Don't Stop if You Get Stiffed: What to do When Conflict Gets Messier

Conflict: A Constant Opportunity

Sometimes, despite our best efforts to get the log out of our own eye, to prepare well, and to seek guidance through Scripture and prayer, conflict is not going to lead to peace and restored relationship. What does God say we should do then? Give up? Withdraw? Escalate? In this final episode of the series on conflict, Todd encourages us not to "stop if you get stiffed."

Todd WagnerMay 9, 2010John 13:34-35; 1 Corinthians 6:1-11; Mark 2:13-17; Matthew 18:15; Proverbs 13:1; Proverbs 9:7-8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20

There are a lot of different worldviews out there about conflict and where it comes from and what it is and how to deal with it. We are wrapping up today a little series where we're looking at this topic of conflict. It is everywhere, and as I've shown you with those little quotes that just flew by, there are all kinds of different worldviews on how to handle it.

Probably my favorite one is the old Texas Three-Kick Rule. Have you guys ever heard that one? It comes from right here in Texas. I heard about it in a story of an old farmer who had a place out there in East Texas, and there was some big old high-dollar trial attorney who was down there hunting in that neck of the woods and actually had shot a buck that had jumped the fence and had gone over into this farmer's property. He shot it again, and it died over there.

Well, you guys who hunt know that is a "no can do." Anyway, this attorney said, "That's my buck. That's a great buck." So he jumped that fence, went over there, and got it. About that time, that farmer came driving up in his tractor and said, "Excuse me, sir. I don't believe we have an arrangement for you to be hunting on my property." He said, "Well, that's my buck. I shot it." He said, "Well, even if you shot it over there, it's on my property now, so it's my buck."

That attorney said, "Let me just tell you something. I'm one of the most powerful trial attorneys in this country, and if you don't let me have that buck I'll sue you for everything you have and I'll own this land." The farmer said, "Well, you must not know how we handle conflict out here in East Texas." He said, "I'll tell you what. Why don't we do it the way we do it out here, what's called the Three-Kick Rule?" The guy looked at him and said, "What's that?"

He said, "Well, we just sit here, and I kick you three times and you kick me three times and we keep doing it as long as necessary until somebody gives up. That's how we solve that conflict." That attorney looked at that guy and said, "I think I can take him," so he said, "Okay, let's go." So the farmer got down off his tractor, took his steel-toed boot, and planted it in a very strategic place.

Doubled him over, and when he was doubled over he took another kick and about dislocated his face. I mean, the whole thing. Broke his nose, and he fell over, and then he shot him right in the kidney with that same boot. The guy was laid out, but he also knew it was his turn, so he mustered all his strength and stood up, and he said, "All right, old man. It's my turn. Get ready." He goes, "No, I give up. You can have the buck. Go ahead."

Not bad, if you can get away with it, but you can't get away with it, so you have to figure out how to come up with a solution to this thing called conflict. I was having a conversation this week with a friend, a guy who had been around a little bit. He's not part of our community at all, but he said, "I have a question for you. How come there is no cross on your church?"

I just said, "Well, that's an interesting question. First of all, we don't think this building is our church. We think it's a building. Secondly, because there are so many things that are thrown out there that say something to the world. There are folks who walk into buildings all over this country with a cross on it, and they've found it to be irrelevant. They've found it to be offensive. They've found it to be judgmental. They've found it to be out of touch."

I go, "Look, we're not against the cross. We're all about the cross, but the Bible says if you want to do something with the cross you're supposed to pick it up and carry it. We want to be people who respond to the cross, not people who try and scream to the world through certain things, 'Look at who we are!' The Scripture, in fact, says they will know who we are not by certain designs that are on our building. They will know who we are by the way we love one another."

What we try and do with everything is we're very intentional about asking ourselves, "What's the best way to set up this particular environment to reach people with life-transforming truth?" We felt like there was no compelling reason to throw a cross up on the outside, because we want folks to know we're transformed by that cross, not just people who put up different little designs here and there.

Now we're not committed to not having a cross. We have a cross up here onstage a lot of times when we're doing different things, and there's talk about putting it in other places, but it has just never moved its way to where we go, "You know what? We have to put that right here." Specifically, what I said to him was, "You act like we're not a church because there's not a cross somewhere. We talk about the cross all the time."

Let me tell you what the Bible says, and I want to evaluate where you go by this statement. In John 13:34-35 Jesus says, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, [I want you to love one another that way] . By this…" Not by jewelry, not by little designs slapped up places. "By this, the way you love one another, the way you pick up your cross and follow me. That's how the world will know that you're my disciples."

As I started to think about what we were doing today, I went, "This really fits perfectly." The way the world is going to know we are followers of Christ is not by our building and not by anything hanging on our building, but it's going to specifically be by the way we love one another in the midst of the conflict that is constantly in this world because of sin. Conflict is not sin. All sin does lead to conflict, and then you have to make a decision what you're going to do with this opportunity.

Conflict is our constant opportunity to love God, serve others, and grow ourselves. The way the world is going to know that we are his disciples is by the way we work through conflict. It's the "one anothers" of Scripture that sets us apart. It's what defines us as Christ followers. I'm going to wrap this whole thing up by showing you today what Christ does, what God does in the midst of conflict, and then we're going to remind ourselves why we are going to respond the way we do as we try and seek and love one another.

The Scripture says in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, "We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone." Love one another. Speak the truth in love, he says. Bear one another's burdens. Make sure you are peacemakers. Last week we dove in and started talking about this whole topic a little bit, and I just want to remind you where we've been.

First of all, you want to overlook the small stuff. Again, this is just review. We defined what small stuff was. Small stuff is anything that doesn't dishonor God, that doesn't damage your relationship, doesn't damage the person who did something's relationship with others, and it certainly doesn't affect that person's testimony. It's just a bother, a nuisance, a personality issue in that moment, but it doesn't dishonor God or damage relationships.

You can overlook it, and you should overlook it. Proverbs 19:11 says it's a man's glory to overlook minor offenses and not be somebody who's always acting like everything has to be perfect. Last week we walked through both a very subjective way of deciding if we should overlook something, and then those four things I just gave you, something very objective.

So we said, "Don't sweat the small stuff." Then the second thing we said was, "Don't spread the big stuff." You go and talk in private with somebody when there is an issue. Don't tell other people about the problem you have with them. Talk directly to them. This is where we dove into this little section of Scripture, Matthew 18. In verse 15, let's take a look at this.

He says, "If your brother sins…" In other words, if your brother does something that dishonors God or damages relationship, which is certainly a sin, it tells us then what to do. "…go and reprove them in private. If they've listened to you, you have won your brother," and all is well. I got an email the week before. I want to read to you this email I got. Actually, it came through my wife, because the person said, "Hey, Alex, I don't have Todd's email address. Please forward it to him." My email address is

Anyway, she said, "We talked yesterday at Building Blocks, and I've got a topic I would love to hear Todd talk about: the whole issue of modesty, clothing and swimsuits in particular." This was actually a mom writing my wife. "It's a huge issue facing our girls and the boys who are tempted by it. If we, as believers, are supposed to be different, then why doesn't our dress look different at the beach, pool, mall, school, or even church than the rest of the crowd?

Why do believing Christian camps and Christian schools have to make rules that girls must dress modestly or wear one-pieces? I've been at gatherings with other believers, many from Watermark, where I've heard moms say, 'Well, we've tried to get our daughter to wear a one-piece, but swimsuits are not a biblical issue, so we just gave in.' We are the only ones in our Community Group whose daughter wears a one-piece. Her small group leaders wear bikinis, and so do all of the other girls except two.

Why is it okay for a girl or woman to walk around in an outfit smaller than her bra and underwear just because the fabric is different? If our daughters walked around in a bra and panties people would think we were terrible parents, we had lost our minds. Are we prudes, wrong, legalistic? Is this a battle worth fighting? Although I realize bikini is not referenced in the Bible, I have a hard time believing that this topic is not covered by Scripture."

She mentions a couple of things about how adultery in the Bible is elevated not just to the act but even the thought. She references that verse in Romans 12 that was in that earlier video, and she even put down there some verses in 1 Timothy which talk specifically about how a woman should adorn herself, rightly so. She says, "Aren't we called to do something about this? I'd love for Todd to take on this topic." My wife forwarded this email to me, and I go, "Perfect."

What do you think I said? She told me about everybody in her Community Group. She told me about her daughter's small group leaders, and there's a conflict about what they think is appropriate poolside attire. Well, I'll tell you what I didn't do. I didn't go on a pastoral rant about being a prude in the way you dress or even appropriate in the way you dress, and I certainly didn't come at her because she had certain values.

I said, "Let me just tell you this." Here's my response. "Okay. How about next Sunday? Do I have permission to read your letter without referring to you? One heads-up. It would be great if you looped your girl's small group leader into the conversation. I will not in any way refer to them or any gal in your small group in the message, because that's not appropriate for this setting.

If you've already talked to them, then great. If you haven't, I think it's the appropriate next step. Go to them and have that one conversation. You might want to loop in all of the leaders of the student ministry as well. I love what you're doing. Let me know. Glad you're stepping out and leading out on this. Great chance to model what we talked about last week."

Here was her response. She says, "Hey, yesterday I had a great conversation with my girl's leader. She applauded my efforts and said she constantly battled with her parents over swimsuits all through high school, and she remembers being the only girl herself forced to wear a one-piece. When she got to college she used to use her own money to buy, you guessed it, a bikini."

By the way, my 17-year-old daughter… We started to write down stuff she's saying now. "When I get out of here…" Do you know what's really funny? We're not doing it. It's her 15-year-old sister who's starting to roll her eyes and go, "I'm writing that one down, and when we do your little graduation party I'm reading them all." One of them is, "When I'm 18 I'm walking around naked." That was one of them, so we're going to stay tuned for that.

Anyway, she got to college and bought a bikini. "Now that she has a baby she says she wouldn't be caught dead in one. She was glad to hear you're going to talk about this. She said, 'I hope he addresses the girls my age…'" This is now what the small group leader is saying. "'…the late 20- and 30-somethings who wear dresses so short their thongs show when they come to church.' She also added they have had many small group discussions about dressing immodestly. Honestly, I don't think our girls and lots of grown women truly understand how visual guys are. They would not be wearing what they wear, but then again, this is Dallas. I can't wait for Sunday."

Now look. There's a topic at hand that's exceedingly relevant, but look at the first thing that happened. She went to that small group leader and said, "We have to talk." She went to her community and said, "We have to talk as parents. Let's look at the Scripture and see if there's anything there that would guide us." Here was my response, and this is what I want to say about this topic this morning.

I responded, "Hey, way to go. Nice job having that conversation. One more request. I want you to loop in the student leaders. A group email would work great for them. Do that. I'm praying with you toward this weekend. May the Lord use it to grow us all. One thing to join me in prayer about and one thing to remember: Not everyone who comes to Watermark on a Sunday morning is a believer. We're glad that there are some friends here trying to figure out there's a God worth knowing and serving and dressing in the way he admonishes us to.

Some are dressing the way they always do, and they have no context to do anything but shop their body through dress, whether it's Sunday morning at Watermark or Friday night on Greenville or Saturday afternoon by the pool. Don't be surprised when certain folks dress that way, because not everybody who's here thinks the way we think and is even sure about who Christ is, but those folks we need to love and speak the truth to are folks in need of a lot more than just a wardrobe makeover."

If you're here this morning, we want you to know our job, our goal, is not to get you to change the way you dress. Our goal is to change your perception of who God is and what he says about who you are and help you grow in relationship with him, and I think your swimsuit attire will follow with it. That also goes with young believers who have never wrestled with this issue who don't want to go and look at the Scripture and ask, "Does God have anything to say about the way I dress?"

We don't say members at Watermark can't wear a two-piece. What we say is, "Hey, if you're a follower of Christ, have you thought about what you wear?" If you, all of you, this morning when you came here, especially believers, spent more time thinking about how to make yourself attractive to others than you did how to prepare your heart to wrestle with the truth of Scripture, we have an issue here. I don't care what you're wearing.

The truth is most of us probably stood and wrestled more with how we're going to look and present ourselves to others to make others attracted to us or think we're kind of with it than we did saying, "Lord, prepare my heart to hear from you what it is you want me to hear so that my life can be conformed into that which will bring you glory, not me glory."

I'll just throw this out to my friends who are here who may need a wardrobe makeover. Girls, I just want to tell you something. If you want to get a guy because of the way you shop your body, you will be successful, but I'm going to let you know you're going to lose that guy who bought because of what you sold for the exact same reason you got him. You don't want a guy who's going to come because he's a window shopper, who's going to go in there and get what he wants and take off.

You have a lot more dignity and beauty than to have to give him what he thinks he wants to have a relationship with him. We do have a responsibility with one another in the way we dress, guys and girls, so we don't elicit responses that don't encourage and follow God. So wrestle with it. If you're here this morning and you don't know Christ, our goal is not to tell you what you have to wear for God to love you. God would love you if you, like my daughter when she's 18, walk around naked. But she won't.

By the way, we were just kidding around, and we all say stuff kind of jokingly, but when it comes to dress at the Wagner household, one of the things my daughters do is when they get ready to go out they don't say, "Mom, is this okay?" They come to me and say, "Dad, is this okay? I really don't want to ask you because I like these jeans; everyone is wearing them" or "I like this outfit, but I know I want to ask you because you'll tell me the truth."

There are a few times they got out that door without that conversation, and I said, "Hey, come on. Really?" I said, "Look, you're free to dress how you want to dress. As you get older, I'm going to talk to you about the consequences of that. Let me tell you what guys think of when they see a girl dressed like that, and you tell me if that's the way you want guys to think of you." Off we go, and we have that conversation.

This is not this morning about dress; it's about opportunity. This is a mom who wants her daughter to have encouragement to dress modestly, as modestly as you can ever dress around a pool. Certainly, though, there are things you can do. Look at what happens. Often we want the pulpit to say something, and we miss out on our opportunity to shepherd, grow, and love one another. That's the point this morning.

Let's not just say, "Why are people at church like this?" You are the church. Pick up your cross and do what Christ has told you to do. By the way, this is what that phrase meant. The reason the Romans made people carry their own cross to the place of crucifixion was it was the way of saying, "I am guilty. I have been judged as an offense to Rome and its citizenry, and I am under judgment and its authority over me."

When Jesus tells his disciples to pick up their cross and follow him, what he's saying is, "You live as I lived. You go where I tell you to go. You live in such a way that shows the world that you are under my authority, not an oppressive, judgmental authority but a loving authority that sets you free." What he says is, "Come to me. My cross is heavy. My burdens are light." So what we have to do is admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak.

Instead of dogging folks because of what they wear, let's say, "Let's talk about why we're dressing that way. Let's talk about why we feel like we need to have certain things in our hands at parties." It's not the act; it's often why we do the act, an insecurity and an adopting of the world's ways. God says, "I love you so much more than to make you a slave to what others tell you you have to do," and to help each other.

When you see something going on that you think doesn't honor Christ, what should you do? Step one: go to that person because you care about them. You go, "Well, Todd, I don't like to do that." I go, "What do you have to do with it?" I thought you were a follower of Christ, and I thought when you got baptized and told the world, "I'm a follower of Christ; count me with him" that Galatians 2:20 was true.

"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." So I don't go to a place where there's a cross on the building, but you can be sure of this: that cross has impacted my heart. So the way I live, the way I treat friendships is when I see something that I think is dishonoring to God or hurting them I go to them, and I don't hope somebody else preaches on it. Don't you think this would be a better world if we lived that way?

I had several people this week, maybe three or four, come to me because they saw something I was doing, and they said, "Okay, Todd. I think you can do better here, and I want to love you through it." Every time, they made me better. I adorned myself more in the clothes of the Spirit when I did that. For me, it had nothing to do with physical dress, but it was things I was adorning my life with. I'm a better man because somebody admonished me in unruliness, encouraged me in my faintheartedness, or helped me in my weakness with great patience.

Overlook minor offenses, but if you see something that you think is those other things, go to them. So what do you do if you go to them and it doesn't work out so well? You take two or three others along. That's what the Scripture says. Let's look back at Matthew 18 again. Matthew 18:15: "If your brother sins, go to them in private; if he listens, you've won him over." Verse 16: "If he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses it can confirm what you're saying."

In other words, let's just say you go to this friend who you think is dressing in a way that's not glorifying to God, and they go, "That's just a matter of opinion." Just say, "Can we widen the circle a little bit and see what other folks think?" "No, I don't really want people coming through my closet." Say, "Well, I don't want people going through my closet either, but I do want people helping me honor Christ in everything."

Isn't that what we said? If Jesus is God and he died for me, then isn't it right that we ought to live every way he wants us to live? Not to make him love us. He already loves us while we're a bunch of knuckleheads, but don't we want to respond to that? So let's get other folks in and say,
"Are we responding wisely?" So you bring two or three others along. That's what the Scriptures encourage you to do.

So that if I'm being legalistic about this, if I'm being over the top, they can spare you from me and they can sharpen me and grow me so others don't suffer underneath my ideas. That's what we do. So you take two or three others along. Then we said, "Don't stop if it gets sticky." If the two or three go to that person and that person says, "Frankly, I disagree with all of you," it then says you have to widen it to the community around them.

Matthew 18 says, "Tell it to the church." The church in that context is those who represent the community of Christ around you. At Watermark, it's very rarely this is the church. If there is something going on in my life, because I have a relationship with all of you… If I've been approached individually, and then I've been approached in a wider circle, and then maybe the 15, 20, 30 who are immediately in my life, which is the normal church around most of us, come to me and I continue to be stuck in a sin and a decision to dishonor God, you're going to hear about it.

You're going to hear about the fact that Todd no longer wants to live in a way that Scripture says honors Christ, and that's why he's no longer going to be leading us in the way that he is. That's what the Scripture says in 1 Timothy 5 about elders and pastors. They should treat it a different way. At Watermark, the way it works is it's just like I said.

If I'm in a relationship with a friend and they see something and come to me and I say, "Nah, I think you're being over the top," he would say, "Todd, I'm going to bring some others in, because if I'm over the top I want to know it." The three or four come to me, and if I'm just a normal member of this church and I say to the three or four, "Get lost," then they say, "Let's widen this to our entire community and maybe bring in some other folks, a couple of staff folks if that's appropriate, or whatever authority can step in with us and tell us if we're out of line."

Then it's kind of over, and that church around them, that community right there helps them get to where they need to be. Let me show you a little clip of where we left this last week. I'm going to walk you through what this really looks like. This was the very end of that little role-play we did. What do you do when it gets sticky like this? Check it out.


Female: You know what, guys? Bottom line, you just need to butt out.

Male: Amy, we made a mistake. We talked behind your back and we didn't come to you first, and we don't want to make that mistake again. Look, Brian is a great guy, but he's not the problem; you are, Amy. You took vows to trust and follow Christ, and I think it's less than trusting to enter into a relationship in marriage with a nonbeliever.

Female: You know what? I dated a church guy, and he lived much worse than Brian ever did.

Female: We know, and we didn't like him either. We talked about that. Just because you meet a guy at church doesn't mean he's following Christ. In the Scripture it talks about being equally yoked. That covers a guy like that too, Amy.

Female: Yeah, and you don't want to use a bad example to justify a bad choice. Amy, God loves you, and he wants the best for you. You have to learn to trust him. He'll bless those choices. There are believer guys who get it, Amy.

Female: You know what? You guys don't get it. It is hard. You don't understand. I've dated losers, and I'm tired of it. I finally meet a really good guy like Brian, and… You know what? I'm done listening to you guys.

Female: Amy…

Female: Can't you be happy for me?

[End of video]

No one wants that, but in that last little moment they loved her pretty well. They said, "Look, the Scripture says, 'By wisdom a house is built. By understanding it's established. By knowledge a room is filled with all pleasant and good things.' If you guys have a different blueprint for what your life is going to look like, the Scriptures warn you against saying, 'Let's build a house together.'"

You can't build a house with somebody who has designed a completely different house, who doesn't believe there's a divine architect who talks about the way you work through relationships and the way you stay covenanted with one another, the way you care for one another, the way you view one another. You can't build a house with two different blueprints. God loves you, and he says, "Don't kill yourself. Don't frustrate yourself. Don't build a weak house, a fragmented house. Covenant together with those who are like you."

So they loved her enough to bring up that idea, and they pushed their way through it. Now look. What do you do then? They reached back out to Amy to say, "Amy, again, if the way we did this offended you, would you help us see it so we can ask your forgiveness for the way we communicated? But let us go back over with you why we communicated what we did, and if you're committed to living in a way that is outside of the admonition of Scripture we owe it to the world and to you to take the next step." So what's the next step? The next step is pretty clear.

By the way, this, gang, is why we are so committed to one another. You're like, "Golly! This is messy." You know what? Our lives are messy. That's why God gave us one another, because all of our lives need a service day. We need 5,000 man-hours dumped into us every now and then to help us get our lives back into a place where it is the beautiful thing, the garden God intended it to be, and help us deal with the weeds.

We all become attached to the weeds in our gardens, so you need somebody who's going to persevere with you, stay in there. This is what it says in 1 Corinthians, chapter 6. What Amy should have done was said, "You know what, guys? I think you're for me, but I need to widen the circle. Who are some trusted friends?" Then agree, "Who are some other people in this church outside of our little community we can bring in who can listen to us talk about this and help us figure this thing out?" That's what you do. I'll show you in 1 Corinthians 6. Check out what it says.

"Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?

So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goes to law with brother, and [this before folks who don't live with the insight of God's perfect Word that you do] ?"

This goes into the business realm. This goes into the relational realm. This goes into the life practice realm. Can't you help each other? That's exactly what it's saying in 1 Corinthians, chapter 6. Why would you run away? Well, the Scripture tells us often the reason we isolate is because we're seeking our own desires. Maybe Amy runs back and never wants to widen the circle. What do you do with Amy then?

Well, luckily, Matthew doesn't leave us alone. It tells us what to do. It says after you move forward and it gets sticky and you try to widen the circle and bring them in and say, "Look, if we're wrong collectively, show us," it says, lastly, in Matthew 18, when somebody is stuck in their sin you don't stop there. The Scripture says you treat them as a nonbeliever. I want you to lock in on this.

Matthew 18:17: "If he refuses to listen even to the broader community…" Not a Sunday morning conversation, but the broader community of relationships around them and maybe two or three wise folks who you can bring in who represent the corporate body. "…let him be to you even as a Gentile and a tax gatherer." The Scriptures would say in other places "as an unbeliever."

Here's my question…How do you treat Amy now? How do you treat Gentiles and tax collectors? Guess how. You love them. You care for them. You don't wish ill on them. You pursue them. You pray for them. You live your life before them in such a way that they long for the life that your life represents. You wait for them to return. In fact, let me just show you. In Mark, chapter 2, this is what Jesus was doing.

He had just been out there. He had found his buddy Matthew who was living a life of absolute offense to God. It was damaging his relationship with his fellow Israeli citizens because of his selling himself out to Rome and plundering his fellow Israelis for some cash. Jesus had called him to follow him, and Matthew's life was changed by coming to know who Christ was, that there was a better way.

So Matthew did what everybody should do when they come to know Christ. He invited all of his friends. He said, "Come over to my house. I want you to meet my new friend who has changed me." It says, "And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, [and many of Matthew's friends, other tax gatherers and other sinners] were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him."

Let me just say this, believers. Notice this. When Jesus was with sinners, they were following him. Jesus' outreach ministry was not to go and be with sinners and act like a sinner. When Jesus was with sinners, he was there and they were following him. He was mingling with sinners without mingling with sin. He wasn't dumbing down to their level to build a relationship. He was loving them no matter where they were.

Now look. It comes after this, this great little statement. "Why is Jesus eating and drinking with tax gatherers and Gentiles?" "And hearing this, Jesus said to them, 'It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'" So what did Jesus do when he found individuals who were far from God? What did he do with Gentiles and tax gatherers? Here's what he did. I'm going to give you three very simple things.

He spoke the truth in love. He spoke the truth. Jesus was not a master at comfortable cocktail conversation. He was an expert at speaking the truth in love. He dove in with them and said, "We have to be individuals who faithfully wound. 'Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.' Matthew, what you're doing is going to destroy your life. You're building up material possessions, but people hate you, and you're living in isolation and alone. There's a better way."

Jesus loved at all times. He faithfully wounded. By the way, when I say the first thing, that he loved at all times… Jesus was not accused of being a companion of sinners; he was accused of being a friend of sinners. A friend is somebody who's going to faithfully wound. By the way, a friend loves at all times. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love does not act unbecomingly. Love does not seek its own. Love is not provoked. Love does not take into account a wrong suffered. Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness.

So when you see a friend who's doing something that's unrighteous, you don't go, "Hey, you're a blast to be with." You go to them and say, "I can't rejoice in what's going on in your life." So, he loves at all times, he faithfully wounds, and he continues, as much as he is able, to pursue them personally in the context of relationship. Every day, the father in Luke 15 stood personally at the gate and looked personally for his son, ready to run to him if he would come back.

That's what we do here. That's the way we love one another. Why? Because that's how we'll be known as his church. What's so funny about this is I was talking to another friend this week, somebody else, somebody who would fit the context of this little passage who never has come into a deep, abiding relationship with God. We were talking about what we were doing over here right now, and I said, "Let me let you see why we love this way."

He read Matthew 18:15-16. He goes, "I like those two, but I don't like verse 17 and following. I think that's crazy." I go, "Okay, fine. But you know what? The question we have to ask ourselves is 'Is it true and is it the right way to do it?' Let me explain to you what the church means." We kind of walked our way through it. I explained, "This is why we do this: it's how we love one another and care for one another."

I want to prepare you for this, because this is going to happen as you deal with Amys in your life. You have to be prepared for unreasonable people or people who are committed at a certain point, who are held in the grips of sin, who are going to cast all kinds of dispersions at you. Let me give you a few proverbs very quickly to walk you through.

The very first thing is I want to make sure I'm not an Amy at any moment in my life like that, so I want to clothe myself in humility. Here's one: Proverbs 15:12. I don't want to be a scoffer when a group of people who love me… I've had guys say this. "Todd, do you know that we love you?"


"Do you know we have your best interests in mind?"


"Do you know that we love God's Word?"


"Then five of us are telling you this. Isn't that enough?"

In fact, Proverbs 26 says a fool is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who have given a discreet answer. I have been that fool at certain times in my life where I've said, "You guys just don't get it. You don't see what I see. You don't know what I know." They go, "Well, then tell us what we don't know, but having heard everything you've already said, we're all still here, and we think this is a better way."

Here's the truth. Proverbs 15:12: "A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, he will not go to the wise." He's going to pull back and isolate. Why? Because he's committed to his foolishness. Proverbs 13:1: "A wise son accepts his father's discipline, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke." Are you a scoffer or are you a child of God who humbles himself and clothes himself unto humility and lets people spur him on to love and good deeds?

By the way, people tell me sometimes, "I don't want to go to that person. This is going to be a really awkward conversation. All of their clothes look like this." Do you know what I say to them? "You don't have to go and tell them what you see, but in order to not tell them, you have to make this declaration." What declaration do you think I'm about to say?

You have to declare that they're not a believer. You don't ask nonbelievers to dress like believers. You have to say they are far from God, that they don't know him, in which case you don't pursue them because of their dress; you pursue them because you love them and they're outside of God's best for them, not because of the way they dress but because of the way they live their life.

This is what you have to be able to say about somebody if you're not going to go to them. Proverbs 9:7: "He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, and he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself." Guess what. That's a proverb telling you not to go to a scoffer or a wicked man. If you don't want to go to that person in your small group, does that mean they are a scoffer and a wicked man? If so, we have to deal with that.

Look at what it says in verse 8. "Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you…" So are they a scoffer? Look at Proverbs 23:9. "Do not speak in the hearing of a fool…" So they're a scoffer. They're wicked. They're a fool. Now let's up the stakes. Matthew 7:6: "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine…" So you don't have to go to your wife, your friend, your daughter, your son, your coworker if they are a scoffer, wicked fool, pig, dog, wicked, lost person.

If you're willing to declare that, then you are not called by Scripture to go to them, but if you go, "That's not who they are; they're just a believer like me who struggles with what's best," then you clothe yourself in humility, you get the log out of your eye, you get gentle words, you get wise words, you pray yourself up, you apply all of the 10 steps I talked about last week, and you go to them with tears in your eyes because you love them. How great to have a friend who is that committed to you.

The world says, "People don't talk like that, Todd." Exactly! But folks who carry crosses do. Folks who love the way Christ loved do, and it changes the church. Do you know what the problem is? In this country there are buildings all over America with crosses on top of them, and there are so few people inside those churches who are carrying their crosses and loving one another this way.

So the church continues to drift and look just like the world, and we have thongs hanging out our dresses, not because we're seekers and trying to figure out who God is but because we have drunk deeply of this world and have failed to love one another. We don't believe God has our best interests in mind, so we don't wrestle with Scripture. There you go. Happy Mother's Day.

You know what? Does a mom ever give up with what's best for her child? Do you want to honor Mom? The Scripture says you care for each other tenderly, even as a mother for the child she holds at her breast. The Scripture also says love like a daddy, always seeking what is best.

Let me wrap this thing up, gang. Do you know what this is really about? Are you going to be a Christ follower or not? That's what this is really about. Are you going to love others the way God loved or not? Conflict is an opportunity to glorify God. How? Because you begin to love as he loved. Look at this Scripture. What did Jesus do in the midst of conflict? Well, here we go. Second Corinthians 5:18-20:

"Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."

What did God do in the midst of conflict with sinners? He loved them all the time, he faithfully wounded them with truth ("You're a sinner; you're separated from me"), and he personally cared for them. How personally? So personally that if you're a mother here today and you've never held your child in your hands because you made a decision to terminate that pregnancy, he didn't run away from you. He said, "I died for that."

So personally that if you've been giving yourself away, attracting guys to you by dressing seductively and offering to them things that foolish guys believe are going to make them men and you've cheapened yourself and prostituted yourself out for a little affection because your dad didn't love you well or because the world convinced you that's where life is, he died for that. If you're the guy who has seized upon that opportunity in a wicked and perverted world, that you have taken the way of the wicked and been perverted in your understanding of sexuality, which is a gift from God used in his way, he died for that.

He doesn't want to be in conflict with you, so in Christ God pursued you, and he still loves you. While you're still that guy Christ died for you. He reminds you. He faithfully wounds you. "You're a sinner. You're separated from me." But he loved you personally. When Jesus cried out, "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?" God could have answered from heaven, "Because of Todd Wagner. That's why I have forsaken you." Plug your name in.

To this day he's pursuing you, tax gatherer and Gentile, and he wants you to come. He's ready to run to you with grace that is unspeakable. The question is…Will you come? If you've come, the question is…Will you love the way he loved? That's how the world is going to know we're his disciples: by the way we love one another. Not by our buildings but by the transforming work that he builds into our hearts as his Word and his people and his Spirit conform us to his image.

Do you see what conflict is? It is an opportunity to glorify God. Who loves like that? To serve others ("I'm going to help you be all that God wants you to be") and to grow yourself, because you're going to put yourself in relationships where others sharpen you, admonish you, encourage you, and help you. Win-win-win. Give me some of that.

Father, we thank you on this day that we celebrate loving parents that we see you are the most loving parent. May we learn to follow you. Father, if I have friends who are here this morning who are out there who, according to your Word, are tax gatherers and Gentiles, I pray that they heard me say this morning that you love them. I pray they see your love for them in our lives.

I pray they see the way we love one another with great patience, not troublesome meddlers in each other's lives but friends who love each other just the way we are, but just like you we love each other enough to not let us stay that way as you conform us to the image of Christ. Would you do that? Would you bring them and would you send us? For your glory and the world's good, be God of this city, be God of this man, be God of this people, amen.

Have a great week of worship. We'll see you.

About 'Conflict: A Constant Opportunity'

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.