Attitudes in Conflict, Part 2

Attitudes In Conflict, Part 2

“A soft answer turns away wrath,

but a harsh word stirs up anger.”

(Prov. 15:1)

Warren E. Berkley

One of my earliest memories of an oft quoted tidbit of wisdom was, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” Parents and teachers used the little rhyme to soothe and calm us when we were the objects of verbal bullying. 

Long after my childhood I encountered a retort: “The blow of a whip raises a welt, but a blow of the tongue crushes the bones,” (Sirach 28:17, RSV).

Which is it? Let’s take Prov. 15:1 as authentic: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Words can kill relationships (Jas. 3:1-12), discourage children (Col. 3:21), lead people into sin (Matt. 7:15), destroy neighbors (Prov. 11:9), spread conflict (Prov. 16:28), and utter blasphemy against God (Jas. 2:7).

So let’s recognize the value of “soft answers.” This isn’t just about volume, though volume is sometimes a strained function of anger. True. Yet, the “soft answer” of Prov. 15:1 is guarded, not insulting, attentive and with righteous aim. Jesus teaches us that “… each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks,” (Lk. 6:44,45). The “soft answer” is a response well-thought out, from a good heart. The “hard answer” would be impulsive, selfish and damaging. Perhaps more damaging than sticks or stones.

“A harsh word stirs up anger.” Before we speak, write or post on social media, internal discipline must clarify exactly what our aim is. A common problem is discovered when our responses and remarks are offered quickly. Discipline takes some time; discipline is well-thought out, not impulsive. James offered this simple wisdom, sometimes a challenge: “…let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger,” (Jas. 1:19).  Lots of conflict is produced by being too quick to speak. Animosity can just roll off our tongues and into the hearts of those who have done nothing to deserve such invectives. Insults are generally not planned but acts of momentary agitation, hopefully followed by almost instant regret. Political debates quickly degenerate into name-calling, slurs and hyperboles.  Religious discussions between opposing parties sometimes become shouting matches where truth is secondary.

And sometimes the harshness is convey in how we say something. The words may be correct, but our countenance and tone may not be in harmony with our words and our intent. Beware of the haughty look (Psa. 101:5).

Anger, expressed in a tumultuous outburst or a hot retort, is not good for the transmitter nor the receiver, and it will cause a bad situation to become immediately worse. How sad that we have not learned this simple lesson. A tongue, out of control, is a terrible thing.[1] – Dee Bowman


[1] Bowman, D. (1991). Front Lines: Hurt. Christianity Magazine, 8(10), 2.

New Series – Attitudes in Conflict. This is Part 1

Attitudes In Conflict, Part 1

“What Causes Quarrels And

What Causes Fights Among You?”

(James 4:1)

Warren E. Berkley

We are living in a time when animosity seems to be on the rise, and peace seems to be a victim of our cultural divide. While I believe that there are still many who seek peace and refuse to get entangled in vicious controversies, there can be little question that – especially through our various forms of media and digital communication – the volume has been turned up and the value down.

Expressions of disagreement now have a rapid and widespread forum for dialogues about politics, religion, health, education and almost any other subject. And these dialogues are sometimes carried on through a hostile and acrimonious manner that defeats any point the parties want to make. In short, the tide of the hostility often soaks up all the attention, leaving knowledge or healthy dialogue buried under the ugly surge.  This series of articles will rely on Scripture to re-focus our awareness on the transgressive aspect of popular debate.  

James provides an excellent starting place.

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, ‘He years jealously over the spirit that He has made to dwell in us?’ But He gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you. Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. the one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor.” (Jas. 4:1-11a)

External conflict always has a cause. If the cause is not identified with a remedial response, the temperature of the conflict continues to heat up. All animosity is produced by immature and wrong attitudes.

Conflict is not the result of some sort of mystical fate or “karma.” It cannot be explained away as simply chance, time, or personalities. External conflict (in person, written, online, public or private) always means, somebody has an attitude issue (often more than one). This is true on the international scale, within nations, communities, institutions, local churches, marriages, families and friendships.  About this, James is clear in the lead-in to chapter four: “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing will be there,” (3:16; see also Mark 7:20-23).

What does this mean? When you find yourself in conflict with someone, examine your attitude before you call out your opponent’s attitude. Inquire: Am I thinking objectively and being clear. Beyond the details of your argument or accusation, take a full inventory of motives and methods. May we make certain we are “speaking the truth in love,” (Eph. 4:15).

Trouble and conflict are inevitable here on earth. Let’s just make sure it doesn’t come from us!

Philippians 4:18-23

Philippians

(Warren E. Berkley)

Phil. 4:18-23

I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you.  All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

It is noteworthy, in these final verses of Paul’s letter to Philippi, that the apostle was not a tedious accountant about his reception of generosity.

Some people are. We had that couple over for dinner, but they have never paid us back!

Or, I loaned him $100 when he was in need, but now he can’t loan me $50!

This is that tedious accounting mentality that keeps records about deeds both done and received, with expectation that everything must perfectly balance.

Contrary to this accounting mentality, the Lord said, “…do good and lend, expecting nothing in return,” (Lk. 6:25).

It is apparent, Paul was not burdened by the accounting mentality, and that he embraced the spirit of what Jesus taught.

“I have received full payment, and more.” Paul favored the people of Philippi by delivering the gospel of Christ to them (see Acts 16). Those who became Christians gave generously to Paul, in support of his evangelistic work (see verse 15). In this fellowship, Paul didn’t put a price on anything and he didn’t harbor an expectation of some perceived (carnal) perfect balance. Rather, he was satisfied and grateful. “I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”

In Paul’s heart, this was all good. Why? Because their fellowship was “pleasing to God.” Instead of expecting a perfect balance in their exchange with each other, if it was pleasing to God, Paul was happy.

Paul hoped and prayed for them that God would “supply every need” they had. This supplication was based on the riches in glory God provides in Jesus Christ. And this leads to Paul praise, “to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Paul’s good will continued: “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.” Brethren with Paul joined him in this: “The brothers who are with me greet you.” Other were included: “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

Paul didn’t know how to press upon people the accounting mentality. Paul knew how to write a great “thank you” note!

Paul knew how to preach and write the truth of God. But his heart was not dry and academic or robotic. His deep, sincere emotional nature shines through in these final words to his Christian friends in Philippi. May we learn to nourish this spirit.

Phil. 4:10-13

Philippians

(Warren E. Berkley)

Phil. 4:10-13

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

When you are the needy recipient of help and concern from good people, it causes joy. Even if tangible help isn’t within their means, the fact they want to help and will help you when they can – is a cause of joy. Paul rejoiced in the Lord, knowing of the love and concern of the Philippian Christians. Even when they were unable to help, Paul knew their heart longed to send help, and that they would when they had opportunity.

And, this was not a case where Paul merely wanted his needs met. Because, he had learned – in whatever situation – to be content just serving the Lord and relying on the Lord for his daily need (perhaps not knowing for certain how those needs would be met, but believing God would care for him).

In Paul’s life and service to the Lord, he had learned this rare contentment, often not knowing how needs would be met. He had learned by the experience of faith, how to live in the low places. Yet, was able to maintain good humility in the high places. That character is described here as “the secret of facing plenty and hunger.”

Someone might ask, “what course can I take to learn this secret?” Or, “what book can I read … what video or seminar can I see or visit?”

Paul learned this contentment through his life and service to the Lord. And he describes it like this: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

This didn’t mean Paul was a Superhero with powers, or that he could fly or become visible or invisible at will. Active faith in Christ does not afford us the ability to do any impossible thing we can conceive! Dismiss that popular concept.

It means, the believer can do all that Christ expects him to do, with the full measure of strength required for the tasks.

Phil. 4:9 is not some magical incantation that enables the positive mental attitude believer to achieve the impossible, work miracles and do sensational but useless things.

It is a simple description of how Paul learned contentment; how he was able to live down low in the dungeon and yet remain humble in higher places.

It applies to believers today but must not be taken as a blank check or a ticket admitting us to the impossible.

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Easy?

There is a tendency throughout life to search for the easy answer to every problem. We all search for Easy Street. Well, I am told that it actually exists. Just travel to Honolulu, Hawaii, and take the Pali Highway northbound. Travel about a third of the way to the Pali Pass and turn right on Park Street. Go one block and there it is: “Easy Street.” The problem comes when you turn left and go one block more. There’s another sign that says “Dead End.”

Dead end—that’s what happens in life, too, whenever we think we’ve found the easy way.

Illustrations for Biblical Preaching: Over 1500 sermon illustrations arranged by topic and indexed exhaustively. 1989 (M. P. Green, Ed.) (Revised edition of: The expositor’s illustration file). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

Philippians

(Warren E. Berkley)

Phil. 4:9

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Who wrote this? The apostle Paul wrote this to the church at Philippi. I cannot write such a statement. I’m not an apostle. I can report what the apostles said and follow it myself and urge hearers and readers to do so. But I cannot write something with the same authority as apostles of Christ. Jesus gave to the apostles the Holy Spirit, to guide them in what they said and wrote (see the gospel of John, chapters 14-16 and Acts 2:1-4; Acts 26:15-18; Rom. 1:1). The apostle Paul was authorized to say: What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things and the God of peace will be with you.”

What promise is extended? “… and the God of peace will be with you.” Isn’t that what we all want? We want a relationship with God. We are able to have that fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. This is what we want in this life and as we face the next. We want the God of peace to be with us.

What does this passage say is necessary to have the God of peace with us? That we follow the teachings given through the apostles! God gave a pattern through these men. The pattern for individual, domestic and collective action wasn’t revealed simply for our learning and admiration. But for our practice. “…practice these things.”

So, if you want the God of peace to be with you, get busy. Open your New Testament. Read about Jesus Christ, learn who He is and respond to Him (the activity of faith). Then, after being baptized into Christ, do what the apostles said. Be a part of a church that follows apostolic teaching. Do this diligently and with sincerity of heart, why? So that the God of peace will be with you.

Yes, it is that simple.

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

{Source – Paul Earnhart, Christianity Magazine, 1985}

In this last age of human history God has given to us, not by prophets but by His own Son, a pattern of truth which is calculated not only to redeem the souls of lost men but to govern their life and service as His people. It was no accident that disciples of the Lord gathered themselves together in local congregations called churches (1 Corinthians 11:16; Romans 16:16) or that they were alike in their forms of worship and organization (Hebrews 10:24–25; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:1–2; Acts 2:42; Ephesians 5:19). The Savior had delivered all truth to the apostles (John 16:13); the apostles had taught it (Acts 20:26–27) and the church had followed it (2:42). The apostles did not vary their teaching according to their mood or the desires of their hearers but, guided by the Holy Spirit, they taught the same thing “everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:17; 7:17). Paul speaks of the form or pattern of this teaching (Romans 6:17) and urges Timothy to “hold the pattern of sound words which thou hast heard from me” (2 Timothy 1:13) and to commit them to other faithful men (2:2). When men or churches veered from that pattern they were reproved and called to repentance (Revelation 2:1–5, 14–16; 3:1–3).[1]


[1] Earnhart, P. (1985). Restoring New Testament Churches. (E. Harrell, Ed.)Christianity Magazine, 2(12), 12.

Phil. 4:8

Philippians

(Warren E. Berkley)

 Phil. 4:8

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Your mind has certain permanent components. What you read, see, hear or think is processed by these united components, if you are maturely and objectively processing input.

In the above text, Paul identifies the permanent components of the Christian’s mind. They are …

Whatever is true. My inner character and outward behavior will never be right and pleasing to God, until I make the truth of God my priority. I must absorb the truth and be determined to think it, say it and obey it.

Whatever is honorable is that which is high, lofty and reflecting what God considers honorable. The mind of Christ is seen in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as noble in thought.

Whatever is just. That which fulfills duty (as directed by God) is just. We are children of a just God, thus our thinking, speaking and behavior ought to be just.

Whatever is pure. This means, not contaminated. With the pure Word of God living within us, we are able to entertain pure thoughts, yielding pure speech and behavior.

Whatever is lovely. This is what tends away from hate, toward love and mercy and goodness. Take everything the Bible says about love, put that in your mind and the results can be of the highest value. Love never fails.

Whatever is commendable. If we are not exceedingly careful, we can develop a taste for bad news; an attraction for the lurid, the sensational (but often exaggerated), the gossip of our time. The Internet and Social Media thrive on that which isn’t commendable. If your mind is fixed on what is commendable, you avoid grieving the Lord and creating trouble for yourself and others.

“If there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Here’s a good rule to follow. When thoughts, reports, desires and ideas are submitted to you for mental processing – if it cannot be placed well in one of these categories, reject it and plan to avoid it in the future.

Your mind has certain permanent components. What you read, see, hear or think is processed by these united components, if you are maturely and objectively processing input.

Measure the content of your mind by the standard of Philippians 4:8.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

Phil. 4:1-7

Philippians

(Warren E. Berkley)

 Phil. 4:1-7

Therefore, my brothers,whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.  Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Here is a good relationship between a gospel preacher and a supporting local church. It is not a cold, business relationship involving money sent,  acknowledgements sent back and the routine continues with assumed gratitude.

Paul loves these people. They became his “joy and crown.” It was a warm relationship based on mutual love for the Lord.

For this healthy relationship to continue, it would be necessary for the Christians in Philippi to “stand firm” in the Lord.

That doesn’t mean, “just stay where you are spiritually.” It isn’t about “not doing better.” In the New Testament, “standing” is never passive (see for example, Eph. 6:14). Standing firm in the Lord always means continuing the obedience that you chose when you were baptized. And it always means doing better, growing in spirit and practice and letting self-examination lead naturally to self-correction. It is a dynamic every Christian ought to be living in right now: “Stand firm” in the Lord!

Two members of the church in Philippi were not standing firm. They were apparently standing against each other. “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.” This implies an issue of disagreement that could be resolved “in the Lord.” When two people humble themselves under the authority of the Lord, issues of disagreement either disappear altogether. Or, they are subservient to their common faith and do not disrupt anyone (Romans 14).

Paul had a “true companion” in Philippi, and that person or persons is being asked to “help these women.” The women in dispute had “labored side by side with” Paul “in the gospel together with Clement and the rest.” These faithful helpers had their names written “in the book of life.”

That becomes the motivation to help these two women reconcile.

Sometimes a problem is beyond the capacity or will of two people to solve. Other Christians must apply their grace and skill to bring resolution. Why is this important? Because there is a book of life. We want to rejoice that our names are written in that book.

“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” This doesn’t mean, wear a badge that tells everybody you are reasonable. (That wouldn’t be reasonable!).

This means, your demeanor and speech, your countenance and responses to people and events should demonstrate clear thinking, godly discipline and soundness of mind. And this is important because? “The Lord is at hand.” I don’t think that means he will be here soon. It means – in a real sense – He is always here; with us … watching … helping … listening to us pray.

The Lord is at hand.

The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit. (Psa. 34:18, NKJV).

You are near, O LORD, And all Your commandments are truth. (Psa. 119:151, NKJV).

The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth. (Psa. 145:18, NKJV).

So, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

Result? “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Something Else I Need

“There Is Something Else I Need To Receive”

Warren E. Berkley

The preacher drove to the church building every Sunday morning, driving past a neighbor’s house and observing his neighbor carefully working his thriving lawn. The neighbor was scrupulous about every inch of turf. He was awarded the “best lawn” prize year after year.

The preacher had conversations with his neighbor, but only discovered stubborn resistance to any invitations to attend services or study the Bible. The neighbor’s Sunday mornings remained as his time caring for his beautiful green grass.

One Sunday the preacher decided to leave early and stop by to visit the neighbor. The preacher started by complimenting the marvelously manicured lawn. Then he asked, “who gave you this lawn?” The neighbor said: “Did you say who gave me this lawn?”

“Nobody gave me this lawn! I’ve worked at the factory for over twenty years. I finally saved up enough money. I got in my truck one day and went down to the hardware store. I consulted with the clerk, bought enough seed, came back to the house, called for a load of topsoil, did the work, sowed the seed, did the watering, pulled the weeds and I take care of this all by myself. Nobody gave me this. I did this.”

The preacher said, “where did the hardware store get the seed you bought?” The neighbor said, “I don’t know. I guess from a wholesale outfit.” The inquiry went further (as the neighbor now expected): “Where did the wholesale outfit get the seed they sold to the hardware store?” With a little agitation the neighbor said, “I don’t know. I guess from a grower.”

There was no need to take this any further. The neighbor had to confess the obvious. The preacher, just before leaving for service, said: “Everything you have, God gave you. You just received it. This beautiful lawn came from God. All the efforts and work you have boasted about, simply amounted to your reception of what God made and gave you access to. This lawn is not really your own doing.”

The preacher left the thoughtful neighbor, went on to the building. That afternoon, the preacher answered a knock at his door. The neighbor was in tears and said, “I think there is something else God has given that I need to receive.” After a brief study, he became a Christian.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” (Eph. 2:9).