Dealing with Conflict

I appreciated the opportunity to review several articles

related to conflict and conflict resolution, particularly as it

relates to “in the trenches” ministry. It was because of this

fact that I was able to derive the greatest value. And it is

also because of this that I am able to relate these articles

back to Scriptures. To that extent the articles were full of

biblical principles.

First of all, there is a widely perpetuated myth that

conflict is immoral, or even sinful. It seems likely that this

myth is spread by the reality of our consistent failures when it

comes to how people respond to various conflicts. In other

words, because we are so accustomed to the negative outcomes

that come from handling conflict poorly, we naturally assume or

that conflict in sinful. This is not true and is supported

neither by the inspired Scriptures nor practical experience.

Reading the articles help to reinforce my thinking on this.

The truth is that our behaviors and choices before and

after the conflict is what is actually sinful or glorifying to

God. Conflict by itself is amoral. Jesus’ life serves as a clear

representation of this challenging reality. The Gospels record

one conflict after another between Jesus and His contemporaries.

For example, the Gospel of John records Jesus’ creation of

conflict and details his response.

13  When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus

went up to Jerusalem.  14  In the temple courts he found people

selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at

tables exchanging money.  15  So he made a whip out of cords,

and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and

cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and

overturned their tables.  16  To those who sold doves he

said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s

house into a market!”  17  His disciples remembered that it is

written: “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:13-

17).

In this example, the fact that Jesus was involved in a

fairly serious conflict demonstrates that it is not inherently

sinful. However, in this instance (and in Jesus’ opinion) these

conflicts were initiated because of the sinful attitudes and

actions of those that he was in conflict with.

One other consideration related to the amoral nature of

conflict is its inherent inevitability. Fundamentally, conflict

is simply the absence of agreement. Or more specifically,

according to Dictionary.com it is defined as: coming into

collision or disagreement; being contradictory, at variance, or

in opposition. It seems rather obvious that disagreements and

variances are going to happen between people—even those with

especially close and loving relationships (i.e. parent/child or

spouses). Man was created to be a unique individual. That one

fact alone is bound to create conflicts.

This leads naturally to the question, “what causes

conflict”? In his article, “Seven Reasons for Staff Conflict,”

Jacobsen lists several factors that create conflict: majoring in

minors, miscommunication, environment, diversity in perspective,

generational differences, theological disagreements and a lack

of relationships.

Certainly, as has been referred to, conflict can be created

innocently; and it may simply be a matter of two people

respectfully disagreeing about an issue that is entirely

innocuous or benign. However, that is not necessarily the case;

and the Bible speaks loudly and clearly about defining those

behaviors and attitudes that instigate conflict that may not be

entirely above reproach; or that which may actually be sinful.

Paul’s comments in his letter to the Ephesians serve to frame

this conversation. He writes:

And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you

live. Remember, he has identified you as his

own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of

redemption. 31  Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh

words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.

32  Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving

one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Through these comments, Paul appears to be making the case that

these particular behaviors contradict the will and nature of the

Holy Spirit: bitterness, rage, anger, harsh and slanderous words

and all other types of evil behaviors. He then gives three

directions that, not coincidently, align themselves with his

more famous list found in Galatians 5:22-23 (love, joy, peace,

patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-

control). It’s clear that (according to v.32) Paul is providing

direction that, if followed, will limit unnecessary conflict.

For example, Paul is saying that we ought to live without rage,

anger, harsh words and slander—the perfect ingredients for a

feud. So what causes conflict? At least according to Paul,

conflict is created when people live contrary to the will and

leading of the Holy Spirit.

Many of the Proverbs mirrors Paul’s thinking. Or perhaps,

it’s more accurate to say that Paul’s direction may actually be

reflecting teachings found in the Proverbs. Specifically, 15:1

states that “a gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words

make tempers flare.” This clearly teaches that angry and harsh

words incite tempers; which in turn produces or exacerbates

conflict. Anger and harshness is in direct opposition to

gentleness and kindness, two “Fruits of the Spirit.”

Proverbs 18:13 shares another direction that aligns itself

with Paul’s teachings in Galatians. It states that, “spouting

off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.”

This is a clear indictment against a lack of patience, another

“fruit of the Spirit”. Proverbs 26:20-21 provides one additional

example. “Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear

when gossip stops. A quarrelsome person starts fights easily as

hot embers light charcoal or fire lights wood.” The first of

these two proverbs indicate that gossip is a common source of

conflict. It’s reasonable to conclude that a lack of self-

control is a common source of gossip. In the second proverb, the

writer indicates that a quarrelsome person does not live at

peace. These are two more “fruits of the Spirit. One last time .

. . based upon this evidence, it seems that at least some

conflict is generated when people live contrary to the will and

leading of the Holy Spirit.

As was discussed previously, this truly lays at the crux of

the matter because it is often at this point that sin enters

into the picture. Again, conflict alone is not sinful. However,

manner in which it is created and resolved may certainly be. So

what does the Bible say with regard to resolving conflict? What

direction exists that would lead a God-fearing and Spirit-

following person to successfully navigate conflict? The answer .

. . plenty.

Keeping in mind that giving in to the opposite party is not

necessarily the right choice, Proverbs 19:11 provides a

compelling argument. It states that “sensible people control

their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.” In

short, it may well be the case that the best way to resolve a

conflict is to ignore the transgression that instigated it.

Paul provides several strong teachings on handling

conflict. For example, in Colossians 3:13-15 Paul says that we

ought to:

make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone

who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you

must forgive others.  14  Above all, clothe yourselves with

love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.  15  And

let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.

For as members of one body you are called to live in peace.

And always be thankful.

He also shares in 1 Peter 3:8-9 that

all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each

other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be

tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.  9  Don’t repay

evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people

insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is

what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for

it.

Perhaps the greatest teaching on handling conflict comes

from Paul in his letter to the Philippians 2:3-5. In this letter

it seems that Paul was attempting to reconcile damaged

relationships. He writes in this text, “don’t be selfish; don’t

try impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than

yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take

an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that

Christ Jesus had.”

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CULTURE, HIERARCHY, AND SOCIOLOGICAL IMPACT

CULTURE, HIERARCHY, AND SOCIOLOGICAL IMPACT

Before diving into the formative texts, it may be beneficial to discuss culture, hierarchy, and their combined sociological impact, which are a part of the equation in the discussion of formative texts.  First, a culture is created when influence has resulted in like thinking and/or behavior among two or more people.  Sometimes that influence is attributed to someone amicably, and sometimes that influence is attributed to someone out of obligation or avoidance of unfavorable consequences.  Whatever the reason, the person of influence is in a position of power, which may create a hierarchy where the more powerful are attributed with more favor and where the less powerful are attributed with less favor.  Consistent influence is required in order for the culture to be maintained as well as to be propagated, which in turn, is required in order for the hierarchy to be maintained as well as to be propagated.  Those utilizing the hierarchy assume that one has, by default, reason to be given more or less consideration as to having a valid voice, if even to speak at all.  Without a valid voice, choices are minimal, which means that the amount of control one has over one’s own life, profession or otherwise, all but disappears.  The voices that dare to question or enlighten others of the hierarchy’s injustice may struggle to be heard.  This hierarchy with its variants from culture to culture becomes interwoven into the fabric of just being human to the point where people no longer remember that it is a human-created illusion.  It becomes just the way it is.  

For the ancient Greco-Roman times, those on the higher end of the hierarchy would have been Gentile, free (never having been a slave), and male, and those on the lower end of the hierarchy would have been Jewish, slave, and female.  Little or no opportunity was available to change status.  For early twenty-first century America, it would be easy to assume that those on the higher end of the hierarchy would have been white, Protestant, wealthy, male, have their genders “match” their sexes, younger (children excluded), physically attractive, having the appearance of being healthy, more intelligent, and without known physical or mental disabilities. Linda Day and Carolyn Pressler, also, discuss some of these descriptors and suggest that for the U.S. culture, that this type of hierarchy is anchored within a larger “…powerful narrative strand that suggest[s] that certain people are more valuable than others.”                                                                                                                     

Among other groups of people, this type of messaging has adversely affected women.  Who gets to make those decisions on what they may do or become within the world, within the church, and within the home?  The ultimate answer is God, but God according to whom?  More times than not, it seems as if “the Bible says” accounts for most of the “whom;” however, “the Bible says” is too often used as a means to stamp God’s endorsement on whatever may follow in order to make it immune to criticism.  This even presents a challenge when what follows is Scripture since the Bible requires interpretation in order to take something that was written over two thousand years ago in a foreign culture and ancient language and to apply it today within American culture in contemporary English.  Fair consideration, also, needs to be given to the fact that the authors penning the Bible were men who had their own perspectives, histories, and cultures.  To explain the challenge further, the Bible is often used as the ultimate filter to vet what a woman may think that the Holy Spirit is telling her to do and to vet any affirmations that she may have received.  An additional complication is that “every reader of the Bible is also an interpreter of it, but all interpretations are invariably influenced by sources other than Scripture.”  Specifically for women, this authority to interpret Scripture has been denied to them until recently.  This has affected their ability to have a voice and subsequent control over roles for themselves.  With or without admitted intentionality, some of these interpretations are constructed to promote limitations in what women may do or become with respect to their roles in church.  This would not be as much of an issue, except that somewhere along the way, a culturally pervasive hierarchy was established that would serve to favor interpretations that promoted those limitations.  Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza frames the conflict well by stating that

On the one hand, the Bible is written in androcentric language, has its origin in the patriarchal cultures of antiquity, and has functioned throughout its history to inculcate androcentric and patriarchal values.  On the other hand, the Bible has also served to inspire and authorize women and other nonpersons in their struggles against patriarchal oppression.

 

This is not to say that all who attempt to discourage have ill intentions or are not genuinely seeking God and are otherwise kind-hearted individuals.  Like everyone else, they are only acting on what they understand and believe about what God has revealed to them in Scripture.  Of course, they are going to discourage others if they feel that their Christian brothers and sisters are being instructed incorrectly or misled, but caution is warranted here.  A review of the not-so-distant past reveals that this same justification of categorically marginalizing a people and excluding them from certain roles has, in retrospect, been shown to be shameful and regretted later.  Not to be extreme, but it is a reality that “an appeal to Scripture’s authority has been used by the Christian church in countless atrocities, not the least of which was to persecute and kill Jews, kill thousands in holy war, burn women suspected of witchcraft or of using pain relievers in childbirth, kill doctrinal heretics and torture and enslave Africans.”  Those who appeal to Scripture to marginalize women, no matter how accepted it has been in the past among men as well as women, might one day be seen in a similar light either here on Earth or in Heaven.  In a risk analysis, it would seem that being a party to categorically marginalizing women, about half of the population, would be a worse error than to permit otherwise qualified women to perform roles usually reserved exclusively for men.  

Some, such as John Piper and Wayne Gruden would disagree and make a generalized statement inclusive of  Miriam and Deborah of the Old Testament that “…either women followed their unusual paths in a way that endorsed and honored the usual leadership of men, or indicted their failures to lead.”  In other words, when women have had leadership roles that affected people in a favorable way, the notable takeaway is not the accomplishment of God’s will but the shame that a man did not accomplish God’s will.  Tikva Frymer-Kensky adds a different perspective that seems like a hybrid with regard to leadership.  She equates leadership with the Old Testament priest position and agrees that women did not have positions of leadership; however, she also states that neither did men, unless they were born into priestly families.  Gruden and Piper do not seem to include that within their modern application of their analysis of who should be in leadership roles.  

 

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Paul Ministry and Writings

Paul – Ministry and Writings

There are four historical/archeological pinpoints that must be considered when constructing a chronology of Paul’s ministry and writings.

The death of Aretas IV, king of Nabetea—between A.D. 38 and 40 (2 Cor 11:32-33; Acts 9:23-25).

      • Paul visited Jerusalem three years after his conversion, according to Galatians 1:18. A terminus ad quem (Latin terminuslimit” + adup to” + quem “which” = the latest possible date of an event) for this visit would have been A.D. 40, because Aretas IV died in that year, according to coins and inscriptions. Paul had escaped from Damascus and gone to Jerusalem while Aretas was still alive, thus before A.D. 40

The expulsion of Jews from Rome by Claudius—A.D. 49 (Acts 18:2).

      • The text says that Paul met Aquila and Priscilla in Athens who were from Rome because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. Suetonius, chief secretary to the emperor Hardrian (A.D. 117-38), wrote a biographical account of the twelve caesars, in which he said, “Because the Jews at Rom caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Christ’s, he expelled them from the city.” There are other citations referencing the event. However, this is the best reference as it is closest in time to the dating of the expulsion. 

Gallio’s proconsulship in Achaia—began in May/June, A.D. 51 (Acts 18:12).

      • We have fragments of a letter sent from Claudius to the city of Delphi, either to the people or to Gallio’s successor. The letter is dated to A.D. 52. Since proconsuls normally held office for one year, and these provincial governors were required to leave Rome for their posts not later than the middle of April, Gallio probably began his term of office in May of A.D. 51. Since Paul arrived in Corinth eighteen months earlier than this appearance before Gallio, he would have entered Corinth in the winter of 49/50—perhaps in January of A.D. 50. This would coincide well with the recent arrival of Priscilla and Aquila from Claudius’ expulsion in A.D. 49.

Procuratorship of Festus in Judea—began in May/June, A.D. 56 (Acts 24:27).

      • Important to note that for a long time most scholars have dated Paul’s visit to Festus in A.D. 59-61. However, a coin was recently found that dates Festus’ accession to A.D.56.