Most people hate conflict; especially conflict that leads to divisions. It seems our cultural conflicts are thriving these days in almost every arena. Conflict arises sometimes in the home when our social bubbles have been too small for too long and people begin to get on one another’s nerves. I have seen conflict arise from different ideas about dealing with COVID-19, and sadly, sometimes conflict spills over into the church!
Once, when I was reading my devotions, while in the middle of a season of conflict several years ago, I found myself developing negative attitudes about those people. I was reading my daily Bible reading from Colossians 3 that was so relevant and applicable to what I was experiencing, I typed it out and taped it to the wall where I could see it every day to remind me how I needed to respond.
It is from Colossians 3:12-16a and says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom…”
I believe this scripture is so applicable to all of us who face these conflict or divisive issues, sometimes daily. And Proverbs 15:1 also says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
I have learned there is a difference between acting and reacting. When I react to someone, such as reacting with harsh or angry words because somebody makes me angry, I am letting them be in control of my response. But when somebody does something that would cause me to be angry, I choose to act with gentleness and kindness, not react. I choose to act according to how I believe Jesus would act and treat people. I want Jesus to control how I act.
This was put to the test a few years back when a neighbor came unglued and ranted all kinds of angry things at me and my family. As I tried to calm him down to have a civil conversation about what he was so angry about, he stormed out, refusing to talk about it. He was very unreasonable when it came to try to resolve whatever he was angry about. We were dumbstruck. At first, I was in shock at the whole ordeal, like, “What was that all about?”
Then, I became angry at the way he ruined our dinner with his explosive vitriol. Then, we chose how we were going to act. After a week of attempting to communicate about his anger, we decided that we would show unconditional love toward he and his family. After several months of very little or no response to our gestures of kindness, he finally let his barrier down and began to be friendly again. We never did find the real cause of his anger, but we were glad we chose to respond by acting according to Christ’s love.
Admittedly, it is easier said than done. But through Christ, who strengthens us, we can love unconditionally. And, I believe, we can turn the tide of conflict and division into relationships that are built on kindness, gentleness and respect for one another. Then the issues that create conflict become more manageable to finding common ground
We have a resource that enables us to respond to anger, accusation and outrage in a healing, productive, and life-giving way. That resource is Jesus and his abiding Holy Spirit in us. Because Jesus has loved us when we were at our worst, through God’s grace, we can love others when they are at their worst. Because Jesus has forgiven us for all our wrongs, we can forgive others who have wronged us. Because Jesus offered a gentle answer to hatred, we can offer gentle answers to those who offend us or sin against us. But make no mistake: Jesus’s gentle answer was bold and costly. He was still crucified. Our reward is doing the right thing before God and trusting him more.
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:21-24)
In Christ may we find peace with God and may we seek peace with one another and faithfully pursue it! (Psalm 34:14)
• Dan Wiese is pastor for the Church of the Nazarene. “Living Growing” is a column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders.