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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Steps to Solving Conflicts


Pastor Shim's sermon on August 28, 2011

Acts 15:1-21 & 36-41

“Whenever you're in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.”- William James.

One Sunday, a minister finished up a series on marriage. At the end of the service, he gave out small wooden crosses to each married couple. He said, "Place this cross in the room in which you fight the most and you will be reminded of God’s commands and you won’t argue as much.”

One woman came up after the service and said, "You’d better give me five.”

In Acts 15, we see how strong belief can lead to painful conflict. We can also learn how Christians settle their difficult issues without destroying each other. If a Christian is Christ-centered, his aim is to please Him. Holding on to conflict is self-centered and displeases God. It also causes continual pain in relationships.

According to Jesus in Matthew 18, we have three options to resolve conflict:

1) Go the person in private to communicate why we’re offended. If the person refuses to listen to us, we take the second step.
2) Take a mutually respected person along to help resolve the conflict. If the offender still refuses to listen, there is a third step.
3) Share it with the congregation so that they can deal with it together. There are three possible responses: (a) the person could repent, (b) the person could deny it, or (c) the person could leave the fellowship. Handling conflict requires wisdom. The hope is to heal, not to harm. The first Jerusalem church council handled the conflict they were facing. If this conflict had not been resolved, perhaps it would have destroyed the unity of and the testimony of the church. Unity in Christ is our power and strength.

In Acts 15, some of the Jewish Christians that gentile Christians be circumcised and live according to the Old Testament ceremonial laws. Peter, Paul, and Barnabas said that the gentiles should be accepted on the basis of Christ’s grace and baptism. The Jewish progressive Christians believed that salvation was granted to all who accepted the grace of God offered through Jesus Christ. The “grace” group included Peter, Paul, and Barnabas. They represented the gentile Christians in the council.

This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with the others. Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, apostles, and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

The Pharisaic Christians were not satisfied by Paul and Barnabas’s report, so they expressed their demand before the council. “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the Law of Moses.”

Apostle Peter said “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.” (See John 6:14; Acts 4:12 & Ephesians 2:8-10)

The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them.

James, the leader of the Jerusalem church gave his assessment in Acts 15:13-18, but before I quote James’s words, I want to point out one thing he wanted the assembly to remember, that God predicted through his prophet Amos the inclusion of the Gentiles in his saving plan. “Brothers,” James said, “listen to me. Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: ‘that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things,’ that have been known for ages.”

James’s words were wisely crafted in order to help both fighting factions to see God’s viewpoint instead of their own. James said, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals, and from blood. For the Law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” Well spoken, and the council agreed with James words.

The council sent a letter summarizing their decisions and guidelines in order to avoid confusion. The gentile Christians did not need to be circumcised or need to follow the Jews’s ceremonial laws or tradition in order to become Christians.

When you struggle with holding on to conflict, remember the opening story about the pastor who gave a cross to the husband and wife. Whenever they fought they should look at the cross. Why? Because, the cross reminds us of Jesus Christ and his sacrificial love for us. That should help us to give up conflict and seek peace for Christ’s sake

I like the remarks of Dr. John Stott. “We can say, then, that the Jerusalem Church council secured a double victory of love in preserving the fellowship by sensitive concessions to conscientious Jewish scruples. As Luther put it, Paul was strong in faith and soft in love. Or as John Newton once said, “Paul was a reed in non-essentials, an iron pillar in essentials.”

What can we apply to our lives from the decisions of the Jerusalem council? We can apply at least four principles as a church or as individuals:

1) Salvation is God’s gift of grace for all people who put their trust in Jesus Christ.
2) Saved people ought to be gracious enough to give up their view for God’s view, when it is supported by the word of God.
3) It wise to listen to all conflicting issues before a decision and show no partiality.

It is a mark of a Christian to promote peace once the agreement is made. To do otherwise is to dishonor the Lord. Do I love my issues more than honoring God?

Pastor Shim Habte, First United Methodist Church,
544 N. Shasta St., Willows, CA 95988 530-934-3190

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