Today is the annual day we remember Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life was taken from him 50 years ago. He is remembered for many things, often based on one’s personal perspective of the man. For me, one of his most important exhortations was his enduring call for unity. That one touches my heart deeply. And yet, this past year has certainly taught us that we remain a long way from any meaningful unity — global, national, local, or congregational. This seems to be a lesson that too many simply can’t understand or embrace. And we are all the poorer for it.
So often, my colleagues, those we serve are unwilling to face their responsibility to God to seek unity — to be compassionate and forgiving. When this happens, conflict results and, inevitably, walls are built.
Truth: Christ came to tear down all walls of hostility that separate one person from another.
Scripture: “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:14).
Definition of reconciliation: “The restoration of friendship and fellowship after estrangement.” Reconciliation has to do with relationship. It does not mean agreement or understanding on every issue. Reconciliation and resolution of issues are two different things. The Bible teaches unity, but it does not demand uniformity.
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (KJV). If you are currently involved in any conflict, are you blaming the other person? Are you willing to begin to resolve the conflict by asking God to examine you and change your heart?
Three lessons learned: (i) Always accept personal responsibility for your contribution to the situation. (ii) Make whatever effort necessary to move toward the person with whom you are in conflict. (iii) Take the risk of confronting the issue for the sake of the relationship.
An essential element that must be present before peace can be obtained is a fundamental principle of Christianity: forgiveness.
We want to. We try. We think we give it our best effort, but many of us just can’t rid ourselves of that painful feeling that comes from being wronged by another. You know the remedy. Forgiveness.
If there’s a message we must continue to preach, and a sermon we must constantly live, it’s that we must drop all charges against people who have done us wrong. If we don’t, we will never live in peace or be free to live victoriously. So many clergy I know hang on to an offense they have suffered at the hands of a parishioner or a colleague until it becomes like a festering sore in their lives. My friend — let it go! Surrender your issue to God.
But how do we forgive? We are granted the same power to forgive others that Christ uses to forgive you and me — His blood. We must be compassionate and ready to forgive, even as Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32). I urge you to ask God to give you strength, courage, and the desire to tear every page from your little black book of grudges and hand it over to Him. Our burdens become His burdens; He takes responsibility for them. By faith, commit to God each day your hurting heart and your damaged emotions. Allow Him to ease your pain. Intimacy with the Lord is possible only through a willingness to forgive as Christ has forgiven us.
Now, sometimes, it takes more than personally addressing conflict and embracing forgiveness to bring about peace and unity. Sometimes, it also requires confrontation. Sometimes, there must be face-to-face reconciliation.
Speaking the truth in love is a learned talent. Avoiding the truth is more the norm. Why? Because caring enough to confront not only takes a lot of courage, it also takes time.
When it comes to serious conflict, we are always ahead if we consider these questions before we engage in confrontation:
- Why is this happening? Think about it. Most conflicts arise when someone’s “turf” is threatened. What will need to be given up? What will be required of me? Am I being taken advantage of? Does the person with whom I am in conflict feel minimized? Do I understand his or her position? Is the conflict really necessary?
- How have I contributed? In times of disagreement, we must all be honest enough to ask ourselves if we have been guilty of creating an atmosphere conducive to conflict.
- Has my Christian attitude been evident? Isn’t it interesting that so many of our petty differences are complicated because we cannot act as Christians? In the last heated issue in which you were involved, would the Lord have been pleased with the way His children behaved and showed honor and love for each other?
I urge you to be the peacemaker that God honors. Actively pursue unity and peace, and be an instrument of peace yourself. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
I also remind you to always be ready to forgive. “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25).
And, when confrontation becomes necessary, be as tender as possible. Seek reconciliation and restoration with care. Remember, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths” (Ephesians 4:29).