Craig Smith - Contentment Conflict
Hey, welcome to Mission Hills. So glad to have you with us this morning. We are rounding third base and heading for home in our Boundless Series. Last couple of months, we have worked our way through the Book of Philippians, and we’ve been on the search for the secret to living bigger than our circumstances, or as Paul says, and he wrote the Book of Philippians, “The secret to being content in any and every situation.”
Today, we’re going to deal with one of the biggest contentment killers out there, which is conflict. And maybe you immediately go, “Yes, yes. That’s obvious,” but maybe not, so let me prove the point. Here’s what we’re going to do. We’re gonna do a little mental exercise. It’s actually really important that you don’t write this stuff down. Just do it here, because if you write it down, people around you are going to see it. And some of the people around you are going to be able to hear what you’re talking about, and that’s going to create conflict, which is the exact opposite of what we’re trying to do today.
So just in your head, here’s what we’re gonna do, I’m gonna name a group that you probably belong to, and I’m gonna ask you two questions about that group. First group is going to be your family. So think about your family, however you define your family. And here’s the two questions. First question is this, I want you to rate the amount of contentment that you feel in your family. You see why we don’t want to write this down. It could cause so many problems. So 0 to 10, 0, like, no contentment at all, 10 is constant contentment, okay, your family, rate your contentment. Now, I want you to rate the conflict, the amount of conflict in your family, 0, perfect peace, 10 constant conflict. Okay, got your two numbers.
All right, let’s set that aside. Now, let’s talk about maybe a group of friends that you belong to. So with that group of friends think, okay, 0 to 10, how much contentment, now, 0 to 10 how much conflict. Now, let’s talk about maybe your work or where you go to school. How much contentment? How much conflict? Here is what I’m going to predict is probably true for most of us that the numbers do this, that when one number goes up the other number typical goes down.
In other words, if the amount of contentment that you feel in an area of life is pretty high, chances are the amount of conflict you think is happening there is actually pretty low. On the other hand, if your conflict number is high, your contentment number is actually probably pretty low, because there’s this kind of inverse-reverse relationship between the amount of conflict that we experience and the amount of contentment that we feel. All right. Do we all see that?
Contentment is killed by conflict. Conflict is a huge contentment killer. It’s also a mission killer. Conflict kills mission, because it’s very difficult for a group to accomplish the purpose that the group exists to accomplish when we’re in conflict with each other, right. To do our thing, we have to stand shoulder to shoulder and move forward together on mission, but when we’re focused each other, “What’s wrong with you?” “Nothing wrong with me. What’s wrong with you?” Right? We’re, like, leaning in towards each other in that conflict. We’re not leaning in towards our mission. And so, unfortunately, conflict is a huge mission killer.
It’s not that conflict itself is the problem. The problem is that unresolved conflict ultimately leads to division, and division is what takes us off mission. This is what Jesus himself said about division. He said, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” And same way if a house…if a household of a family is divided against itself, it cannot stand. And if a household or a kingdom can’t stand, then of course, it can’t accomplish its purpose.
Now, I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The bad news is that conflict is inevitable. I mean, the only way to avoid conflict is just to be one of you, and honestly, even sometimes then. That’s a whole different message. We’ll deal with that on another day, okay. But as soon as you add another person into the mix, there’s gonna be some conflict. It’s inevitable. Conflict is inevitable. Every couple has conflict. Every family has conflict. Every church has conflict. Every company has conflict. Every neighborhood has conflict. Every country has conflict. Conflict is inevitable.
Now, the good news is that conflict doesn’t have to lead to division. It doesn’t have to lead to that group going off mission if it’s handled in a healthy way. So here’s the thing, conflict is inevitable but division is optional. You hear me, Church? Conflict is inevitable, division is optional. And we get to make the decision whether or not the conflict that we experience will lead to division and lead us going off mission. How do we do that?
I want you to go and grab your Bible, start making your way to the Book of Philippians 4. We’re going to take a look at a passage today that’s going to give us some of God’s insight into how to handle conflict so that it doesn’t lead to division, so that it doesn’t take us off mission with him. Now, while you’re making your way to Philippians 4, let me just say something.
As I was studying for this message, I realized something about the passage we’re going to look at today. I realized two things, actually. The first thing I realized was that a lot of the content in this passage is very familiar. There’s a good chance that you’re going to recognize some of these verses. And that’s going to be true, even if church is not a regular part of your life. Even if you’re kind of new to church, chances are you’re going to recognize a couple of these verses.
They’re kind of like Christian catchphrases almost. In fact, I promise you this, if you want to take me up on it, sometime this week go to Hobby Lobby. Walk around Hobby Lobby, and I guarantee you’re going to see at least five items with one of these verses printed on that item. Okay. These are kind of like standalone Christian catchphrases, okay, very familiar phrases.
So the first thing I realized is a lot of this content is familiar. The second thing I realized, though, is that the context, the setting for these verses is unfamiliar. It’s probably gonna be true for many of you. It was definitely true for me. I never realized the setting in which these particular verses occur. And when I did begin to understand the setting, it actually changed a little bit about the way that I understood these verses in a way that opened them up in terms of my understanding, but also my ability to apply them.
And hopefully, you’ll have the same experience today, because the reality is that all these familiar phrases are related to conflict management. Let me show you what I mean. Philippians 4:1 says this, “And therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and I long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm in the Lord.” In this way, dear friends, he’s saying to the Church of Philippi that he loves so much, he says, “I want you to stand firm with the Lord. I want you to be on mission with him, advancing the Gospel, extending God’s influence to the world. I want you to stand firm in the Lord in this way.”
In what way? And he goes on to explain what way he means. He says this, verse two, “I plead with Euodia, and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord,” and all God’s people went, “What? You just said you want us to stand firm in the Lord in this way, and then you brought up these two people. Who are these two people? Who are these two women?” They’re two women he mentions by name here, which is kind of an unusual thing for him to do. And he pleads with them, which is a very strong emotional word. It expresses his deep longing for them to be of the same mind.
Here’s what we know, we know first off that they weren’t of the same mind. In other words, that they were in what? They were in conflict with each other. We also know that these are women of considerable influence in the Church at Philippi. We don’t know exactly what their positions…or if they had official positions, but we know that they had considerable influence. And so what Paul is concerned about is that their disagreement with each other is going to lead to division in the Church. And so he’s going after it, saying, “You got to deal with this thing.” And so he pleads with them to be of the same mind.
Now, what’s interesting is that we do not know what the source of their conflict was. We don’t know what their disagreement was. I would venture to say that it probably was not theological. It probably wasn’t an issue about who God is, because Paul usually goes after that stuff really kind of, sort of, going for the throat. He didn’t pull any punches when it comes to theology. And he doesn’t do that here.
I also would say it’s probably not a moral issue about right living, right behaving, because, again, Paul goes right at that stuff. He doesn’t pull any punches, and he doesn’t do that here. In fact, he leaves it kind of unknown, which is interesting because what it suggests is that Paul didn’t think that the source of their conflict was nearly as important as them solving it. You hear me? He’s much more interested in the solution than he is the source of it. And I think that’s an important principle.
If we’re going to deal with conflict effectively, one of the things we have to come to understand is the source of our conflict is not as important as the solution to it. And as long as we’re fixated on the source of our conflict, we’re not going to put in the effort necessary to end up solving it. And there’s a humility issue that’s required to be able to let go of some of the source of the conflict so that we can focus on the solution, too. But the source of our conflict isn’t as important as the solution to it. And so Paul pleads with them to be of the same mind.
Now, when he says be of the same mind, understand he’s not saying to think identically about every single issue. That’s not the issue at all. It’s not what he’s saying. What he’s saying is you need to have the humility that will allow you to move forward on mission together. That’s what he means by same mind, with the humility that will allow you to move forward on mission together.
It’s interesting when he says, “Be of the same mind.” It’s the same phrase that he uses in chapter two in Philippians to talk about how important is that we have the same mind as Jesus, who had the humility to let go of all of his honor and glory so that he could advance in his mission to save us on the cross, to be obedient to the Father’s plan.
And so now he says, “Have the same humility that will allow you to move forward on mission together.” Then he says, this, verse three, it’s interesting, he says, “Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the Gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers whose names are in the book of life.”
What Paul does here is he invites three other people to get involved in finding the solution to this conflict, to keep the conflict from becoming a division, which takes the Church off mission. He invites three different people to get involved in this. He invites somebody that he calls his true companion, and we don’t know exactly who that was. Educated guess would be Luke. Luke was the guy who wrote the Gospel of Luke, wrote the Book of Acts. We know that he was involved in the City of Philippi about the same time that Paul was writing this letter. So that’s a pretty good guess. But we don’t really know who he was.
The important thing is that whoever this true companion is, Paul says, “I want you to use the influence you have to help these women solve this conflict before it becomes a division that takes the Church off mission.” He also invites somebody named Clement. We don’t know who Clement is. Because he’s mentioned by name, chances are he’s somebody of considerable influence in the Church in Philippi, maybe an elder, or maybe a pastor. It doesn’t matter, again, who he is. The point is, Paul saying, “Hey, use your influence to help these women solve this conflict, resolve this conflict before it becomes a division.”
And then he invites “all of my fellow co-workers,” which I think probably means all of the people in the Church of Philippi. He basically involves everybody in bringing a solution to this conflict. Why? Why is he so concerned about it? Because he understands that a church in conflict is a church off mission, that when a church is in conflict with each other, they cannot be a mission. The Church isn’t a building we come to. It’s a mission that we choose to be part of. And when we’re in conflict with each other, we’re not standing side by side living out the mission that the Church exists to be about.
So Paul says that you guys got to get involved in this. It’s all about mission. Part of the reason I say that, if we could actually pop up verse three again, he says this, he says, “Look, I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side. They have fought at my side. They’ve worked in the cause of the Gospel.” That’s mission, right?
Because these women were on mission, but now I’m concerned that they’re not living on mission anymore because they’re so focused on this conflict with each other that the mission has fallen by the wayside. And he says, “I’m also inviting not only my true companion, not only Clement, but all of my fellow co-workers.” Why co-workers? Because they’ve been working alongside Paul in advancing the Gospel, extending God’s influence in the world. That’s mission. It’s all about mission.
And here’s where it gets interesting. What he’s about to say is all those familiar phrases that so many of us have heard before, that we treat like standalones, but what we need to understand is that none of them are standalone. They’re all actually part of this instruction to help these women deal with this conflict. These are all principles of conflict management.
Here’s part of where I know that if you actually want to drop down all the way to verse nine, which concludes this passage, check out what he says at the end of the passage. He says, “Whatever you have learned, or received, or heard from me, or seen in me, put it into practice and the God of peace will be with you.”
You see how he bookends the section. He starts off with “people in conflict,” he ends with “the God of peace,” and everything in between those bookends is intended to help us become people of peace. And so he gives four principles for conflict management. The first one is this, he says, verse four, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice.” How many of you have heard that before?
Yeah, go on Pinterest, guarantee you’re gonna find a plaque, or a plate, or something. It’s a very familiar verse. Actually, you might recognize it, even if you were just here a couple weeks ago, at the beginning of chapter three. He said almost the same thing. He said, “Rejoice in the Lord.” And now he adds the word always. He says, “Rejoice in the Lord.” When? Always.
“Well, wait a minute, Paul. What about in this…” “Yes.” “Well, okay, Paul, in this particular situation…” “Yes, always, rejoice in the Lord always.” And I’m not sure that you really heard me. So let me say it again. Rejoice. Why? Why is this so important? Well, we saw it a couple of weeks ago because we understand that we gravitate towards what we celebrate. Remember that? We gravitate towards what we celebrate.
What we celebrate, we find ourselves gravitating towards. And so it’s the way that God’s built us. Whatever we celebrate, we find ourselves in orbit around. Now, here’s what happens. If I’m celebrating something over here, then I gravitate towards that thing. And if you’re celebrating something over here, then you’re gravitating towards that thing, and we’re gravitating away from each other.
But if we’re celebrating the same thing, if we’re celebrating the Lord God and our relationship with him, I’m gravitating towards him. You’re celebrating him, you’re gravitating towards him, and guess what, we’re also gravitating towards each other. We’re drawing closer together.
So Paul says, “One of the most important principles for conflict resolution is you have to have the same source of celebration.” He says, “Peace comes from a common commitment to celebrate the Lord.” Peace comes from a common commitment to celebrate the Lord, because when we’re celebrating the same thing, we’re moving towards each other.
What he says is basically, hey, it’s really hard to live in conflict with other people that you were worshiping alongside, that when you and I are truly worshiping God, together, we’re drawing not only closer to him but towards each other. It’s hard to be in conflict that leads to division in those moments.
Now, that assumes that we’re truly worshiping. I mean, let’s just be really clear here. It’s entirely possible to stand next to somebody in a worship service, and watch them sing and think to yourself, “What a hypocrite. I can’t believe she’s…she didn’t mean those words.” Yeah, you can say a comment like that but you’re not worshiping, right.
But when you’re truly setting that aside and worshiping the Lord and moving towards him in worship and they’re doing the same thing, you’re also moving towards each other. He says peace comes from a common commitment to worship the Lord. And then he says this, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” How many of you heard that one? A pretty common one. Sometimes we leave off the second part, which I think is really important. He says, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near,” which sounds a little ominous, doesn’t it? And it’s supposed to. He’s, like, “God is watching.”
And apparently this gentleness business matters a lot to him. That we’re gentle, by the way, can also be translated as…it can be translated as yielding. He says, “Let your yieldingness…” and yielding basically means willingness to give up ground on non-essential issues.
In other words, it’s an unwillingness to insist on being right about every little piece of it, because that leads to more and more conflict. It’s hard to get a resolution when you’re not willing to yield a little bit. So he said, “Let your yieldingness be evident to all.” It can also be translated as courteous. Let your courteousness be evident to all, or let your kindness be evident to all is another common translation.
What he basically says is this, he says, “Peace comes from being committed to kindness.” It has to do with the way that we treat each other, especially when we’re in conflict with each other, which is when it gets hard, right? He says, “Let your kindness be evident to all.” I don’t like that all business. I’d rather he had said, “Let your kindness be evident to some.”
Because honestly, here’s the truth, like, when I’m in conflict with somebody, I can be kind to that person, but I’m usually going to tell somebody else about it. I’m gonna be honest with you. I’m not great at this one. I’m ashamed to say it but the truth is, this is not a principle that I have mastered in my life. It’s just not. If you talk to my wife, if you talk to my kids, and if you talk to some of my staff, they’re going to be able to tell you stories, if they’re honest, of times that I was not as kind in the midst of conflict as I should have been.
Just from this past week, people could tell you stories of ways that I was not kind as I should have been. I was not exhibiting a kindness that was evident to all. Now, I’m getting better at it. I think if you went back a year, you’d have a lot more stories. I’m getting better. I’m working… Let me tell you something that’s helped me, and maybe this will be helpful to you, one of the things that I do now, it’s a regular practice, every morning after my prayer time, I actually have a little book, and I write down some principles that I want to pay attention to that day.
I want to live according to these principles. And what I do is I write down, I say, “I will be kind, period. Therefore, comma, when I’m irritated, I will be slow to speak.” I write that every morning, and it’s making a difference. God is using that to help me in life, but I’m not perfect. I’m actually getting better and better at the part, like, when I’m irritated with somebody, I can be kind to them. It’s that other people that I struggle with. Here’s the two big tests of my spirituality. One of them you’ve heard about it, you probably experienced it, it’s traffic, okay, massive… The other one is really close second, and that is going through airport security. I hate airport security, and partly it’s because I’m a rule follower, and I really like to do everything right. It’s like I can never do it right because they keep changing the rules. But I work really hard.
And I desperately want…like, there’s a part of me that feels, like, if I do it right, I’m going to end up going through there and the security people are gonna be, like, “Good job. Man, you nailed that.” I’m, like, “Did I get an A+? Did I just get… That would be awesome.” That’s part of how I’m wired, right. And so I’m really careful. We were going through security a couple weeks ago, and, you know, I got up there, and I took every item out that was larger than my cell phone, that was electronic, and I put them in the bin. I made sure that they didn’t touch each other and overlap. I made sure there was exactly an inch between all of them. I carefully measured that out.
That went through, and I got my backpack going through. I got my shoes off, put my belt off, put my shoes in one side of the bin, and put my belt on the other side of the bin. I made sure they weren’t touching. And I was, like, “I’m feeling pretty good about this. I’m going to get an A+ for sure.” And I was about to go in, and the security guard goes, “Hey, you can’t do that.” “What can I not do?” “You can’t put your belt in the same bin with your shoes.”
Now, there was a lot of things that occurred to my head, but none of them came out of my mouth. I felt really good about that, so good. My kindness was evident to her. But then I got through security, and I rejoined my family, and my kindness was not evident to them. I kind of laid into the security guard. Actually, I’m ashamed to say, but actually I used the words, “I think it’s just a power thing. I think it’s a power trip. She’s on a power trip.” And then I heard the worst thing from behind me. I heard, “Hey, Pastor Craig.” “Oh, no, no.” And it’s Charlie from our Littleton Campus. And I don’t think he heard my rant about the security guard. And we had a conversation. He laughed, and my family looked at me, like, “Ah.” Yeah, my kindness was not evident to all. Maybe you have a similar struggle.
But he says, “Peace comes from a commitment to kindness,” not just in the moment with the person we’re in conflict with, but also in the ways that we talk about that person to others. So that brings peace. He says, “Do not be anxious about anything. But in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Many of you heard that one. Again, common standalone. And we often use it as a way of teaching that one of the biggest antidotes to anxiety is prayer. And that’s true. I don’t want to undermine that.
But in this context, he has something very specific in mind when he talks about in every situation, and specifically what it means is in every situation where you’re having conflict with somebody, what should you do? He says, “You should pray.” And if that’s where he stopped, it wouldn’t be all that hard, right? God’s the God of peace.
And so if I’m in conflict, and I want peace in that relationship, I should pray to the God of peace to bring peace. That’s not so bad. But he adds on that other really frustrating word. He says, “With thanksgiving.” And we try to wiggle out from under the real implication of that. We try to wiggle out, and we go, “Well, yeah, that’s just good practical wisdom, right? I mean, you should always pray with thanksgiving, because honestly, if you haven’t been grateful for the ways that God has answered your past prayers, why would you expect him to answer your present ones?”
I mean, as parents, if our kids aren’t grateful for the things we’ve done for them or given to them, we’re less likely to want to do more things for them and give them more things. And so gratitude is just a basic principle for effective prayer. That’s true. But in this context, I’m fairly confident what he means is when you have conflict with someone, pray for peace with thanksgiving for the person you’re in conflict with. Ask for God to bring peace in that relationship, and do it by giving thanks to God for that person.
“Oh, are you sure about that?” Because that feels like a little bit of a stretch, right? Except that, look at what he says the result of that will be, verse seven, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” The result of this prayer is peace, which means it was a prayer for peace. And he says it doesn’t make sense on a human level, because you’re still in conflict with that person, but the moment that you begin to pray for peace, and you begin to give thanks for that person, genuine, heartfelt thanks for that person, the conflict begins to evaporate. And he says, “And the peace of God comes,” and he says it will do what? “It will guard your hearts.” That’s an interesting thing to say.
Why guard? Guard from what? What’s the big picture thing that he’s concerned about avoiding? What’s he looking to help guard the Church against? Division. Division. He says, “Peace comes from praying for it with thanksgiving for those we’re in conflict with.” There’s your principle, which is so natural to do, right? Praying for judgment, that’s pretty natural. Your Old Testament, even praying for God to smite them, right? Like, that’s natural when you’re in conflict with somebody, but to pray for peace with thanksgiving for them, that is unnatural, but it generates unnatural results. It generates peace. Peace comes from praying for it to the God of peace, with thanksgiving, for the person you’re in conflict with.
Think about somebody you’re in conflict with right now. Don’t look around, just right here. Ask yourself a couple of hard questions. Number one, am I praying for peace in that conflict? Are you praying for peace in that conflict? Question number two, even harder, am I praying about that conflict with thanksgiving for that person?
Maybe if you haven’t experienced the peace, maybe it’s because you haven’t given the thanksgiving. This is verse eight, “Finally, my brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things.” How many of you heard that before?
Again, we treat it like a standalone verse. This is the verse when I was growing up that everybody used, especially my Sunday school teachers used to say, “Don’t fill your mind with garbage. Don’t watch bad movies. Don’t listen to music that glorifies sex or violence. Don’t read bad books. Don’t put bad stuff…think about noble things. Think about good things.” And that’s true. But in this context, he means something very, very specific. And the keyword probably to understand it is that word admirable. That word admirable literally means worth admiring. And in the Greek, it’s only ever used to talk about other human beings. This word admirable is never used to talk about ideas, or concepts, or books. It’s always used to talk about other people. He says, “Whatever is worth admiring,” admiring in who? In the person you’re in conflict with.
So when you’re in conflict with somebody, the natural tendency is to think about all their character defects, to magnify those until we villainize the person, and that’s why we can justify praying for God to smite them, right? “Look how awful they are.” Paul says, “You gotta flip that around.” No, no, no, when you are in conflict with a person, you need to think about, or, literally, it’s dwell upon, it’s focus on, he says, “Focus on whatever is true, whatever matches up with God in that person, whatever is noble in that person, whatever was right or righteous in that person, whatever is pure in that person, whatever is lovely in that person, whatever is admirable in that person. In that person, do you see things that you honestly wish were more true of you than they are now, worth admiring?”
If you see anything that is excellent or praiseworthy, worthy of praising in that person, dwell upon such things. That’s tough, right? And so you gotta flip it around. When you’re in conflict with the person, what you need to do is you need to focus on those things that even though you’re not inclined to do it, if you’re really honest, you got to give them credit for, right?
“Well, I’m really upset about this and this, but I gotta give her credit, boy, she’s a great mom. I gotta give him credit, he is a really hard worker. I gotta give them credit, they’re really generous. I gotta give her credit, she really knows the Bible. I gotta give her credit.” I see a lot of this or that. And what Paul’s basically saying is we have to dwell on those things. He says, “Peace comes from focusing on credit more than criticism.” We focus on the things we got to give them credit for more than on the things that we’re critical about. He says, “The result of that is peace.”
This is verse nine, “Whatever you’ve learned, or received, or heard from me, or seen in me, put it into practice.” These aren’t theoretical principles. These are very practical principles, “Put them into practice,” and here’s the result, “And the God of peace will be with you.” Interesting passage. It begins with people in conflict. It moves to the God of peace, and everything in between is to help us become people of peace with the result, he says, that if you pursue peace in this way, the God of peace will be with you.
That’s great news. It’s great news if we are willing to do what Paul talks about here. It is bad news if we’re not, because the implication would be that if we’re not willing to pursue peace in this way, then we will lose something of the presence of God, right? If we pursue peace, the God of peace will be with us. If we don’t pursue peace, maybe not so much.
And so what we have to decide is, am I so interested in holding on to the source of my conflict that I’m willing to lose something of the presence of God in my life, in my family, in my church, in my Life Group, whatever it is? Paul says, “The presence of God depends on our willingness to pursue peace.” The presence of God depends on our willingness to pursue peace. So, are we willing? Are you willing? Now, obviously, the principles that he gives us here are first and foremost, they’re intended for conflict management within the Church. But the principles apply in every other relationship. They apply in our marriages, in our Life Groups. They apply in our neighborhoods. They apply at work, in our group of friends. The principles themselves—let’s review them real quick:
Number one, peace comes from a common commitment to celebrate the Lord, to celebrate the same thing and so move together. Peace comes from being committed to kindness. Kindness is evident to all, not just to the person we’re in conflict with, but even to the way we talk about that person to others. Peace comes from praying for it to the God of peace with thanksgiving for those that we’re in conflict with. And then finally, peace comes from focusing on credit more than criticism, and the things we have to give him credit for more than the things that we’re critical of.
The presence of God depends on our willingness to pursue peace in this way, in these ways. So three quick questions for you. Number one, what disagreements have you allowed to become divisions? Conflict is inevitable, division is optional. And often, the division that we have experienced is because we have not been people of peace. We haven’t pursued these principles. So what disagreements have you allowed to become divisions. Or maybe you’re not there, but maybe you are in a conflict that’s kind of moving in that direction, so you would ask what disagreements are in danger of becoming divisions? And then question number two, which of these peace principles needs the most work in my life? I think for most of us, at least one of those four, we go, “That’s not evident in my life. That’s not natural for me. That’s something I really struggle with,” and maybe that’s the one we most need to begin working on, taking steps forward and pursuing peace in that way that Paul gives us.
And then question number three, whose forgiveness do you need to seek? Because many of us are here today, and the very conversation about divisions is uncomfortable because we immediately know of relationships that had conflict that we allowed to become divisions, and we’re living in that now. And the reality is, when you look back, if we’re completely honest with ourselves, we have to recognize that some of the fault lays at our feet. Maybe the whole conflict was your fault, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe you weren’t wrong, but maybe you didn’t pursue peace in the way that God’s called you to, and that division is the result.
The first step is asking for forgiveness. So whose forgiveness do you maybe need to seek about a conflict that you allowed to become a division? Some of you, honestly, you’re probably here because of conflicts that you allowed to become divisions in other churches. Maybe you need to ask forgiveness from somebody. Maybe it’s an issue in your family or a group of friends. Maybe it’s an issue at work or in your neighborhood. Are you willing to take that step to be a person of peace? The presence of God, the very presence of God depends on our willingness to pursue peace. Would you pray with me?
God, as followers of Jesus, and on behalf of my brothers and sisters, I stand here to confess to you that we have not been the people of peace that you’ve called us to be. Even now, as your Holy Spirit moves in this, we recognize relationships where there’s been conflict that we have allowed to become division, or at least it’s in danger of it right now, and it has to do with our lack of humility, and our unwillingness to pursue peace in the way that you call us to. And so, Lord, we confess that to you. As the Holy Spirit enables, we lay the specifics of these things before your feet and we say, “I’m sorry. Please forgive us.” And we also give thanks, knowing that no matter how badly we might have messed the pursuit of peace up, that there is forgiveness and there is new hope in all these relationships because you are a God of peace. Teach us to pursue peace and so to invite your presence.
If you’re a follower of Jesus, would you do me a favor right now? Would you just begin praying right now for the people around you and people watching online all over the world? Because I want to speak to those of you who don’t know this God of peace. You don’t have a relationship with the God of peace. In fact, honestly, maybe for you, the idea that God is a God of peace is a hard concept. Maybe you’ve never even heard that. Maybe you’ve heard that God is a God of wrath and anger, and all you’ve ever heard about is how much he hates your sin. And let me be clear, he does hate sin, because he loves you. He hates sin so much because it separates you from him, and he hates being separated from you.
But understand, he is a God of peace. He loves you so much. He’s so committed to peace with you. He sent his own Son, Jesus Christ, who came, and he lived a perfect life with no sin of his own to pay for. And then he on his own decision, by his own choice, he went to the cross. He died there and, in his blood, he paid for every sin you’ve ever committed, for every wrong you’ve ever done. That was the plan, because God wants peace with you.
Jesus died to forgive your sin. Three days later, God raised him from the dead to prove that he had defeated sin and death. That’s a fact of history. And now, Jesus is offering you peace with God, a relationship with God that begins now and goes forever, if only you will receive it. That’s the only thing standing between you. And if you’re ready to put your faith in what Jesus did to have your sin paid for, to have peace with God, wherever you are, you can have that right here right now. This is all you have to do. In your heart, you just have this conversation with God. Say this to him, say:
God, I’ve done wrong. I created the conflict between us with my sin. I’m sorry. Jesus, thank you for coming and dying on the cross for me. I believe you rose from the dead, and I believe you’re offering me forgiveness, adoption into the family of God, in peace with my God, my Creator. I’m ready to receive that. I’m ready to be at peace with God. So, Jesus, I’m putting my trust in you. I’m putting my faith in you. Come into my life. I’m yours for now and forever. Amen.