The holiday season is upon us, and do you know what that means? Drum rolls please: conflict! Doesn’t that bring about the soft, gooey feelings? Ok, perhaps I am being a bit of a Grinch, but amid a season labeled by festivities and joy, the reality for so many of us is that we will be reengaging often strained relationships with family and friends. The Spirit has been pricking my heart lately about my self-righteous, non-Christ-like reaction to conflict. And what better time to let the Spirit convict us of this than a season filled with hurts against one another and unfilled expectations? It seems especially applicable during a sermon series on hospitality, which is a well-oiled, conflict-generating machine! And the truth of any conflict is that either person remaining entirely pure and sinless is rare, if not non-existent.
I was “preaching a sermon” to myself this morning about what Christ means for my part in offenses I commit against others. My first reaction, especially in marriage, when I’ve been caught in an offense against someone else is to begin legitimizing what I did based on what they did. I say: “You made me …” You made me get mad, yell, curse, walk away, throw up my hands, get sarcastic, watch TV for 5 hours, and blame. I did this because you did that. What about what you’ve done? I’m often sneaky enough to make it sound less juvenile, or maybe even controlled enough to keep it in my head, but my fuming thoughts are indicting enough by themselves.
Christ enters into this mess in several ways.
My Part In The Conflict
First, Christ killed sin and death in His own death and resurrection. While I used to be utterly enslaved to sin (a helpless, suffering sinner), I am no longer and never again a slave of sin to any extent. We were ”delivered over” to sin as captives, but this is what it means for Christ to be “delivered over” to death on our behalf: He killed that captor, made a mockery of it, delivered us over to God, and raised us to new life with overwhelming power over sin. If I believe a circumstance, even a living breathing one, can make me sin, I admit I am powerless to overcome sin and express a functional disbelief in Christ having overcome sin on my behalf. I have the power to repent and turn at any point, no matter how much my blood is boiling. To believe I cannot turn and avoid returning sin for sin is to disbelieve God’s very words.
Christ also enters the scene in that He exchanged identities with me, giving me courage to face my terrible, ugly, and intimidating sins. Because Jesus purchased for me, forever, a new identity as “perfectly obedient son whom the Father lavishes over with joy,” I can know with confidence that my failures have no bearing on this. What shall separate us, whom God has purchased, crushing His Son on our behalf at our very worse, from God’s love? Nothing can, not even my failures.
Knowing that my deserving identity as “rebellious slave of the enemy” has forever been destroyed, I can view my sin and my firm, new identity together in one as I gaze firmly on Christ, who tells me both. I can face my sin courageously, not looking within, not looking to others, but looking to Christ in Whom it is all laid out for me graciously. I can say, “Yes, I messed up, and it was unreconcilable and ugly. Yet Christ, has indeed reconciled me to God and done the impossible.” Not only do I have power over sin, but I can fess up to it without despair but with complete hope and joy, looking to Christ, the founder and perfecter of my faith.
So for my part in the conflict, where my sin reveals its true ugliness as it lashes out unrestrained, I can know firmly that I have power over it, and I can courageously face it in light of the cross that gives me a new identity and new power over sin, neither of which can be moved or changed.
Others’ Part In The Conflict
In parables, Jesus had a knack for pulling a twist at the end that suddenly confronts those who thought they sat safely on the sidelines. This section had a similar impact on me as the Holy Spirit brought it to mind. What about the other person’s part in the conflict? Conventional wisdom, which inevitably seeps into the church, into me, says: “own your part and leave be what you cannot control.” I’ll own up to my part, and as for your part, that’s all on you to deal with. This is sneaky because we can say the exact same phrase and mean it in sinful or God-glorifying ways, but my hunch and personal experience is that it nearly always errs on the sinful side.
I’ll deal with my part, and you can deal with yours. Admittedly, this sounds a lot like “For each will have to bear his own load” (Gal 6:5). It is, in fact, true and flows right out of the section we just read that each is at fault for own part in conflict. There is a soft side to this in that Christ offers unimaginable grace to each of us as we bear our own loads. So in and of itself, it can look gospel-centered. We even see that Paul says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom 12:18). In a cursory reading, this all makes us seem safe if we just act cordially with people who offend us. But this is not what we have learned from Christ.
The Command Of Christ
What do we do with the other person’s sin? Are we justified by saying, “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is yours” and letting them be? The point of Galatians 6:5 is not a relational dynamic for the church but a destroying of our personal pride as we engage the true relational dynamic for the church: Galatians 6:1-2. Let’s sidetrack for a moment to soak in this section of scripture.
If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.
In calling some people spiritual, Paul is contrasting them to the those who are fleshly (see 1 Cor 3:1 and the spirit vs flesh themes in Galatians). It carries a notion of being more than merely human, being higher, eating spiritual food, and being more mature in Christ. And “restore” carries a notion of coming down to mend, equip, and make complete. All in all, to me this passage of Galatians 6:1-5 seems to be a discipline to those who feel they are “high” in the church to come low, get their hands dirty in the work making others complete, equipping and mending them gently and carefully. Romans 12 is the manifesto for this humility: “outdo one another in showing honor [to the other],” “bless those who persecute you,” “weep with those who weep,” “do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly,” “never be wise in your own sight,” “never avenge yourselves, [...]; to the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.”
The command is not: “Own what is yours and leave to the other what is theirs.” Our typical problem in the south and my problem personally, is a tendency to stiff arm those who have offended me and disengage from them relationally. I will apologize for what is mine and wipe my hands clean of what is theirs. I exit the relationship and leave the law of Christ unfulfilled. If straightforward notions of justice alone were the only say in the matter, we would never have been saved. Christ did not leave us to straightforward justice but came down on our behalf as the just justifier of the ungodly. So if we think ourselves high, we learn from Christ to come down low, to get our hands dirty with lowly tasks, to enter into another’s just burden, and to bear it with them. In fact, from Galatians, we learn that this is fulfilling the law of Christ! It is a firm, unavoidable command, and to ignore it is to live in active disobedience.
Reconciliation On Mission
What do I do with the other person’s part in conflict? I assume responsibility with them — not that I am at fault nor as though I can pay it for them but certainly to bear it with them. This means I feel sorrow for what is sorrowful for them: that they sinned and grieved God. This means I see how it reflects on my own indwelling sin and relate to them openly and honestly in a common need. This means I prefer gentleness, knowing that I myself received gentleness. This means I engage them passionately and preach the gospel, inviting them into my own struggle to dissect how I am overcoming by faith. I join them in their mess of sin, and I do not stand to the side, detached and unaffected. I do not stiff arm, I do not wipe my hands clean, and I do not stay “high.” I embrace, I live with mud constantly under my fingernails, and I come off my high horse to join my Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve.
In Legacy, my hunch is that we’re not so bad at the realizing and repenting for our own part in sin and conflict. I would bet that we generally can see that what we’ve done is on us. Some of us are probably very good at admitting this, telling it to others, and repenting before God. But I don’t think many of us are good at owning their part of the conflict too as our own burden. Do we exit the tough situations and distance ourselves? Do we disengage relationally when someone offends us or loses our trust? Do we cease to pray for them or write them off? Do we leave them alone to their own struggles? Do we wipe our hands clean? Are we stiff-arming them?
As hard as this message is for myself, it is a grace for our eyes to be opened to this and to realize that this is not what we have learned from Christ. This is not hospitality as He has shown us. This is not His law. This is not His command. What this is is rampant disobedience in our hearts and refusal to walk in the Spirit, the very context from which Paul enters Galatians 6. Christ came down from a much higher place, to a much lower place, saved much dirtier people (you and me), engaged them much longer and more deeply, and bore a much greater burden. Having the same Spirit that lived in Him — that is, the Holy Spirit He sent to dwell intimately with us each moment — in our reconciliation we can (1) obey His command (2) with intense joy (3) trusting in His promises and nature (4) to spread Him on mission to our church, to Knoxville, and to the world.
Throughout this holiday season, even before this holiday season, take some time to chew over the conflicts you expect to have in the church, in your family, at work, and with your unsaved friends. What do you expect to come up over the next month, and with whom? What do you expect your temptations to be in those conflicts? How will you own up to your part and repent in front of them? What do you expect their failures to be toward you? In what tangible ways can you go beyond your repentance to come low and bear their part with them? How will you relate to their need? How will you open your own strivings to them? How will you preach? How will you weep? How will you link arms instead of stiff-arming?
Even more importantly, what is it about God that you will trust in order to get you through this: that He is a good Shepherd, that He works all things together for your good, that you cannot be separated from His promise, that His commands are a grace to you, that discipline produces the peaceable fruit of righteousness, that He cannot lie, that He is powerful to do what He says? What pictures and movies from scripture will you chew on to make this powerful and vivid, stirring up your faith? When we obey God by faith in His Son, beholding and soaking in what He has done for us and meticulously linking that to what we do in our everyday lives, we take reconciliation and put it on mission to spread His glory. When others (including the church) see us doing what God does, not to get something, but because we trust Someone, they will behold the same One we behold, and His fame spreads as it is intended to as the ultimate goal of the gospel.