By Tony Merida, Crosswalk.com
I’m hard-pressed to think of another season in my lifetime when I’ve felt more compelled to work toward and pray for peace. The stress in our culture is palpable, as we struggle to deal with natural disasters, a global pandemic, racial injustice, and a divisive political landscape—and that just recaps the last few months!
Turn on the news or check your Facebook feed and you’ll see the inevitable byproduct of the tension we’re experiencing. Relationships are suffering. People are desperate for peace.
In our conflict-ridden world, we Christians can and should be agents of love and reconciliation.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus offers: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” He fleshes out this beatitude in more detail in his sermon (and in later passages in the gospels), and the rest of the New Testament builds on it. Further, there are many Old Testament passages that are echoed and deepened by Christ and the New Testament writers.
The Bible tells us exactly what we need to do to become peacemakers. As we seek to glorify God by pursuing peace, harmony, and unity with others, there are five questions we can ask ourselves—easily remembered as the “5Ms:”
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1. Me-First: Is There a Log in My Eye?
Before we point out the offense of another, we must first examine our own hearts. When we have a conflict with someone, the tendency is to point out all that is wrong with the other person, while avoiding our own sin.
In Matthew 7, Jesus is opposed to hypocritical judgment that fails to consider one’s own sin first; he’s opposed to a judgmental attitude that fails to consider the “log” in one’s eye. The big problem here is that we cannot see correctly until we remove the log (Matthew 7:5). Our assessment of the other person is wrong, in other words, because something is blurring or blocking our vision.
And it’s not a speck—it’s a 2 x 4! Jesus is saying our vision and observations about others in the midst of conflict is totally compromised when we fail to assess ourselves first. Pride compromises our ability to see anything accurately; everything is out of proportion, fuzzy, foggy, and wrong.
Once the pride is removed, and the foggy goggles come off, we will be able to accurately assess the other person’s life and actions.
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2. Minor: Can I Overlook This Offense?
Some matters need to be overlooked. Life would surely be better if we lived out this Proverb:
A person’s insight gives him patience, and his virtue is to overlook an offense – Prov 19:11
This underscores the New Testament idea of “bearing with one another” (Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:2). So many of our conflicts could be solved if we mercifully overlooked minor offenses. Peter, alluding to Proverbs 12, tells Christians:
Above all, maintain constant love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. – 1 Pet 4:8
And in James, we read:
...remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. – James 5:20
When we love as we have been loved, we can overlook offenses.
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3. Major – Does This Offense Require the Process of Restoration?
Ken Sande says on page 83 of his book, The Peacemaker, that a major offense is any offense in which a person’s action dishonors God, damages your relationship, hurts others, hurts the offender, or disrupts unity. These actions call for a restoration process.
In Matthew 18, Jesus gave us a restoration process to follow. He said:
If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother – Matthew 18:15
So “step one” in the process of conflict resolution is just between the two of you. The goal is to win your brother or sister and see them restored. And remember, before going to the offender, we need to deal with our own hearts and seek to be merciful and forgiving (Matthew 18:21-35).
Jesus goes on to say that sometimes one-one-one conversations do not lead to restoration. If “step one” doesn’t resolve things, a second step is necessary, where two or three others are brought in to help mediate the conflict. And then if no change happens, Jesus provides “step three:” the matter is brought before the church (Matt 18:15-20).
For a helpful book on church discipline, see Jeremy Kimble’s 40 Questions about Church Membership and Discipline.
What I have found in these “awkward conversations” is that the Lord often shows up! Though you may begin the meeting somewhat nervously or anxiously, once you begin to deal with the matter, you sense God’s presence at work in the midst of the meeting. It’s almost as if God likes it when we seek reconciliation and restoration! Imagine that.
So let this encourage you. You aren’t alone when you have to have such conversations. Jesus has commanded you to do it, and more than that, he shows up when you obey it, empowering the whole thing! Christ is with you in conflict.
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4. Material – Does This Offense Require Restitution Regarding Property, Money, or Other Rights?
Sometimes the conflict extends beyond personal relationships into material issues. So certain actions will need to be included in the restoration process.
For instance, if your neighbor’s tree falls on your fence because he failed to trim it properly, then you will need to deal with more than your feelings toward the neighbor. You will need to negotiate the next steps for repairing your fence. If your neighbor is to blame, you will want to be gentle and reasonable.
Don’t seek to take advantage of the situation, but rather “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). If it had been your tree and your fault, then you wouldn’t want a harsh, demanding neighbor trying to take advantage of you. Jesus said:
Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them. – Matthew 7:12
Ken Sande explains in The Peacemaker,, that you might be able to overlook the offense all together, but if it’s a more serious issue seek to be gentle (communicating graciously and respectfully, seeking to understand the situation, and considering the interest of others), and reasonable (identifying the problems, considering all the options, and coming to a like-minded agreement).
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5. Mediation – Does This Offense Require Another Party to Assist in Peacemaking?
I will limit this category to one biblical example found in Philippians 4:2-3 when Paul writes:
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I also ask you, true partner, to help these women who have contended for the gospel at my side, along with Clement and the rest of my coworkers whose names are in the book of life. – Philippians 4:2-3
Not much is known about these women or the cause of their strife. They do seem to have an influential role in the church, for Paul mentions how they labored with him in gospel work (Philippians 4:3). The issue doesn’t seem to be doctrinal, but relational. While we don’t know the exact cause of the problem, we can note the process for solving it.
First, Paul instructs the women themselves to resolve the matter by having the same mind (“to agree in the Lord,” Philippians 4:2). This echoes Paul’s previous teaching on unity and humility (Philippians 2:1-11).
After his plea, however, Paul calls for assisted peacemaking (Philippians 4:3). Paul alerts the whole church to the problem and urges one called a “true partner” to “help these women.” In asking for help, Paul shows us the importance of others’ assisting in the reconciliation process.
In a conflict, you may need to get help. You may need a pastor, a counselor, or a trusted friend. Such cases aren’t new; we find one right here in Philippians 4—in one of the best churches in the New Testament!
Finally, Paul reminds everyone why these two sisters should be reconciled: the gospel. He states that their “names are in the book of life” (see Philippians 4:3; Luke 10:20; and Hebrews 12:23). The common faith and a common hope of two believers should motivate and shape the restoration process.
Bring Christ’s Peace to Our Hurting World
Our world needs Christ’s peace, and Christians can be its givers. Let’s aim to love our neighbors well as we seek to be peacemakers.
Let’s avoid the wrong responses in conflict: escaping or fighting. Let’s deal with things rightly in a way that honors God by considering our own hearts first, by asking if this offense can be overlooked, by seeking to carry out the biblical reconciliation process, by restoring property if necessary, or by seeking someone’s help to mediate the conflict.
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