Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Is this wrong?

So, we’ve been talking about conflict for several weeks. And based on those lessons I can, with some confidence, answer the question “What do we do when there is a conflict?” The answer is, “not what I have done the past two weeks.”

Before I clarify what I mean, I need to explain that some people that aren’t in our church see this. So, I’m a little cryptic with no names or specifics.

Week before last, I was uncomfortable with a disagreement that came up between two of our people (I’m related to both of them). It’s a situation that, in my opinion has just dragged on far too long. At this juncture, years later, the victim and villain roles are deeply entrenched from all sides. When the conflict has been going for so long, no-one can possibly be blameless, so it’s easy for everyone else to justify the view that the others are villains. I was uncomfortable with the discussion so I clammed up.

I was uncomfortable last week for a different reason. I felt like our consensus (“bless his heart, the poor thing doesn’t know any better”) missed two big points.

1) A member of our body has been devalued, maligned, and mistreated. She should be supported, encouraged and praised by us. The person avoiding her is costing himself tremendous blessing for his grace-less approach. She is being wounded because he is behaving badly. (Please note that I harbor no resentment or ill will towards him in that. I join his family in praying only for God to bless him bounteously. But my prayers add that a tremendous blessing would be his if he would restore the relationship with her. She is wise and delightful, I’m praying that God would bless him with a restored relationship.)

2) 2Th 3:14, 15 “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of him. Have nothing to do with him so that he will feel ashamed. Yet, don't treat him like an enemy, but warn him like a brother.” There are many other passages, including Matthew 18 that can be summarized “if the sinning brother refuses to repent, shun him.”

Our discussion Sunday yielded a pretty clear conclusion that sometimes you just “put up” with people as an act of grace, turning the other cheek, and repaying evil with kindness. But, it’s also clear that sometimes we need to do like Jesus and rebuke Pharisees, and throw out money changers. Sometimes we need to do like Paul teaches and refuse to associate with someone.

Even in Matthew 7 we are to “not judge” and to remove the beam from our own eye. But Jesus gives a reason for this “self-surgery.” The reason is not to just “overlook” real failures in the lives of other believers. He says to do the “self-surgery” to remove the beam “Then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (vs. 5) Sometimes, it’s wrong to leave the speck unaddressed.

The body reflects Christ best when it is unified. Conflicts occur. When conflicts occur, they must be urgently addressed. It is important to address conflicts with the perspective that

· “I have contributed to the conflict and I must confess and repent of my contributions.” (I am not entitled to the victim chair.)

· “I will assume that the other party is attempting to act in a reasonable and decent manner and desires to follow the Holy Spirit” (They are not likely a villain.)

· “God has empowered His people to be unified.” (We have an advocate and a defender who empowers us to be in unity. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”)

The conclusion to be long-suffering with mistreatment is absolutely right in some instances. But it seems to me that we sometimes settle for that as a solution when we don’t have a firm enough grip on the third perspective. God Himself, in the person of Holy Spirit, is battling for unity. Sometimes that battle must go through a stage of separation, for unity to be real.

If it’s sometimes right to overlook an offense, and sometimes right to gently rebuke an offense, and sometimes right to refuse to tolerate an offense, how can we tell which is right when?

I Corinthians 5: 9-13 “I wrote you in my earlier letter that you shouldn't make yourselves at home among the sexually promiscuous. I didn't mean that you should have nothing at all to do with outsiders of that sort. Or with crooks, whether blue- or white-collar. Or with spiritual phonies, for that matter. You'd have to leave the world entirely to do that! But I am saying that you shouldn't act as if everything is just fine when one of your Christian companions is promiscuous or crooked, is flip with God or rude to friends, gets drunk or becomes greedy and predatory. You can't just go along with this, treating it as acceptable behavior. I'm not responsible for what the outsiders do, but don't we have some responsibility for those within our community of believers? God decides on the outsiders, but we need to decide when our brothers and sisters are out of line and, if necessary, clean house.” (The Message)

Does the scripture give us any direction to determine when is the time to “repay evil with kindness,” when is the time to “rebuke in gentleness,” and when is the time to “shun the evildoer?” Was it right for me to be silent when I was uncomfortable? Is it wrong for me to argue another perspective now? (although it’s clearly foolish to put it in writing… OOPS) Should you all shun me if I insist on posting this?

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