Description / Transcription
Our heavenly Father, as we come now to your word, we pray not merely out of habit but out of a great sense of need. We ask that we would not be wasting our time. You take no delight in hundreds or thousands of people gathering together, dressing up, coming to church that we may simply endure some songs and prayers and someone speaking to us. So help us to have ears to hear and hearts to listen. Would you convict of us of sin, lead us to Christ, help us not to listen for other people that we think may need this word more, but to hear in our own ears what you mean to say to us. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
It all began over a pig. In 1878 Randolph McCoy accused Floyd Hatfield of stealing one of his hogs. Randolph was the patriarch of the McCoys who lived on the Kentucky side of the Tug Fork, a tributary of the big sandy river. William Anderson Hatfield, called by the auspicious name Devil Anse, was the patriarch of the Hatfields who lived on the other side of the Tug Fork in West Virginia. Floyd Hatfield, who was a cousin of Devil Anse, was to stand trial for his supposed swine stealing in McCoy territory, but the presiding judge was a Hatfield. To make matters more confusing, the case rested on the testimony of one Bill Staton, who was a McCoy relative married to a Hatfield, and when Staton testified in favor of Floyd Hatfield so he was let go, the McCoys were furious. Some time later they killed Staton, though the McCoys themselves were acquitted. It was said that they were simply killing in self-defense.
The story actually maybe can be traced back even earlier to 1865. All of the Hatfields and McCoys fought on the side of the Confederacy except for one of the Hatfields, I believe it was, who in returning in 1865, he had fought with the Union, was killed by a band of raiders, but most historians now think it actually began with the pig. Between 1880 and 1891 the feud claimed the lives of more than a dozen members of the two families, including a bloody New Year’s Eve massacre in 1888. At one point the feud between these two families was so severe that the governors of Kentucky and West Virginia threatened to invade each other’s states.
After the massacre, a bounty hunter rounded up nine members of the Hatfield posse and he sent them to jail, and then a trial began against the Hatfields and those who were in their circle in 1889, and it went through a number of legal permutations, eventually went to the Supreme Court. In the end eight of the Hatfields and their supporters were sentenced to life in prison, and one was publicly executed, even though public executions were supposed to have been outlawed.
In 1914 Randolph McCoy died, he was the patriarch, at the age of 88, haunted by the death of his children in this feud. Devil Anse Hatfield died in 1921 at the age of 81. Amazingly, Hatfield, who had been a skeptic of religion, converted to Christianity later in life and was baptized when he was 73, so there is hope for everyone.
For the last 130 years, at least in this country, if you say those words, “Hatfields and McCoys,” it is shorthand for feuding, for misdirected family honor, for violent retaliation, for unnecessarily quarreling with one another. Several years ago there was a miniseries, I haven’t seen it so I’m not commending you to it, it probably is violent and other sorts of things as the story was, but the tagline for the miniseries seems appropriate: “Never forgive, never forget.” Appropriate for the story, not appropriate for you. Sadly, however, that could be the tagline for some people, even some people in the church. Never forgive, never forget.
The reasons for the feud are tangled and complex, but they provide a real historical exemplar and warning for the folly that Proverbs describes. We are speaking this morning about conflict. In the earlier schedule it said we were talking about business ethics, which is important. Did I think “Well, we are ordaining elders and deacons today and so we ought to talk about conflict”? Well, yeah, that crossed my mind. Not that they cause conflict, not that we ever have conflict in this church, but just if it happens at some point we want to think about quarreling.
The wisdom that Proverbs gives to us is not so much for conflict resolution, the sort of thing you might do on some corporate retreat and give you important pointers for active listening. “It seems like you’re saying that you really hate my guts.” “Hmm, yes, that is what I’m saying, you’re hearing me correctly,” on active mediation, finding common—these all have their place, but what Proverbs gives to us instead is an evaluation of two different kinds of people.
Are you the foolish person that causes conflict, or are you the wise person that avoids unnecessary conflict? Do you tend to make a tense situation worse, or do you usually make a potentially bad situation better? Are most of your relationships marked with difficulty and pain? It could be that you live amongst nothing but very difficult people, or you may want to consider the common relationship in all of your difficult relationships is you. Or do you find it relatively easy to get along with so most people?
Now, to be sure some conflict in live is unavoidable. Jesus’s life was filled with conflicts. We have honest disagreements. We have people who don’t like what we stand for. There are people in need of correction and rebuke. None of us—if we go through life and we never have a single disagreement, then we are probably spineless.
And yet, when you have a conflict, do you make it more intense? Some of us have conflicts and we know how to make them longer, worse, more protracted, while others know how to make them shorter, more avoidable. The foolish person makes a sort of bad situation cataclysmic. He makes little conflicts longer. He causes conflicts that didn’t need to be there in the first place, where the wise person in Proverbs makes potentially bad situations manageable, long conflicts shorter, and he prevents many quarrels that did not have to see the light of day.
Let’s start by looking at the fool. Now as we’re doing, as we go through Proverbs, it’s different than what we normally do here going through a book of the Bible. We’re taking a series in Proverbs over the summer. Normally we do a few verses at a time, but the very nature of Proverbs with these aphorisms doesn’t lend itself to doing a chunk of verses at a time, but rather jumping around with a theme. So think of some of these verses, you can look them up or write them down.
A fool, first of all, is hot-tempered. Proverbs 15:18, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.”
29:22, “A man of wrath stirs up strife and one given to anger causes much transgression.”
Are you the sort of person that has a big bomb with a very short fuse? Proverbs puts it strikingly. A hot-tempered man stirs up strife. We’ve all seen these sort of people enter the room. As parents we try to put them out with our children, the person who comes and immediately with their question, with their comment. How many times as a parent have I had to stay “Stop stirring up strife”? And someone will respond “But I’m only saying what’s true.” “But don’t say it! You’re stirring up.” Are you the sort of person, in fact, you probably if you are this person you don’t know it, so pray, pray this week, “Lord, if I’m this sort of person, would you tell me that and give me the humility to hear it.” Are you the sort of person that everyone is walking on tiptoes around you? They know that they say the wrong thing, they know if they try to correct you it’s liable to go very poorly? Everything is personal. You’ve never received constructive criticism. You receive it all as great affront and attack. Are you the sort of person who enters into a situation and mix in whatever lethal potion is there and mix in your presence [sound effect], combustible. A fool is hot-tempered.
Here’s the second quality of a fool when it comes to conflict. A fool speaks dishonestly. Proverbs 16:28, “A dishonest man spreads strife and a whisperer separates close friends.” Disagreements sometimes they can’t be avoided. Two people see things differently, but one very effective way to stir up strife is to shade the truth ever so slightly, and let’s be honest, most of us don’t know when we’re doing this.
Few of us go into a situation and think “I’m going to lie. I am going to speak what is not true.” But what do we do instinctively? We all know how to tell a story, make ourselves a little bit more heroic, make the other person look a little worse. It isn’t that we’ve said anything absolutely incorrect, but we share the three worst things that they said in the course of a month and we share the four best things that we’ve done in the course of a month, and as we share the story it elicits lots of sympathy for us. We may not even realize we’re doing it. We exaggerate. We retell the story selectively. We impute motives.
There have been times with certain people that I know have a tendency to exaggerate, I’ll say “Pause, time out. Is that exactly what they said? They hate your guts?” “Well, no, they didn’t say that but that’s basically what they said.” “Well, why don’t you tell me exactly what they said instead of basically how you interpreted what they said?” A dishonest man spreads strife.
Third, a fool speaks with foolish lips. Proverbs 18:6. I wonder if any of us have resembled this remark, “A fool’s lips walk into a fight and his mouth invites a beating.” As the saying goes, people may presume that you are ignorant, and some of us should keep our mouths closed lest we remove all doubt.
What do foolish lips look like? They speak too quickly. We don’t try to understand the situation. We don’t sit on that email for a day or two or even five minutes sometimes. We speak quickly. We have no interest in building rapport or trust. We speak too much. Sometimes we tell our kids “inside voices.” Sometimes you need to tell yourself “inside thoughts.” It is okay even if in the age of the internet is to have an unarticulated thought. [laughter] You don’t need to constantly download everything that you think about everything. We speak too much. We speak carelessly.
Everyone you encounter is both a sinner and a sufferer. Now, everyone you encounter is a sinner, so they will all have occasion at different times to be corrected just like you will be corrected, I will stand in correction. Some of us forget that. We only sympathize, we never correct, but others are on the other side of the equation. We know people are sinners, we forget that at the same time they’re all sufferers, especially the longer that we live, everyone walks with a limp, maybe not a physical one, but, you know, from the angel that touches the socket of Israel and for the rest of his life there’s a limp. We all live long enough and we walk with a limp. There’s a hurt. There’s a betrayal. There’s a death. There’s a miscarriage. There’s a dream that never was fulfilled. Are you ever sympathetic to the feelings of others? Sensitive to what they may be thinking?
I read somewhere years ago that in looking at serial killers, what’s the one thing they have in common? Is an incapacity for empathy. No ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, no ability to think how actions may affect others, and you don’t have to be a serial killer to have the same sort of flaw. And so we speak carelessly, we speak bluntly. Perhaps we think it’s “Well, I’m just a straight shooter.” Okay, but you don’t always have to shoot. We refuse to soften. We never qualify. We never add the other side. We never ease into things. We never say “Well, I know that you’re trying.” We never give any ground.
I have found in my marriage, at least, where, admittedly, most of the conflicts are my fault, that inevitably if one of us will just take a half step towards the other person, even if we’re still hurt, even if we still think that they’re to blame, if we will just take a half step to acknowledge “I know why you may have thought that,” or “I know that I could have said that better,” just a half step towards the other person means they can take a half step toward us and continue to meet each other. A fool’s lips walk into a fight.
Fourth, Proverbs tells us about the fool and conflict. A fool gets drunk. Proverbs 23:29 and 30, “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine, those who go to try mixed wine.”
I have learned in, what, 17 years of pastoral ministry that alcohol is one of the secret problems that people in good, suburban evangelical churches don’t want to talk about. It would be thought less scandalous to share with your covenant group “Well, I’m struggling with pornography.” Well, that’s a serious sin and it’s almost to be expected. If you said “I have a serious problem with alcohol,” people might think it’s scandalous. And yet Proverbs tells us where there is much drinking, there is inevitably much conflict. And perhaps you know that to be true in your own life, or sadly you know it to be true in your own family. Those of you who grew up around alcohol family members know all too well how alcohol and fighting go hand in hand. In what may seem to be very well cloaked to you is almost assuredly not well-concealed to others. A fool gets drunk.
A fool, fifth, is full of greed. Proverbs 28:25, “A greedy man stirs up strife, but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.” See, a love of money leads people to cheat, to lie, to ignore the feelings of others, to ignore relationships in your life. You didn’t wake up and decide that you wanted to fight with your wife, be at odds with your children, but it happened imperceptibly over time as you kept chasing and chasing and had another trip and another trip, and as you needed to do one more thing for the office and pretty soon you’re strangers passing in the night. Or you step over people, or even worse you step on people, tell yourself that “Well, the ends justify the means.” And so when your search for success and your search for more leads to conflict, to flighting.
A fool whispers, number six. Proverbs 26:20, “For the lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.” Wherever in a church there is quarreling, longstanding, not just a “Hey, we had a disagreement and we worked it out,” but longstanding streams of infighting, you can almost always be certain that there is whispering. Secrets are the lighter fluid of conflict.
As a general rule, if you have to share a secret, you probably don’t have to share a secret, if you want to talk about others, gossip good things about them. Let it be that people hear through the grapevine of what other friends or family members were saying to build them up. “I didn’t know that!” Rather than to hear secondhand what you really thought about them.
Of course this is tricky, we know what real life is like. We know even in a church pastors, elders, leaders have to talk sometimes about difficult situations and people, and you know even in your own life, a husband and wife may have to talk about a child, or you may very genuinely consult with a friend or a few trusted people to say “Would you help me with this situation?” We know we can’t always keep everything to ourselves.
And yet let us be honest to know the tendency in our own hearts. There is almost no faster way to make a friend than to make a common enemy. A supposed friend. And we can feel that, we can sense that. You want to make an instant connection with someone? You want to feel a bond? Share a mutual sense of disgust or reproach for someone else. Or a secret that passes between you.
A dishonest man spreads strife, a whisperer separates close friends. They learn of your whispering. You ruin a friendship, or you don’t mean to, but it’s hard. Isn’t it hard when someone, especially at first impression gives you their negative thoughts out of their head and their hearts, and then every time you come across that person you can’t help but think what she said about them? “Hmm, maybe she isn’t really trustworthy,” and it colors your whole idea of what the person is about. A fool whispers.
Number seven, a fool loves the wrong things. Loves the wrong things. Proverbs 17:19, this is a fascinating proverb, it’s one of the more difficult to understand, but when you get it it’s quite striking. “Whoever loves transgression loves strife. He who makes his door high seeks destruction. What does that mean? “He who makes his door high.” I like nine-foot doors. I like tall doors, I like high ceilings, gives space. This isn’t a statement about architecture so much as it is about the reflection of our hearts.
As best as we can understand, here’s what Proverbs means. If you seek to be ostentatious, if you want to show off your success, your wealth, you are inviting conflict. He who makes his door high. We might say “He who puts in his front yard a multitude of fountains, statues”—no, some of you are saying “Oh no, do I have a fountain in my front yard?” Well, just think it through. Are you the sort of person who wants to conspicuously show all that you have, all that you have accomplished?
It’s been often said, and I think we can admit that there’s some truth to this, that Charlotte, especially the parts in which most of us live, tends to be very image conscious. The sort of dress you wear, the sort of things you drive, the sort of house that you have. Perhaps there’s some good things that come from that. Driving around, and it’s a lovely place and a lovely city and lots of lovely people, but it also speaks to some not-very-lovely parts of our hearts. Wanting to be conspicuous in our consumption, wanting to show people what we have, wanting to make very high doors. Look at my high door. You seek destruction.
Proverbs 26:21, “A charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.” What about the wise man? Those are the characteristics of the fool. How does the wise person reduce tension, avoid conflicts? A few points. First, he quits conflict before it starts.
17:14, “The beginning of strife is like the letting out of water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.” Just don’t do it. Quit.
20:3, “It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling.” If only the Hatfields and McCoys might have mediated on that verse, thinking that it was their family honor. Here it says “You want to be honorable? You don’t right every wrong, you don’t challenge everyone to a duel when they offend you. It is an honor to stand aloof from strife. So don’t make the accusation, don’t let the comment fly, don’t put a crack in the dam, walk away.” Culture says you lose your honor if you walk away from a fight. They disrespect you, they disrespect your whole family, and if you walk away from it, they’re always going to disrespect you. Proverbs says the most honorable thing to do in some situations, stand aloof from it all.
Don’t meddle. Proverbs 26:17, “Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears. Bad idea. I’ve learned this the hard way in pastoral ministry. Earlier in ministry, I think from good motivation but to poor effect I would sometimes insert myself into situations where I didn’t need to be, where I wasn’t asked or it wasn’t my responsibility. Sometimes even as a pastor I’ve been asked to be inserted into squabbles and now I know better on occasion to say “Nope. It’s between you two and you need to figure that out and you need to show forbearance toward one another.” Don’t be looking for dog to grab by the ears. Bad idea. He quits conflict before it starts.
Number two, the wise person looks to avoid offense. Proverbs 18:19, “A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.” Yes, it’s true, we live in a very sensitive age. We can be obsessed with the smallest slights, the tiniest grievances, and we can’t always help when people take offense at things that should have been nothing. And yet, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be careful, doesn’t mean that we should take delight in offending other people, whether they are overly scrupulous and overly sensitive or not. Isn’t part of loving our neighbors as ourselves is to think how we would want to be treated, even if you think they’re the weaker brother, even if you think they’re exaggerating, even if you think they should have moved on? We want to love them as much as we would want to be loved, and so we are sensitive, realizing that when a brother is offended, he can become as iron bars.
Third, the wise person covers a multitude of sins with love. Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”
19:11, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” How infrequently in describing someone’s glory do we reference that characteristic? We might speak of their glorious intellect, their impressive wealth, their power, their influence, their beauty, their ability in athletics and artistry, how often do we say “You know what made him or her so amazingly glorious? They knew how to overlook offenses.”
Make a commitment in your heart to overlook the small stuff. I don’t mean when people break the law, I don’t mean when relationships are destroyed, I’m saying the small stuff. Will you make it your position as a Christian to give people the benefit of the doubt, not to assume the worst? I decided years ago in ministry, and sure, I fail at this, but decided it would serve me better to assume that people liked me rather than to be suspicious. So that means I may get to heaven and find a whole lot of people in whatever church, “You know they never liked you.” “Really? Well, now we’re in heaven it doesn’t even matter, does it?” I just figure that’s better than going through life constantly suspicious, “Now what did they think? What do they know? What did they probably mean by that? And I don’t know the way they looked me at me and I haven’t heard anything from them lately.” So I might be blissfully ignorant but at least there’s some bliss in it. [laughter] I’d rather get to heaven and figure out I was just a little bit naïve than figuring out I was a lot bit cynical. [laughter] Give people the benefit of the doubt. You have slip-ups, you have bad days. It’s a glory to overlook offenses.
Fourth, the wise person avoids quarrelsome people. This may sound harsh, but this is the testimony of the both the Old and New Testament. Proverbs 6:19 says there are six things that the Lord hates, and it’s quite a list. Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and then here’s the seven that are an abomination, one who sows discord among brothers. The Lord hates those things.
Proverbs 22:10, “Drive out a scoffer and strife will go out. Quarreling and abuse will cease.” 2 Timothy 3:5 says to avoid such people. Romans 16:17, again, to avoid divisive people. That doesn’t mean the first time someone upsets you that you disown them, no, contentious, habitually, frequently, undeniably divisive people. You don’t pay attention to their posts on Facebook. You don’t get into Twitter fights. You don’t give them a platform. You may not return their calls or their emails. You avoid quarrelsome people.
So which are you when it comes to conflict? Are you the wise person? Are you foolish? How do you handle situations of increasing escalation? A husband and a wife can’t decide how to handle their daughter’s disobedient behavior. What started as an honest disagreement between Mom and Dad, now they’ve started to talk to their friends about it and now they’re talking to each other less and less and their friends wonder “How did they get in this mess?”
Or a builder from the church feels another member of the church has not paid him the agreed-upon price and the other man has a contract that says otherwise and the two members can now barely sit in the same sanctuary together. Or a daughter is caught lying to her parents about where she was on Friday night and so she covers up that lie with another lie and her parents are furious and the whole house is in crisis mode.
Or a member of the small group voices his opinion on everything, he never seems to agree with anyone, he’s always critical and now the group has dwindled to a few people and the leaders don’t know what to do. Or someone at the office sends out a highly politicized email to the whole department and now others are responding in kind and now pretty much everyone is angry at everyone.
Or a good friend who you’ve known for years is having a terrible day, and she blurts out something very negative and curt towards you, and you now assume that your friendship has all been a sham and she wants nothing to do with you, and you wonder what went wrong, and so you just figure you won’t talk to her.
A long-time colleague sees your success is and is jealous, and now he blows up inside any time he hears of your good fortune, and you can see it in his countenance and it puts a whole strain on your relationship, and you begin to grow distant. A family in the church is adamant about the way that family devotions should be done at home and there’s only one way and one time and they insist that anything less is displeasing to God, and soon families in the church start dividing over this issue. You could multiply instances.
Are you the sort of person that makes conflicts worse, or if I drop you into a situation that’s tense, does it get better? Are you a quarrelsome person? Quarrels don’t just happen, they happen because people happen. Again, yes, there are disagreements that are bound to happen, that’s why Romans 12 has a key verse where it says, “Insofar as it depends on you, live at peace with all people.” Sometimes we do all we can to live at peace with people and they don’t want to live at peace with us.
We’re going to ordain elders and deacons. They are to be men of peace, not quarrelsome, is one of the requirements. What does a quarrelsome person look like? During the Great Awakening Jonathan Edwards was the great theologian of revival, and he tried to delineate what revivals looked like, and he called them distinguishing marks of the spirit of God. Well, here consider some distinguishing marks of a quarrelsome person. Instead of “You might be a redneck if,” “You might be a quarrelsome person if.” They’re not as funny but maybe more edifying.
Number one, you defend every conviction with the same degree of intensity. You’ve never met a hill you don’t want to die on.
Number two, you are quick to speak and slow to listen. You rarely ask questions and when you do, it is to set someone up that you can continue prosecuting your case. You are not looking to learn, you are looking to defend, dominate, destroy. No genuinely inquisitive questions to help you understand the other person, only a chain of prosecutorial thoughts.
Three, you might be a quarrelsome person if your only model for ministry and faithfulness is the showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Or the only Jesus you really like is the Jesus flipping over tables in the temple, and you always go back. “Well, Elijah was sarcastic.” Yes. That’s one example. Read the rest of the Bible.
Four, you might be quarrelsome if you are incapable of seeing nuance and you never believe in qualifying statements. It’s all black and white. I remember a pastor years ago reaching the end of his pastoral ministry said, “The longer that I’ve been doing this the more that the bad things seem bad, the good things seem good, and the more I see there’s a lot of gray in between.” There’s probably some wisdom there.
Five, you might be quarrelsome if you never give the benefit of the doubt. You do not try to read arguments in context, you put the worst possible construct on other people’s motives and the meaning of their words.
Number six, you might be quarrelsome if you have no unarticulated opinions. Do people know what you think about everything? They shouldn’t. It’s why you have prayer, or a journal, or a dog.
Seven, you might be a quarrelsome person if you are unable to sympathize with your opponents. Do you ever see, whether it’s your theological opponents or the family member you can’t get along with, or the person you feel like is making your life difficult, do you ever sympathize? Do you ever acknowledge, “I understand where they’re coming from, even if I land in a different place”?
Eight, you might be a quarrelsome person if you first instinct is to criticize, your last instinct is to encourage.
Number nine, you might be a quarrelsome person if you have a small grid and everything fits in it. What do I mean? I mean you view life through this very small prism such that everything you see is about that. You’ve probably met people like that. Everything is about social justice, or the regulative principle, or everything was Obama’s fault, or everything is about Trump, or everything is about you, or everything is about “My parents messed up my life,” everything is about the one thing that I’ve already decided everything is about. When all you have is a hammer, the rest of the world looks like a nail. [laughter]
Number ten, you might be a quarrelsome person if you derive a sense of satisfaction and spiritual safety in feeling constantly rejected. Now this is a fine line, not blaming the victim. What I mean is some people can be constitutionally unable to be in any position except as the remnant. They’re wary of anything going well, they assume that if a lot of people are into it it’s got to be bad. “I only can listen to the most independent of the independent of the independent artists, everything else is wrong. And if everyone else is into this theology, all those, then I can be into this over here, I only can operate being the remnant, being the last. Everyone else has bowed the knee to Baal.”
Eleven, you might be a quarrelsome person if you are always in the trenches with hand grenades strapped to your chest, never in the cafeteria with ice cream and ping-pong. Yes, life is a battle, we are in a spiritual war. I remember one time someone who was in, I forget if he was in Iraq or Afghanistan, I think he was in Iraq, my last church, a young man, and I asked him what he did.
I said “Has it been dangerous?” He said “Yes, it’s been really dangerous.” I said “Well, what is it?” He was kind of sheepish, and he said, “Well, I’m a part of the convoy for the ice cream truck.” And he said, “We have bombs and mines and people all along the road I think driving up from Kuwait into Iraq,” because they need ice cream. The soldiers in the cafeteria need ice cream.” I said “God bless you, yes they do need ice cream, and someone has to protect the ice cream coming up. I don’t make light of it. It’s very brave.”
Even in a war you eat ice cream. Some of us only know ice cream, others of us only know hand grenades, everything, all the time. It’s always DEFCON whatever, 1 or 6, whichever is the highest. It’s always the amp turned up to 11. It’s always that all the time. G.K. Chesterton said, “We have to feel as Christians the universe is at once an ogre’s castle to be stormed, and yet our cottage to which we can return to at evening.”
Number twelve, you might be a quarrelsome person if you have never changed your mind. If you have never changed your mind on an important matter of if you haven’t changed your mind since the Eisenhower administration. [laughter] You’re telling me you got it all right since you were 20 years old? You tell me you haven’t had any new ideas—nothing has come to you to change your mind? Quarrelsome people are set in their ways.
Well, what does this have to do with Jesus? Jesus is our example. He did not live some lily-livered, safe life, He had plenty of conflict, but He was never in it for the love of fighting, but for the love of his Father. He did not meddle in other people’s business, but He was longsuffering as everyone wanted to meddle into His. He overlooked countless sins and He refused to deal with stubborn and hard-hearted people, so surely we can see the personification of wisdom, wisdom incarnate in the Lord Jesus. He’s our example, but more than that, He is our power. Christ in us, the hope of glory on this Pentecost Sunday, the very spirit of Christ at work within us to pursue the peace you think is impossible, to lay down the weapons of warfare that you’ve been holding on to for years or a lifetime. He provides us with the power in the inner person to be strengthened by faith and the working of the Holy Spirit, to be wise and not a fool. Most importantly He’s not only our example and our power, but he is our provision. Was not the death of our Lord all about the resolution of conflict? He is, after all, called what, the Prince of Peace.
If your whole life is nothing but accusations and allegations, who is your father but the one is who is called the accuser so of the brethren? But if your life is marked by sowing seeds of unity, harmony, peace, might you be following the Prince of Peace? Not a peace as the world would have it, that just says, “None of these things matter and we just go along to get along,” true peace. We have peace because He made peace through the shedding of His blood on the cross, peace with God and peace with those in the family of God.
Brothers and sisters, this is especially so for us who belong to the household of faith. Yes, we want to pursue honorable peace even with those who aren’t Christians, but in particular in the household of God, in the church of Jesus Christ, we should not live at odds with those who have been made right with God. They have been brought in, we have been brought near, we are brothers, we are sisters, we are part of the same family. We have our older brother, the Lord Jesus, we have our heavenly Father, and we have the Holy Spirit to do with and through us more than we can ask or imagine. Let’s pray.
Father in Heaven, it seems that you have given to us in this season a peace in our church. We pray that you would guard that. It is always fragile. We know that it has not always been here. We pray that you would give us a love for the things that make for unity and purity and peace and so essential to that aim are the men who you call to serve and to lead, these elders and these deacons who will be standing before us and in just a moment, and s we pray that they would be men of peace, and that we would look to them as you give them wisdom and grace, and that we would be faithful undershepherds serving under the Lord Jesus, our good shepherd of the sheep. We pray in His name, amen.