Day 263

How to Deal with Conflict

Wisdom Psalm 109:1-20
New Testament Galatians 5:7-26
Old Testament Isaiah 47:1-49:7

Introduction

‘The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people!’ wrote G.K. Chesterton.

Conflict is inescapable. Even for those of us who shy away from confrontation, it is impossible to avoid. As we go through life, we will inevitably encounter people with whom we will have conflict. Additionally, for a Christian, an internal conflict exists between the desires of our sinful nature and the Holy Spirit.

We may also experience conflict when we stand up for the truth within the church, or when we engage with the prevailing culture. Even in the UK, a country that has traditionally been seen as ‘Christian’, the culture is becoming increasingly hostile towards the Christian faith.

Wisdom

Psalm 109:1-20

Psalm 109

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

1 My God, whom I praise,
   do not remain silent,
2 for people who are wicked and deceitful
   have opened their mouths against me;
   they have spoken against me with lying tongues.
3 With words of hatred they surround me;
   they attack me without cause.
4 In return for my friendship they accuse me,
   but I am a man of prayer.
5 They repay me evil for good,
   and hatred for my friendship.

6 Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy;
   let an accuser stand at his right hand.
7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty,
   and may his prayers condemn him.
8 May his days be few;
   may another take his place of leadership.
9 May his children be fatherless
   and his wife a widow.
10 May his children be wandering beggars;
   may they be driven from their ruined homes.
11 May a creditor seize all he has;
   may strangers plunder the fruits of his labour.
12 May no one extend kindness to him
   or take pity on his fatherless children.
13 May his descendants be cut off,
   their names blotted out from the next generation.
14 May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord;
   may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.
15 May their sins always remain before the Lord,
   that he may blot out their name from the earth.

16 For he never thought of doing a kindness,
   but hounded to death the poor
and the needy and the brokenhearted.
17 He loved to pronounce a curse—
   may it come back on him.
He found no pleasure in blessing—
   may it be far from him.
18 He wore cursing as his garment;
   it entered into his body like water,
   into his bones like oil.
19 May it be like a cloak wrapped about him,
   like a belt tied forever around him.
20 May this be the Lord’s payment to my accusers,
   to those who speak evil of me.

Commentary

Conflict with those who hate and attack us

David cries out to God ‘whom I praise’ (v.1). He is in conflict with ‘wicked and deceitful people who have opened their mouths against’ him (v.2) with ‘lying tongues’ (v.2) and ‘words of hatred’ (v.3): ‘They repay me evil for good and hatred for my friendship’ (v.5).

It is deeply distressing when people we love and consider our friends attack us. Their accusations and words of hatred cause deep pain.

David’s response in this psalm is to bring his pain and struggles to God. In the midst of it all he declares, ‘I am a man of prayer’ (v.4), and he pours out his heart to God. In no uncertain terms he calls on God, not to remain silent, but rather, to pay them back.

Some of what he goes on to say can be difficult to read and reflects just how difficult it is to forgive without God’s help. It is at odds with Jesus’ call to ‘love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us]’ (Matthew 5:44). If you are being unfairly attacked, follow David’s example of prayerfulness and honesty before God. At the same time ask God to help you overcome bitterness and hatred.

Prayer

Lord, help me when I come into conflict not to react in the flesh, but to respond in the Spirit.

New Testament

Galatians 5:7-26

7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. 11 Brothers and sisters, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!

Life by the Spirit

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Commentary

Conflict with heresy and in our hearts

Conflict and confrontation are never easy, but they are a necessary part of courageous leadership. Paul finds himself in conflict with the ‘agitators’. He is passionate about the truth, and uses very strong language about them because they are leading the church astray.

In effect, he says that if they are so keen on cutting that part of a man’s anatomy through circumcision, they may as well ‘go the whole way’ and castrate themselves (v.12). It is rather surprising language to find in the New Testament! But the truth matters, and Paul is prepared to face conflict in order to defend the truth.

Paul then moves on to the conflict between the sinful nature and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit and the sinful nature ‘are in conflict with each other’ (v.17).

The whole point of Paul’s argument has been to stress freedom. However, freedom from sin does not mean freedom to sin.

Paul contrasts two forms of slavery: legalism (slavery to law) and licence (slavery to self). You are liberated from these. Avoid both legalism and licence: ‘Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love’ (vv.13–14, MSG).

That is true freedom – not the absence of morality, but the freedom to serve others in love: to love your neighbour as yourself (v.14). If we continue responding to conflict as the world does, ‘biting and devouring each other’, we will destroy each other (v.15)

Paul lists four examples of realms in which this conflict operates:

  1. Sexual sin: ‘repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness’ (v.19, MSG)

  2. Religious sin: ‘trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness’ (v.20a, MSG)

  3. Societal sin: ‘cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival’ (v.20b, MSG)

  4. Sins of excess: ‘uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community’ (v.21, MSG)

Do not gratify these desires. Rather, live and be ‘led by the Spirit’ (v.18). If you choose to live by the Spirit, you will not follow the lusts of the flesh that continually tempt us. Instead, you will produce the fruit of the Spirit: ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (vv.22–23). As my friend, Michael Timmis, wrote to me, ‘The way I define love is by using the fruit of the Spirit, which starts with love. I believe that joy is love rejoicing, peace is love at rest, patience is love waiting, kindness is love interacting, goodness is love initiating, faithfulness is love keeping its word, gentleness is love empathising, and self-control is love resisting temptation.’

These are the characteristics we see in Jesus. Paul continues, ‘Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires’ (v.24). The temptation is always to go back. But ‘since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit’ (v.25).

As far as possible, avoid personal conflict: ‘Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other’ (v.26).

Now that the Holy Spirit lives in you, involve him in all your decisions and follow his prompting. If you are thinking, saying or doing something that makes you feel uncomfortable inside, that may be the prompting of the Holy Spirit to stop. On the other hand, when you make a decision and feel a deep sense of peace, know that that comes from keeping in step with the Holy Spirit.

Prayer

Lord, help me to deal with conflict wisely, to keep in step with the Holy Spirit.

Old Testament

Isaiah 47:1-49:7

The Fall of Babylon

47 “Go down, sit in the dust,
Virgin Daughter Babylon;
   sit on the ground without a throne,
   queen city of the Babylonians.
No more will you be called
   tender or delicate.
2 Take millstones and grind flour;
   take off your veil.
Lift up your skirts, bare your legs,
   and wade through the streams.
3 Your nakedness will be exposed
   and your shame uncovered.
I will take vengeance;
   I will spare no one. ”

4 Our Redeemer —the Lord Almighty is his name —
   is the Holy One of Israel.

5 “Sit in silence, go into darkness,
   queen city of the Babylonians;
no more will you be called
   queen of kingdoms.
6 I was angry with my people
   and desecrated my inheritance;
I gave them into your hand,
   and you showed them no mercy.
Even on the aged
   you laid a very heavy yoke.
7 You said, ‘I am forever —
   the eternal queen!’
But you did not consider these things
   or reflect on what might happen.

8 “Now then, listen, you lover of pleasure,
   lounging in your security
and saying to yourself,
   ‘I am, and there is none besides me.
I will never be a widow
   or suffer the loss of children.’
9 Both of these will overtake you
   in a moment, on a single day:
   loss of children and widowhood.
They will come upon you in full measure,
   in spite of your many sorceries
   and all your potent spells.
10 You have trusted in your wickedness
   and have said, ‘No one sees me.’
Your wisdom and knowledge mislead you
   when you say to yourself,
   ‘I am, and there is none besides me.’
11 Disaster will come upon you,
   and you will not know how to conjure it away.
A calamity will fall upon you
   that you cannot ward off with a ransom;
a catastrophe you cannot foresee
   will suddenly come upon you.

12 “Keep on, then, with your magic spells
   and with your many sorceries,
   which you have laboured at since childhood. Perhaps you will succeed,
   perhaps you will cause terror.
13 All the counsel you have received has only worn you out!
   Let your astrologers come forward,
those stargazers who make predictions month by month,
   let them save you from what is coming upon you.
14 Surely they are like stubble;
   the fire will burn them up.
They cannot even save themselves
   from the power of the flame.
These are not coals for warmth;
   this is not a fire to sit by.
15 That is all they are to you—
   these you have dealt with
   and laboured with since childhood.
All of them go on in their error;
   there is not one that can save you.

Stubborn Israel

48 “Listen to this, you descendants of Jacob,
   you who are called by the name of Israel
   and come from the line of Judah,
you who take oaths in the name of the Lord
   and invoke the God of Israel—
   but not in truth or righteousness—
2 you who call yourselves citizens of the holy city
   and claim to rely on the God of Israel—
   the Lord Almighty is his name:
3 I foretold the former things long ago,
   my mouth announced them and I made them known;
   then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass.
4 For I knew how stubborn you were;
   your neck muscles were iron,
   your forehead was bronze.
5 Therefore I told you these things long ago;
   before they happened I announced them to you
so that you could not say,
   ‘My images brought them about;
   my wooden image and metal god ordained them.’
6 You have heard these things; look at them all.
   Will you not admit them?

“From now on I will tell you of new things,
   of hidden things unknown to you.
7 They are created now, and not long ago;
   you have not heard of them before today.
So you cannot say,
   ‘Yes, I knew of them.’
8 You have neither heard nor understood;
   from of old your ears have not been open.
Well do I know how treacherous you are;
   you were called a rebel from birth.
9 For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath;
   for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you,
   so as not to destroy you completely.
10 See, I have refined you, though not as silver;
   I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this.
   How can I let myself be defamed?
   I will not yield my glory to another.

Israel Freed

12 “Listen to me, Jacob,
   Israel, whom I have called:
I am he;
   I am the first and I am the last.
13 My own hand laid the foundations of the earth,
   and my right hand spread out the heavens;
when I summon them,
   they all stand up together.

14 “Come together, all of you, and listen:
   Which of the idols has foretold these things?
The Lord’s chosen ally
   will carry out his purpose against Babylon;
   his arm will be against the Babylonians.
15 I, even I, have spoken;
   yes, I have called him.
I will bring him,
   and he will succeed in his mission.

16 “Come near me and listen to this:

“From the first announcement I have not spoken in secret;
   at the time it happens, I am there.”

And now the Sovereign Lord has sent me,
   endowed with his Spirit.

17 This is what the Lord says—
   your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the Lord your God,
   who teaches you what is best for you,
   who directs you in the way you should go.
18 If only you had paid attention to my commands,
   your peace would have been like a river,
   your well-being like the waves of the sea.
19 Your descendants would have been like the sand,
   your children like its numberless grains;
their name would never be blotted out
   nor destroyed from before me.”

20 Leave Babylon,
   flee from the Babylonians!
Announce this with shouts of joy
   and proclaim it.
Send it out to the ends of the earth;
   say, “The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob.”
21 They did not thirst when he led them through the deserts;
   he made water flow for them from the rock;
he split the rock
   and water gushed out.

22 “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.”

The Servant of the Lord

49 Listen to me, you islands;
   hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
   from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
2 He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
   in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
   and concealed me in his quiver.
3 He said to me, “You are my servant,
   Israel, in whom I will display my splendour. ”
4 But I said, “I have laboured in vain;
   I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,
   and my reward is with my God.”

5 And now the Lord says—
   he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
   and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honoured in the eyes of the Lord
   and my God has been my strength —
6 he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
   to restore the tribes of Jacob
   and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
   that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

7 This is what the Lord says—
   the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel —
to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation,
   to the servant of rulers:
“Kings will see you and stand up,
   princes will see and bow down,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
   the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Commentary

Conflict with culture

Like many today, the people of God often found themselves in a culture with very different standards from their own. You are not called to withdraw from the culture, but you are called to be distinctive. Live a counter-cultural life and you will have a powerful impact on the culture for good.

The people of God found themselves in a cruel society (Babylon) that ‘showed them no mercy’ (47:6). A very proud culture (vv.8–9) who indulged in the magic arts, astrology and horoscopes (vv.9b,12–13).

It is very hard to live a totally counter-cultural life.

Isaiah then addresses Israel. He says that if only they had paid attention to the Lord and his commands, ‘Your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea’ (48:18).

Despite all Israel’s failings and problems, God did not give up on his plans and purposes for ‘my servant Israel, in whom I will display my splendour’ (49:3). We read of another ‘servant of the Lord’ (see BiOY Day 260), this time an individual, who would ‘bring Jacob back to him, and gather Israel to himself’ (v.5). God’s original purposes for his servant Israel would be revealed and fulfilled in him. This points ahead to Jesus. He was an Israelite sent to Israel. He was totally identified with his nation, yet distinct from it.

The first task of the servant is to declare the truth. His mouth is ‘like a sharpened sword’ (v.2). God spoke to one nation and told them to tell all the others. The second task of the servant is to make God visible, ‘in whom I will display my splendour’ (v.3). The third task is to be a blessing to the world: ‘I’m setting you up as a light for the nations so that my salvation becomes global!’ (v.6, MSG).

Isaiah then gives us a glimpse of how the servant will achieve this. In a foreshadowing of Isaiah 53, he speaks of ‘him who was despised and abhorred by the nation’ (49:7). The servant glorifies God (v.3). Now God glorifies the servant: ‘Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you’ (v.7).

This was fulfilled when the Magi came to worship Jesus (Matthew 2:1–12). It has been fulfilled again and again over the last 2,000 years as kings, emperors, presidents and prime ministers have bowed the knee to Jesus.

Israel did not succeed, but Jesus did. Now, it is our task to be the servant of the Lord. Paul and Barnabas quoted this verse: ‘This is what the Lord has commanded us: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth”’ (Isaiah 49:6; Acts 13:47).

Prayer

Lord, help me to engage with the culture around me, speaking the truth in love, displaying your splendour and being a light to those around me.

Pippa adds

Galatians 5:22–23

‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’

How are you doing today? We all need to keep working on all these areas of our lives.

Verse of the Day

Galatians 5:22–23

‘… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’
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References

The One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers. Used by permission.

G. K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, 16 July 1910.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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