In preparation for our sermons from James 4 on church conflict I’ve been cataloguing the variety of ways that we sinfully behave in conflict. In order to prepare and focus my thoughts for the sermon I want to explain each of the “behaviors” on the list and demonstrate where Scripture points them out for what they are.
You can read the whole list in the post below. In this post I’d just like to cover and expound on conflict behavior 1 and 2:
1. We Fail to see one another as objects of God’s grace.
2. We Boast* and Position ourselves, i.e., we remind our opponents of our credentials in an attempt to implicitly discredit anything they say.
1. In church conflict we often fail to see and treat one another as objects of God’s grace.
Pastor Chris’ sermon from James 3 on “taming the tongue” lands on this subject very well and actually says a lot about #2 on our list of conflict behavior. Listen to both parts of James 3 at our website HERE.
Where would each of us be if not for the grace of God; the unmerited, unearned favor, love and mercy of God?
2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
My sin is so destructive and vile, my offenses so condemnable in the sight and presence of an absolutely perfect and holy God that the author of life had to die to absolve me of them. He died freely, lovingly, and for the joy of saving and purchasing the church for himself.
With the weight of the cross in mind, how am I able to condemn my brothers and sisters in Christ? How am I able to harbor bitterness and avoid reconciliation and peace? How am I supposed to say that I deserve more grace than they do? Quite simply, I can’t. Therefore,
“In Church Conflict We Must Never Cease to think and treat one another as objects of God’s grace!”
2. We Boast* and Position ourselves.
In conflict we are often prone to assert our own competency, skill, aptitude and experience in order to discredit the one we are in conflict with. I often think of the Pharisees conflict with Jesus in John 8. Let me set the background. Jesus has stood up at the climax of one of Israel’s most sacred feasts and very pointedly said to the crowd, basically, “I am the reason this feast exists. I am the one you should be celebrating. I am the light of the world.”
The Pharisees are certainly stunned by this. Jesus says in 8:31-32,
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Here is Jesus confronting his audience. “You need to follow me. I am the way. Only I can set you free.”
The Pharisees respond,
33 “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Did you catch it? “WE ARE offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.” In other words Jesus, “we’re ok with God. We don’t need you.”
First of all, this is just plain stupid. They’re so angry with Jesus they’re not even thinking straight. As Israelites, they’ve pretty much been enslaved to everyone. The Jews in John 8 are under Roman rule. Their ancestors had been captives of the Babylonians, the Assyrians and in this passage they’re at a party that’s designed to celebrate how God guided them in the wilderness after they escaped Egyptian slavery. Let me say that again. They actually tell Jesus they’ve “never been slaves to anyone” at a party that was founded to celebrate their release from Egyptian slavery. Awesome. Just. Plain. Awesome.
Secondly, being the physical, national, natural “offspring” of father Abraham doesn’t earn them any spiritual credit (although they clearly think it does). Jesus calls them on it quickly.
v. 35, “Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did…44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.”
I am prone to think like the Pharisees when I’m in conflict and assert my own aptitude as if it earns me something.
“I study harder than you.”
“I went to school longer than you.”
“This person agrees with me.”
“I’m better at this than you.”
If I’m being honest, none of these things make me “right” in any single given conflict, nor do any of them earn me special grace from God, much less demand respect from anyone else.
“We must not posture or position ourselves in conflict as if our status or aptitude discredit our opponents. It’s a dirty little trick we use to avoid being confronted with the fact that maybe we haven’t got everything figured out and just may need to repent of some sinful behavior.”
*You’ll notice in previous posts number 2 was originally phrased “posture and position”. I changed it to “boast” after listening to Pastor Chris’ sermon on Sunday. I felt afterward that “boasting” better describes what we’re talking about and is referenced repeatedly in the Scriptures.