I am preparing to teach lesson two tonight at our Romanian Bible study near St. Louis, MO. The lesson comes from “Lord, give me a heart for You“. It is an important lesson because it teaches us how to resolve conflicts among friends. As we live life with the people around us, conflicts will inevitably arise because we are all flawed people living in a fallen world. The question is not whether or not you have conflicts, the question is how do you react in the midst of one? Do you blow up in anger and give the guilty party what he or she deserves? Or, do you seek to resolve the conflict while maintaining the relationship? This lesson will teach us how to value the relationship enough to resolve the conflict.
I. Take initiative in resolving the conflict even if you are the victim.
The great missionary St. Paul found himself in the midst of a conflict, started by some of his disciples. They were falsely accusing him of things that he had not done and were quick to judge him without having all of the information. Has that ever happened to you? How did you respond? Did you wait for the other person to confess his guilt and ask for forgiveness or did you take initiative to resolve the conflict in a Christlike manner? Let’s see what we can learn from Paul’s example.
12 For our proud confidence is this : the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you. 13 For we write nothing else to you than what you read and understand, and I hope you will understand until the end ; 14 just as you also partially did understand us, that we are your reason to be proud as you also are ours, in the day of our Lord Jesus. 15 In this confidence I intended at first to come to you, so that you might twice receive a blessing ; 16 that is, to pass your way into Macedonia, and again from Macedonia to come to you, and by you to be helped on my journey to Judea. 17 Therefore, I was not vacillating when I intended to do this, was I? Or what I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, so that with me there will be yes, yes and no, no at the same time? 18 But as God is faithful, our word to you is not yes and no. 19 For the Son of God, Christ Jesus, who was preached among you by us-by me and Silvanus and Timothy -was not yes and no, but is yes in Him. 20 For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are yes ; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us. 21 Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, 22 who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge. 23 But I call God as witness to my soul, that to spare you I did not come again to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but are workers with you for your joy ; for in your faith you are standing firm. (II Corinthians 1)
Remind yourself and the person with whom you are in conflict the reasons why you are friends and how much that friendship means to you. Paul begins with this as he addresses the issue, the reason for the conflict. He took initiative to find out why there was a conflict and wrote to the Corinthians to try and resolve the conflict and save the relationship. Paul had told the Corinthians that he would visit them on his next mission trip. He had delayed his arrival in Corinth and some of the Corinthians were saying that he made decisions lightly and was not a man of his word. Paul reminds them of how he acted among them the previous time, as well as the first time he was there in Corinth. These accusations were not in alliance with what they knew about him. They were quick to judge him without finding out the reasons. They never considered that maybe he had been imprisoned and could not come (he spent much time in prison for the Gospel). The Corinthians were doing a lot of assuming. Isn’t that usually the case when conflicts arise between friends? One begins to assume what the other is thinking or why he is doing what he is doing and instead of asking the person, he or she gets angry based on those assumptions, even if those assumptions have no foundation based on the previous history of the relationship with the person. Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever been the one doing the assuming? Let’s learn from Paul’s example. 1) Assumptions without communication are bad 2) Take initiative to resolve the conflict 3) Remind yourself and the other person about your history, why you are friends and how much you care for that person.
II. Paul explains why he delayed in coming to the Corinthians
1 But I determined this for my own sake, that I would not come to you in sorrow again. 2 For if I cause you sorrow, who then makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful ? 3 This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice ; having confidence in you all that my joy would be the joy of you all. 4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears ; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you. (II Corinthians 2)
Paul chose to delay in his coming, not because he was not a man of his word, but because he felt he was being led by the Spirit. If he had come to them when he had planned, he would have come out of anger because of the way that they were acting, their immaturity as believers. He planted the church in Corinth and watched over their growth both while he was there and also when he was planting other churches. He sent fellow workers to Corinth to find out info. He wrote at least 2 letters to them (more than likely, the total number is 4). He answered their questions and taught them how to live practically as the church among the pagan world. He gave them specific tasks, sometimes they were obedient and other times they were not. This was a time when they were not and he was upset with them. If he were to come in his current state, he would come out of anger and would not have spared them (1:23). He would have rebuked them harshly and they would have had more sorrow instead of rejoicing at his visit. He was thinking about them. He wanted to bring a blessing and the grace of God to them but he was afraid of his attitude because of his anger. He decided to cool down first, prepare his coming with a letter, and then meet them face to face in order to rejoice instead of creating more sorrow.
III. Paul understood the importance of forgiveness and he forgave his accusers
Not only had Paul already forgiven his accuser(s) but he encouraged the Corinthians to forgive as well and show their forgiveness.
5 But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree -in order not to say too much -to all of you. 6 Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, 7 so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him. 9 For to this end also I wrote, so that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. 10 But one whom you forgive anything, I forgive also ; for indeed what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, I did it for your sakes in the presence of Christ, 11 so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes. (II Corinthians 2)
If you do not forgive the other person, even if he has accused you falsely, then you give an advantage to Satan because not forgiving someone destroys relationships and the one who will not forgive. He becomes bitter based on what someone else has done to him. He is no longer in control of his emotions but is now being controlled by them. Paul had already forgiven his accuser and was more interested in fixing the relationship than being proven right. He had a clear conscious before the Lord and that was enough.
IV. Jesus’ example of resolving conflict
In Matthew 18:15-35, Jesus deals with resolving conflict and forgiveness. He gives us clear steps to take in order to resolve the conflicts that we have with others.
1) Go directly to the person with whom you are in conflict. Do not go to others and talk about the person and the conflict. Do not post it on facebook. Go one on one and try to resolve the conflict. If the person listens to you and accepts what you have to say then forgive him or her. If he or she does not listen to you and the problem continues then . . .
2) Go see the person again with one or two trustworthy people. They must be spiritually minded people who are interested in resolving the conflict and not taking sides. They must also be people who will not post it on facebook. If the person accepts what you and the witnesses have to say then forgive that person and continue on with your relationship. On the other hand, if the person still does not accept what you and the witnesses have to say then . . .
3) Take it to the leaders of the church. If the person accepts then you forgive and enter back into fellowship with each other. If the person does not accept then church discipline must be applied. One way or another, the conflict must be resolved.
4) Be ready to forgive the person each time he sins against you. Do not count the number of offenses. When he repents of his actions (if he is the guilty party) then you forgive him as God has forgiven us in Jesus Christ.
5) If you cannot forgive others then you have not yet experienced the forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ and you need to repent and receive that forgiveness so that you can extend it to others.
List 3 conflicts that you are in at the moment and what you need to do in each case to resolve the conflict. In some you may be the guilty party. In others you may be the victim. What will you do with the knowledge of God’s Word that you have learned? How would applying this lesson change the quality of the relationships in your life? What keeps you from obeying God in this situation?
May the Lord help us be faithful to Him and do all that we can to resolve conflicts.