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Day 212

How to Avoid Arguments, Deal with Disputes and Stop Fighting

Wisdom Proverbs 18:17-21, 24
New Testament Romans 14:1–3,5,10–13,15–18
Old Testament 1 Chronicles 10:13–14a

Introduction

The referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU resulted in a 52:48 split in favour of leaving. The campaign was hostile, the nation was divided, and the main political parties soon descended into infighting and division. This is one example of what we see across the globe. Every news update seems to include stories of arguments, disputes and fighting.

When sin entered the world, arguments, disputes and fighting began. Adam blamed Eve. Cain murdered his brother. The history of the world ever since has been one of conflict of all kinds.

When people turn away from God, they start fighting one another. We see the breakdown of relationships wherever we look: broken marriages, broken homes, broken relationships at work, civil wars and wars between nations. Sadly, the church is not immune. Right from the start there have been arguments, disputes and in-fighting.

How should we handle conflict?

Wisdom

Proverbs 18:17-21, 24

17 In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right,
        until someone comes forward and cross-examines.

18 Casting the lot settles disputes
        and keeps strong opponents apart.

19 A brother wronged is more unyielding than a fortified city;
        disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel.

20 From the fruit of their mouth a person’s stomach is filled;
        with the harvest of their lips they are satisfied.

21 The tongue has the power of life and death,
        and those who love it will eat its fruit.

24 One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
        but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Commentary

Avoid arguments

Proverbs is full of practical advice on how to avoid arguments.

1. Listen to both sides

There are usually two sides to an argument, and it is always worth hearing both parties. The right of cross-examination is an important one, with a vital place in any legal system. ‘The first speech in a court case is always convincing – until the cross-examination starts!’ (18:17, MSG).

2. Ask for the help of the Holy Spirit

We need God’s guidance especially when facing ‘tough decisions’ (v.18, MSG). In the Old Testament, ‘casting the lot’ was a way of settling disputes. However, with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit there are better ways of receiving God’s guidance over disputes (see 1 Corinthians 6:1–6).

3. Avoid unnecessary offence

Do everything you possibly can to avoid offending people: someone close to you who’s been offended can be ‘… more unyielding than a fortified city’ (Proverbs 18:19). Serious disputes create barriers among friends. These walls are easy to erect and extremely hard to pull down.

4. Choose your words carefully

Your words can be a life-giving force, bring great satisfaction and heal division: ‘Words satisfy the mind as much as fruit does the stomach; good talk is as gratifying as a good harvest’ (v.20, MSG).

Yet words can also be a destructive force: ‘Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose’ (v.21, MSG). You can do great good or great damage by what you say.

5. Choose your companions carefully

The writer says, ‘Find a good spouse, you find a good life – and even more: the favour of God!’ (v.22, MSG). It is certainly true in my experience that Pippa’s wisdom, advice and involvement have often helped me to avoid getting into trouble in this area. A good husband or wife will be a peacemaker.

Whether we are married or not, what we need are really close friends. The second part of this proverb reminds us that while friends come and go, ‘There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother or sister’ (v.24b). These are the sorts of friends we need in our lives. If you have friends like that, never stop thanking God for them.

Ultimately, of course, Jesus is the friend who sticks closer than a brother or sister.

Prayer

Lord, may the words I speak be a source of life to those around me.

New Testament

Romans 14:1–3,5,10–13,15–18

1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarrelling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.
5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.
10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:
‘“As surely as I live,” says the Lord,
“Every knee will bow before me;
    every tongue will acknowledge God.”’
12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling-block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.
15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

Commentary

Deal with disputes

This passage is so relevant to some of the disputes going on in the global church right now. If only the church in the last 2,000 years had followed Paul’s instructions. As John Stott writes, Paul’s purpose in these verses ‘was to enable conservative-minded Christians (mostly Jewish) and liberal-minded Christians (mainly Gentiles) to coexist amicably in the Christian fellowship.’

There are certain matters over which Paul was willing to fight to death – the truth of the gospel (that Christ died for us, vv.9,15). The life, death and resurrection of Jesus (v.9) and the Lordship of Christ (v.9) are examples of what is non-negotiable.

However, there are other things that are not nearly as important. They are ‘disputable matters’ (v.1). They are secondary areas. He gives various examples such as vegetarianism or thinking of one day as more sacred than another.

Today some Christians abstain from alcohol. Others do not. Some Christians are pacifists. Others are not. And there are many other issues where Christians are passionately divided about disputable matters. How do we deal with these disputes?

1. Welcome those with different views

He writes ‘accept’ (the word means ‘welcome’) those ‘whose faith is weak’ (v.1a). ‘Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do... Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God’ (vv.1,10, MSG).

2. Do not be quick to judge

‘Don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with’ (v.1b, MSG).

He goes on, ‘Who are you to judge someone else’s servants?’ (v.4); ‘You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister?’ (v.10); ‘Then let us no more criticise and blame and pass judgment on one another’ (v.13, AMP). We must allow people to have different views from our own without judging them for it.

This is the heart of the matter. Four times in this passage Paul says we are not to judge one another.

3. Don’t look down on others

We ‘must not look down on’ (v.3a) those who have different views from our own. God has welcomed them (v.3b). So should we.

4. Do what you think is right

On all these secondary matters ‘everybody should be fully convinced in their own minds’ (v.5). ‘Each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience’ (v.5, MSG). ‘If you eat meat... thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian... thank God for broccoli’ (v.6, MSG). Just because we may agree to disagree on these matters does not make them irrelevant. We need to be careful to do what we think is right in every situation.

5. Assume the best about other people’s motives

‘Those who regard one day as special, do so to the Lord. Those who eat meat, eat to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and those who abstain, do so to the Lord and give thanks to God’ (v.6).

Give others the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are seeking to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord (vv.7–8).

6. Be sensitive about other people’s consciences

Paul says, ‘Make up your mind not to put any stumbling-block or obstacle in another believer’s way’ (v.13). For example, if someone regards drinking alcohol as wrong, it would be insensitive to drink alcohol in front of them. We do not want to cause them distress (v.15).

7. Help and encourage one another

‘So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault’ (v.19, MSG).

8. Always act in love

‘If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love’ (v.15). ‘So be sensitive and courteous... Don’t eat or say or do things that might interfere with the free exchange of love’ (v.21, MSG).

Disputable matters are important, but not as important as what unites us all: ‘For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (v.17). This is what really matters. Let us not get caught up in arguments about disputable matters, which divide the church and put off those outside the church.

Follow the words of the medieval writer Rupertus Meldenius: ‘On the essentials, unity; on the non-essentials, freedom; in everything, love.’

Prayer

Lord, I pray for a new unity in the church. Help us to focus today and each day on what the kingdom of God is really about: righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Old Testament

1 Chronicles 10:13–14a

Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, 14 and did not enquire of the Lord.

Commentary

Stop fighting

‘The Philistines fought against Israel… The fighting grew fierce around Saul’ (10:1,3). Saul was attacked by the Philistines and died as a result. We find this account in 1 Samuel 31. However, the writer of Chronicles adds an explanation: ‘Saul died in disobedience, disobedient to God. He didn’t obey God’s words’ (1 Chronicles 10:13, MSG).

As we look back at the book of Samuel we can see that the real problem was that Saul became jealous of David. David did everything he could to submit to Saul and to be on good terms with him. Saul would have none of it. He was out to get David. This internal dispute weakened Saul and made him vulnerable to an attack from outside.

We see today how internal disputes among the people of God make us vulnerable to attacks from outside. Jesus prayed that we would be one in order that the world would believe (John 17:23).

Prayer

Lord, help us to be peacemakers, to stop the infighting and seek unity in order that the world will believe.

Pippa adds

Proverbs 18:22

‘He who finds a wife finds what is good.’

What more is there to say about that?

Verse of the Day

Proverbs 18:24

‘… there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother or sister'.

Thought for the Day

Unity: on the essentials. Freedom: on the non-essentials. Love: in everything. Rupertus Meldenius
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References

John Stott, The Message of Romans (IVP Academic, 2001) p.357.

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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