something through them.
Do you know murder is one of the top six causes of death for those basic same age groups I just gave you? Why? Because the world, when it moves away from God, always leads to death. Some of us are still in relationships but they're dead relationships, and God says, "It shouldn't be that way among you believers. I want you to have life. I want your marriages and your churches to prosper."
We're going to teach you how to do it these next two weeks. Here's the work I want to give you for this week because this is the most difficult part of conflict. You think it's agonizing to live in a difficult relationship. I'm going to tell you the most agonizing thing, the thing only true athletes and champions and followers of Christ will do, is the thing you need to do to make every conflict potentially successful.
It comes from what Jesus talks about in Matthew, chapter 7, where he says, "I do want you to help other people with what's going on, but the way you're going to help other people is by, first, making sure you can see clearly what your problem is and part is in this conflict." He says, "You have to get the log out of your own eye so you can get the speck out of their eye."
Folks, this is what I call the fight before the fight. When you get ready to do conflict, when you get ready to help this individual and complete them or dwell, before you wonder why there's not enough fruit coming from your little deal, what you want to stop and do is ask, "Why, if I was a flower, would I not blossom under my tending? What is it about me that makes a woman shrivel up instead of opening up emotionally and physically? How have I not been caring toward her? As opposed to telling her that she doesn't respect me, how have I not been leading well?"
Start with that. Do you know what's painful? That. Being an individual who realizes, "No matter what's going on, I know I have some part in it." A number of years ago I was at a gym. I bumped into Too-Tall Jones. Some of you guys don't know how Ed Too-Tall Jones is, which tells how fleeting and quick the world's fame can be. Ed Too-Tall Jones was one of the great linemen in Dallas Cowboy's history. Ed and I were talking about, at the time, the end of his professional boxing career.
I asked him, "What are you doing? Why are you stepping out? Because you're 6-and-0, and you're a name, so promoters want to be behind you. You're on the fast track." It wasn't going to be long before he had the chance to be the heavyweight champion of the world! At the time, Tyson was going through his craziness. Holyfield was in and out. There was a real opening there, and they had a personality they could really get behind.
Ed goes, "Let me tell you something. I guarantee I could have been heavyweight champ of the world. I know there's not a man in the world who I couldn't beat." I said, "So what's up? Why?" He said, "I'll tell you why. Because I didn't want to do the things I had to do to beat every other man in the world. It wasn't the fight with the man that scared me. It was the fight with my body before I got in the ring. I was just tired, so I'm giving away my chance to be the heavyweight champ."
Let me just tell you there is great application for us. Do you know why most of us don't do conflict well? It's not because when we're in conflict we don't want to go through these little steps I'm going to teach the next couple of weeks. It's because we don't want to do the really hard thing, which is to realize, "If there's a problem in this marriage, the man in the mirror is the first guy I have to look at."
I have to get on my knees and say what David said which was, "God, search me and know me. Try me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any hurtful way in me. Lead me in the everlasting way. Show me where I have not farmed well. Show me where I have condoned or where I have competed and have not completed the way you intended. Show me where I've pulled back. Show me where I've been intimidating, domineering, or dictatorial. Help me repent so I can go and seek forgiveness. Get the log out of my eye so I might go serve them and bring life where there is death."
That is agonizing. That is humbling. That takes a champion. That takes a Christ follower. It will change your life. It will bring glory to God in this community like nothing else, it will serve others in this body like nothing else, and it will make you a son or daughter of God. Let's get some of that.
Father, I pray, as we move forward in the weeks ahead, we would apply these things we're going to look at again to our lives in a way, Lord, that would allow others to look at us and go, "Why do you all do this? We don't see anybody working through conflict the way you do. We don't see anybody loving in relationships the way you do," and we can say, "We have learned from our Father who always initiates with grace and compassion and, though he never really contributed to the conflict at all, unlike him, we have, and we start there, and we are people who realize conflict isn't sin but it's our sin in some form or fashion and our imperfection that often led to conflict."
We know, Lord, even when we live exactly like you want us to the world is still going to hate us, and that's going to be agonizing, and it's going to take great athletes to compete still and fight for what is right and true even if the world crucifies us as a result. I pray we would find ourselves for the rest of our days in that conflict so you might meet us one day and say, "Well done, good and faithful warrior. I have something waiting for you far greater than any heavyweight belt that any man on that earth could ever have."
I pray, Lord, through this material you would teach us and train us and deliver us from our own selfish, peace-faking, peace-breaking ways that we would be peace makers and imitators of God, worthy of the calling of which we have been called, your sons and your daughters. In Christ's name, amen.
Have a great week of worship. We'll see you.
When relationships exist conflict is inevitable, but the way we face it is up to us. This series calls us to abandon the approaches most of us take - withdrawal, avoidance, aggression to name just three - and consider the approach God has laid out in His Word. You'll find that working through conflict from God's perspective will actually be a source of constant opportunity instead of a constant source of discouragement and frustration. An opportunity to glorify God, serve others and grow to be more like Christ. You'll be amazed to see how honest God's Word is about conflict and how powerful His plan is to deal with it. And if you'll apply it, you'll be even more amazed to watch this plan bring healing and health to your relationships.