“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a permanent attitude.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

“We are never more like Jesus than when we choose to forgive.” –Unknown

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. 44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” –Jesus

On Sunday, May, 20, 2018, Pastor Dennis Phillips, pastor of First Baptist Church in Rockledge, Florida preached an excellent sermon on “How to Handle Conflict.” I find his four main points, with Scripture, to be instructive. The illustrations are mine.

Embrace Difference. “And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. 7 For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:6-7). Life teaches that the whole of something is greater than the individual parts. In the world of sport, this principle is recognized, and emphasizes team work. A mechanical designer will draw all the various parts of a machine, while visualizing the function of the whole working in wonderful harmony. Henry W. Longfellow wrote, “”All your strength is in your union; All your danger in discord; Therefore be at peace henceforward, And as brothers live together.” That is good council for Christians. Embrace difference in other Christians in the Church. Stop competing over who will do the bulletin, or play the organ, or the piano, or be president of some auxiliary committee. Cooperate with one another.

Refuse Bitterness. “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: 15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” (Heb. 12:14-15). “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Bitterness is a choice based upon an injustice, perceived or real. Bitterness is produced when a person cannot have their way. Martin Luther liked to tell the story of two goats that met upon a narrow bridge over deep water. They could not go back; they dared not fight. After a short parley, one of the goats simply decided to lay down, and let the other goat go over him, and in so doing, no harm was done. The moral, Luther would conclude, is this: be content if you are trodden upon –for the sake of peace. No harm will be done, if your conscience is not violated.

Forget Vengeance. “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. 16 Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. 17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. 18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Rom. 12:15-19). The person who seeks to hurt someone else because they have been hurt, will find that, “Revenge is always the weak pleasure of a little and narrow mind” (Juvenal).

Jules Verne, in his Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, was the prophet of the submarine, with its cruel devastation and destruction. Possessed with hatred of mankind, Captain Nemo ranges the seas in his submarine, the Nautilus, and takes fearful and titanic vengeance upon the human race. The book comes to a close with the description of the sinking of a man-of-war, with the swarm of seamen, like an ant heap overtaken by the sea, struggling in the waters and clinging to the hull of the sinking ship, until the dark mass disappears and is sucked down into the depths.

A seaman, a prisoner on the Nautilus, viewing the tragedy, turned to look at Captain Nemo: “I turned to Captain Nemo. That terrible avenger, a perfect archangel of hatred, was still looking. When all was over, he turned to his room, opened the door, and entered. I followed him with my eyes. On the end wall, beneath his heroes, I saw the portrait of a woman still young, and two little children. Captain Nemo looked at them for some moments, stretched his arms toward them, and, kneeling down, burst into deep sobs.” Then he heard the captain exclaim, “Almighty God! Enough! Enough!” And with that the Nautilus was sucked down into the maelstrom.

The anguish and solitude of Captain Nemo are a powerful parable of the wages of hatred, of what happens to man when he tries to get the best of his enemies by hating them and destroying them.

Live Forgiveness. “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:32). “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Col. 3:13).

“The language spoken in heaven by the angels and the redeemed is the language of forgiveness. It will be the only language spoken there. No other language will be understood. It will be spoken by the cherubim and the seraphim and the whole angelic host as they praise God, the author of forgiveness and of eternal salvation. It will be spoken by all the redeemed as they greet one another on the banks of the River of Life, and gather round the throne of the Lamb, and sing their song unto him who loved them and washed them from their sins. But no one can learn that language after he gets to heaven. It must be learned here upon earth—in this world, and in this life. That is what Jesus taught us when he taught us to pray, ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.’” (Author Unknown).

The great English preacher of another generation, Joseph Parker, as a young man liked to debate in the mining fields of England, on the town green, with infidels and atheists. An infidel once shouted at him, “What did Christ do for Stephen when he was stoned?” Parker said the answer that was given him was like an inspiration from heaven. “He gave him grace to pray for those who stoned him.” Stephen had the mind of Christ; and hearing him pray for those who did him wrong at once recalls the prayer of Jesus himself, under like circumstances: “Father, forgive them.” Live forgiveness, even unto death.

Christian, whoever you are, wherever you are, perhaps you have been guilty of promoting conflict in the Church. One day you became territorial and competitive, instead of cooperative. Perhaps someone said something that offended you, and you became bitter, and sought to take revenge on that person, that pastor, that deacon. You know, that before God you have not lived a life of forgiveness, but sought to take away the livelihood of someone else. You would have taken their life if you could, so much hatred is in your heart, but at least you sent them away, or left yourself, rather than be loving, longsuffering, and forgiving. You have not tried to be a peacemaker. You feel so morally superior as you hold secret meetings to move against another.

For many years you have suppressed the truth in order to justify the terrible deed you have done. It is not too late to get right with God on this matter. Confess that seed of bitterness which sprang up and defiled many. Confess the hatred in your heart. Ask God to cause you to love the unlovely, and give you grace to be a peacemaker, because you too have been forgiven much.

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