SETTLE YOUR DIFFERENCES JESUS’ WAY
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you (Eph. 4: 31-32).
No more bar-room brawling!
The words Paul uses are reminiscent of the way that ungodly men typically settle their differences. One can just imagine the scene in a tavern. An argument breaks out between two drunk men. Tempers flare, words fly, peppered with swearing, cursing and oaths. A fist strike out and the fight is on. Chaos! Blood flows and furniture, crockery, and even some of the bystanders take a beating. Nothing has been achieved but more reason to be angry and bitter.
This is not the way to handle conflict, says Paul. Boys fight with fists, girls with words but fighting resolves nothing. However, you are no longer immature children, driven by heat and not guided by light. There will always be differences and conflicts between people as long as we are in this world. Fighting with fists or words achieves nothing but increased hostility, tension and bitterness. The ripples of anger and antagonism spread outwards, encompassing families and even communities.
Jesus has a way of dealing with conflict and all the emotional baggage it brings that is far more effective and final than fists. It’s called ‘forgiveness’. He had a lot to say about forgiveness since forgiveness is the basis of His relationship with us and should always be the way we relate to one another.
Before we talk about forgiveness, let’s take a look at the consequences of harbouring offences and holding on to bitterness.
Bitterness has a root which produces fruit. Moses reminded God’s people, on the eve of his departure, that idolatry was the fruit of a poisonous root.
Make sure that there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure that there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison (Deut. 29:18).
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews picked up on this thought.
See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many (Heb. 12: 15).
What is this ‘bitter root’ of which both these verses speak? Both idolatry and unforgiveness are the expression of self above God. God forbade His people to worship idols because of the terrible effect it would have on them. They chose to ignore His warnings. They put themselves above God and became like the gods they worshipped.
But when they came to Baal Peor, they consecrated themselves to that shameful idol and became as vile as the thing they loved (Hos. 9:10b)
Refusal to forgive is based on the same principle – self above God. God commands us to forgive those who sin against us because we no longer have a reason to hold grudges. Jesus died to deal with the sin of the whole world. His death provides forgiveness for all sin, for all people, for all time. When we refuse to forgive another, we are in effect saying that God is a liar and that He has not forgiven the sin of the one we hold guilty. We think we have the right to punish our offender even though Jesus has already paid his debt. Idolatry! We set ourselves above God just as effectively as those who worshipped idols.
Idolatry, worshipping self above God, is the bitter root that produces the fruit that ‘defiles many’. Selfishness and all the ramifications of self above all, is the root of conflict.
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with the wrong motives that you may spend what you get on your pleasures (James. 4: 1-3).
God gives the grace to forgive when we turn from our selfish passions with the earnest desire to please and obey Him. He enables us to look our offender in the face, literally or figuratively, and say, “You owe me nothing,” because God has forgiven him, and I can, therefore, let the offence go. Once my heart is at peace, I have no need to engage in the attitudes and activities of which Paul speaks.
A forgiving heart no longer harbours anger, rage, bitterness, slander and malice. These are the devil’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’ which forgiveness through the power of the Holy Spirit defuses. God’s love, shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, neutralises the poison of idolatry and shuts down the need for conflict or revenge.
Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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ISBN: Softcover – 978-1-4828-0512-3, eBook 978-4828-0511-6
My second book, Learning to be a Disciple – The Way of the Master (Copyright © 2015, Partridge Publishing), a companion volume to Learning to be a Son – The Way to the Father’s Heart, has been released in paperback and digital format on www.amazon.com.