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Sin is divisive and will do all it can to bring relational confusion and frustration between two people. This thought is not discouraging for the gospel-minded person because we are not people without hope (1 Corinthians 15:19). We live in the transformational reality and expectation of the gospel. The divisiveness of sin does not have the ultimate power over us (Romans 6:14). We are more than conquerors because of Christ’s work on our behalf (Romans 8:31-39).
Thus, when conflict happens, you have choices. There are two primary ways to avoid tension with another person. You can choose to live superficially with them, or you can choose not to reconcile after disagreements happen. Either course of action is not tenable for the Christian. We are not allowed to live superficial lives with others or allowed to ignore gospel reconciling opportunities. God calls us to pursue each other in gospel transformation for the glory of God and personal and communal benefit.
To not be active in stirring others up in love and good deeds is a betrayal of the gospel call on our lives (Hebrews 10:24-25). Imagine being part of a group of friends that does not seek to pursue each other to motivate each other toward change. Superficial friend groups are a mockery of the gospel. It’s like going to the hospital while refusing to access the hospital’s resources—a means of grace that could radically change your life.
One of our Adamic tendencies is to avoid the obvious flaws we see in each other. Perhaps you have done this. I have. You’re in a situation, and you perceive sanctification weirdness (relational awkwardness) in one of your friends. At that moment, you have to make a choice: will I begin to pray about a strategy to pursue this person for their good and God’s glory, or will I ignore the big fat elephant that just went prancing across the room.
One of your temptations will be to avoid the big fat elephant in the room because you know the possibility of a relational tussle happening if you pursue the person to help them. A dispute will happen because two things are working against you: you will seek your friend imperfectly, and your friend will receive your care imperfectly. Therefore, you have to decide. Do you want to love this person even though there will probably be a season of relational dysfunction, or do you want to ignore the God-opportunity in front of you?
The Christian who wants to live for God’s glory will not have the heart to walk away from this opportunity which his Commander and Chief has placed in front of him. It would be like being on a battlefield and ignoring the general’s command to engage the enemy. (The enemy is not your friend but is the spiritual warfare you’re engaged in on behalf of your friend.)
My dear friends. We are living on a battlefield, and the enemy is amongst us. He is alive and well—he is in our hearts, and until our great Commander comes to take us home, the battle will never slacken. We cannot avoid the obvious things in our lives and relationships. If we do ignore our relational tensions, it is not loving, but it is self-centered laziness born out of our desire for personal comfort and reputation.
I do understand the tension; I can’t slack away from God’s call on my life to press into my sanctification while seeking to help others in theirs. This kind of gospel-motivated attitude means relational conflict will come into my life. This mindset is how Jesus lived. He went from one relational conflict to another. Every encounter had the potential of breaking out into a fight.
You can see this perspective with His encounters with the Pharisees. It was also evident among His close friends. At the end of His life, the disciples’ frustration level was so high that they denied being His friend (Matthew 26:74). Christ was a Johnny-one-note kind of guy, and He did not hide how He thought about living for God. Though He was loving, He was also clear—if you’re going to follow, you must prepare to die (Mark 10:22; Luke 14:26).
We live in a sinful world, and we are imperfect people. To expect relationships to go smoothly is to live in an illusion. It’s like a man wearing a white suit in the desert, expecting never to get dirty—a naive notion. I don’t have a “fight wish,” but I know we can’t go on for any length of time as friends and not have relational conflict. If you’re married, think about how impossible it is to live with another human and you not sinning against them or they not sinning against you, which brings me to my second point.
My first point was about whether you’re going to choose superficial friends or biblical friends. If you select biblical friends, then batten down the hatches because you’re going to get up into each other’s business, and you’re going to get your feelings hurt. You will sin against your friends while you try to go deeper into the relationship, and they will sin against you. It is unavoidable. My second point is whether you will choose to reconcile after a break happens in the relationship.
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:16-21).
The Romans passage gives us a clear and distinct advantage over our friends who reject Christ. We can do what they can’t. We can reconcile. The issue is not and should never be, will we get into an argument? It should always be, will we reconcile after we get into a scuffle? I realize, as Paul implied, there is a conditionality to reconciliation—so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Sadly, some people will not want to reconcile.
What the other person did should not be your first point of focus. You never want to start with what they did or what they are currently doing (Matthew 7:3-5). I hear this when I talk to people about broken relationships. A person will begin talking about what the other party did and how they hurt them. There is a place for that conversation, but the bulk of Paul’s words are for you, not the other person (Romans 12:16-21).
Recently someone said, “She does not like me anymore and won’t have anything to do with me.” The lady who said this is a believer, and she was talking about another believer. My soul was sad. How can it be? How can a Christian carry a grudge or lousy attitude toward another Christian for an indefinite period and not seek to repair the relationship? This posture is gospel insanity.
How can a Christian say to another Christian, “I don’t like you anymore?” Really. Is this possible? What is going on in our hearts when we hold our hurts while not living in the immeasurable grace the Father provides? I know altercations happen, but where I struggle is when there is no plan for reconciliation. One of the most defaming things a Christian can do to his or her Savior is to allow conflict to continue between two people.
It’s a clear sign of gospel dysfunction of the heart, either from one or both people in the battle. We have the power of God resident within us, but yet we will allow ourselves to succumb to the power of evil to the point where the evil so overcomes us, we will permanently diss another person. You may never reconcile with a person, but you can do as much as depends on you, and you do not have to carry the hurt in your heart to where you become a captured victim.
Your best friends will be those that were previously separated by sin, which happened two ways: you sinned and they sinned against you. The mature Christian does not focus on who fired the first shot. Neither of you was looking for a fight, but there it was. Boom! You’re in conflict with someone. Though the disruption of the relationship matters, the bigger deal is the gospel. Will two people activate the power of the gospel in their lives?
Perhaps only one will, and if that is the case, it must be you. But if both do, you will reconcile, and more than likely, you’ll become friends for life. Once you go to the mat with someone and get back up as friends, nothing is left to hide or defend. You have seen the worst in each other, but you decided the gospel has more power than your disagreement. The gospel can do this for friendships. It can take the inevitable fight and transform the combatants into the best of friends.
The people who have my back are those I have sinned against, and they forgave me. They are the people I want to have my back because I know their love for me is genuine. Perhaps there are folks in your life who refuse to reconcile with you. Let me give you two parting pieces of advice. One is from Paul, and the other is from a friend who helped me many years ago.
I know many folks reading this will focus on that relationship that remains fractured. The disappointment can weigh heavy on you. I understand. My appeal is for you to ask the Lord to provide a restful heart in a bad relationship. As you are fighting for rest, ask Him what you can do—if anything—to fulfill what Paul said about “as much as it depends on you.”
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