Author: Todd Wood

I am a servant of Jesus in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Join me in seeking Jesus in this city.

Bitter to the End

With Pastor Tim Rupp’s permission, I am posting his message which he shared yesterday at Old Faithful Christian Ranch.

Bitter to the End

2 Samuel 2

March 1, 2015

(OFCR Men’s Retreat)

Purpose statement: Bitterness will kill you.

Background: I was a bitter man. I’d like to tell you my story. You call it a “testimony.” It’s a story of God working in my life. I was a soldier in the army of Israel, serving under Israel’s greatest king, King David. I’d seen combat, in fact I’d seen plenty of combat. Men’s lives had been shed on my blade. I was good at my job, in fact I was the best. There was no one better than I at strategy and military tactics.

My specialty was my ability to read men.

Sometimes a soldier must strike quickly; sometimes he must wait. I could read men, I knew their strengths and their weaknesses. As a soldier I knew when to strike. I knew how to bide my time. To be patient and wait when the time was right. I didn’t always fight fair—but I always fought to win. In warfare winning is the only option.

But my passion for winning spilled over into every aspect of my life. For me winning was everything. I didn’t just win, I crushed my enemies. A dead enemy was a harmless enemy, in war or in everyday life. For me there were two types of people in life, winners and losers. I wasn’t a loser. When those close to me would suggest I had an unhealthy obsession with winning, I’d laugh it off and tell them I was just driven.

Yes, I used to think of myself as driven, or perhaps determined or maybe even ambitious. But never obsessed. Obsession suggests I’m not in control. But driven, determined, and ambitious are positive words! They suggest I’m in control of my own destiny. Obsessed! Are you kidding me!

Let me share a little of my family and background before the army.

  1. Before the Army

Ever since I was a young boy I dreamed of growing up and being a soldier like my famous uncle. My name is Joab. My story is recorded in three OT books, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and 1 Chronicles. I am one of three boys; my brothers are Abishai [abby-shy] and Asahel [asa-el], our mother is Zeruiah, my dad is Suri.[1] We were from the little village of Bethlehem. Yes, that Bethlehem, where a thousand years after my day Jesus would be born.

My family’s genealogy is given in 1 Chronicles 2, go there. You might note my father’s name isn’t given, only my mother’s. This is because mom comes from a really important family. Mom had several brothers and a sister, her father, my maternal grandfather, is Jesse.

I don’t like to brag, well, maybe I do, take a look, 1 Chron. 2:13-16, “Jesse [that’s my grandfather] fathered Eliab his firstborn, Abinadab the second, Shimea the third, Nethanel the fourth, Raddai the fifth, Ozem the sixth, David [that’s King David] the seventh.  And their sisters were Zeruiah [that’s mom, David’s sister] and Abigail. The sons of Zeruiah: Abishai, Joab [that’s me], and Asahel, three.”

So there I am listed with my two brothers, Abishai and Asahel along with Grandpa Jesse and Uncle David. But also note the one cousin listed, Amasa, 2:17, “Abigail bore Amasa, and the father of Amasa was Jether the Ishmaelite.Amasa will figure an important part later in my life.

I remember with fondness my early childhood, we three boys were inseparable. Being so close in age, we were always horse-playing, which often led to fighting. But that seems to be common with brothers. The passion for soldiering was shared among my brothers. Coming from a shepherding family we found lots of time to hone our weaponry skills while tending sheep.

Because our Uncle David wasn’t much older than we were, we always regarded him as an older brother more than an uncle. In fact, we tended sheep with him before he became famous after killing Goliath. It was David that began to teach us the skills of weaponry, as you might have guessed, David was partial to the sling. David was amazing with the sling, I recall when he took out a lion one fall and in the spring he knocked down a bear; both with his sling! But the most amazing thing about David was that he had a quiet confidence about him that I envied. David was able to detach himself from the violence that seemed to follow him wherever he went. Whereas, I wasn’t able to separate myself from the violence.

Often I’d catch David quietly meditating or writing. “Come on, David, let’s practice sword fighting!” I’d say to him. “In a little bit,” he’d reply, “I’m busy now.” I just couldn’t figure my uncle out. He was so unassuming. If I hadn’t personally witnessed his skill and courage, I’d have thought he was some harp playin’, poetry lovin’ sissy. But David was different. Unlike me, he had compassion and a forgiving spirit. I forgave no man, you cross me—you will pay.

Shortly after killing Goliath David left to serve Saul, Israel’s king. Saul was our first king and the first to raise a standing army for Israel. As a nation we’d had our share of war, but since conquering the land under the leadership of Joshua, Israel never had a standing national army. Under King Saul the army mustered some 3,000 men, but it quickly dwindled down to only 600. I was afraid there’d be nothing left by the time I was old enough to join the army. But, that turned out not to be true at all.

After David left, my brothers and I were left to carry on without him. But he became our inspiration. We couldn’t wait to grow up and join the army, serving with David.

We’d have contests using our handmade bows, spears, and wooden swords and daggers, and of course the sling. My brothers were every bit as competitive as I; the result was we all became very skilled with our weapons. My favorite was the dagger [display dagger]. I liked close combat. Often a fight would break out after one of our “friendly” competitions and Abishai and Asahel would gang up on me. Knowing their weaknesses, I was always able to take the two of them—separately or together. I discovered I had a mental edge over them. It was then that I realized how important the mind was in battle. My brothers had skill, but I had just the little edge needed that put me over the top. I knew what they were thinking. I knew their weaknesses. When they hesitated, I struck.

Before I knew it, we had grown into strong, competent, and skilled young men. Our desire for war never faltered. To be honest, I’d put my brothers up against any man I knew. But in close, hand-to-hand combat, I could still take either one or both. Unless, of course, Abishai used his spear. I hate to admit it, but my brothers did regularly beat me in two areas in which they specialized, and would become famous for. Abishai could use a spear like no man I’d seen.

It was like he became one with the spear. I swear Abishai could split a hair at twenty paces! Not only that, he learned to use it to wield off attacks using both the sharp and the blunt end. When Abishai drew his spear, I’d not get near him. You may think I’m exaggerating about Abishai’s skill, but consider what is recorded of him in the Bible. In 1 Chronicles 11 is a list of mighty warriors who severed under King David. Look at what is said of Abishai, 1 Chron. 11:20, “Now Abishai, the brother of Joab, was chief of the thirty. And he wielded his spear against 300 men and killed them and won a name beside the three.” I told you he was good!

Asahel’s specialty was speed. He could run like the wind, a great advantage in our day when most men fought afoot. Asahel had endurance and never seemed to be winded. Although the least skilled fighter, he was by far the fastest of us three, again the Bible records his skill, 2 Sam. 2:18, “And the three sons of Zeruiah were there, Joab, Abishai, and Asahel. Now Asahel was as swift of foot as a wild gazelle.”

So, there we were all grown up when the most unexpected thing happened, David deserted the army.

  1. Joining David’s Army

After going into the army David quickly made a name for himself, became a captain, and married one of Saul’s daughters. David and Jonathan (Saul’s eldest son), another war hero, became best of friends. Everything was set for my brothers and me to join the army when things went awry.

Seems Saul had it in for Uncle David and attempted to kill him. But with the help of Jonathan, David escaped and fled into the wilderness with Saul and his army in pursuit. This is when my brothers and I joined with David. I didn’t want to go against my king, but I knew my uncle’s heart. David wouldn’t have fled without good reason. I figured if I were on David’s side, I’d be on the side of right. That turned out to be a good call.

It was during this time, under the command of David that I learned the art of war. I learned how to outsmart the enemy, how to use the terrain to gain an advantage, and how to beat a superior numbered force. But most what I learned from David was how he trusted God for victory. It seemed David had not stopped his habit of meditating or writing. Nor did he lack that quiet confidence I found in him. But, I was no David. David may have trusted God for victory, but I was much more pragmatic. Or, so I believed—I trusted me.

While there’s no doubt David was a brave warrior he was also a man with a gentle and quiet spirit. I was not. I was a man of violence and I used violent means to achieve an end.

I recall one night, after everyone had turned in I found David sitting next to a dwindling camp fire, writing. “What are you writing, David, strategic plans of attack?” I asked. He smiled, shook his head and said, “No, I’m writing a song.” “A song! Are you kidding me! Saul’s army is encamped just on the other side of those rocks and you’re writing lyrics to a song!” I exclaimed.

David looked up from his work and smiled, “Yes, Joab, I am.” “Okay, I’m game. Read me what you have so far.” As David looked into the fire I could see the flames dancing in his eyes as he contemplated, “Well, I was thinking about all this fighting and how scary it gets at times when death is so close it feels like a shadow covering you. Then the Lord called to mind the time when we used to tend sheep. Remember those days, Joab?” I nodded my recollection. “Well, here’s what I’ve written:”

1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4      Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

“Well good luck with that David!” I smirked; “I’m going to get some shuteye.” Again a sincere smile came across David’s face, “Goodnight, Joab.”

That’s the difference between David and me; while the Lord is his Shepherd, I follow no one. When wronged, I take action. When wronged, I make things right. When wronged, I go for the kill. So, there you have it. David took matters to the Lord, I took matters in my own hands, let me give you an example, it comes from the first battle after David was crowned king over Judah.

  • The Battle of Gibeon

As you know, America’s bloodiest war was its Civil War. Civil war is the worst kind. Brother against brother, father against son, families split, and victory doesn’t feel like victory when your brother receives the business end of your weapon.

The decisive battle in your American Civil War took place at Gettysburg, it was a victory for the Union. The first battle the Bible records of my involvement was also the decisive battle of our first civil war, it was fought at the pool of Gibeon, half-way between where the two kings had set up their thrones. The story is recorded in 2 Samuel 2. Remember, Saul was king and had been pursing David. At the same time Saul was also at war against the Philistines. My brothers and I were with David and a band of about 600 warriors loyal to David—fighting men all. While Israel was at war with the Philistines our little army had been engaged in secret guerilla warfare against the Philistines. But even with our help things went bad for Israel. King Saul and three of his sons, including Jonathan, were killed in battle against the Philistines leaving no king on the throne.

David, having been anointed by Samuel years before to succeed Saul as king over Israel, inquired of the Lord if he should go to Judah, which is in southern Israel. The Lord told him to go, so David led the whole clan, some 600 men, and our families, to Judah. When we arrived at the towns around Hebron the people crowned him king over Judah. This wasn’t a big surprise, this was the area where we grew up; our hometown of Bethlehem was only about ten miles north of Hebron, where David set up headquarters.

Judah was the largest of the tribes; but, mind you, not all of Israel was ready to forsake Saul’s family. In an effort to maintain his power, Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, established Ishbosheth, a son of Saul by a mistress, as king over the remaining tribes of Israel, causing an immediate split, 2 Sam. 2:8-10,8 But Abner the son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army, took Ish-bosheth the son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim, and he made him king over Gilead and the Ashurites and Jezreel and Ephraim and Benjamin and all Israel. 10 Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David.”

As you might have imagined, things were tense. Like America split North and South with two presidents, Lincoln and Davis. We too were split North and South with two kings, Ishbosheth and David.

The years under David proved that not only was I competent in military tactics, I was also a leader. I was a leader men would follow into combat. And David could find no one more loyal than me. I was loyal to my king and my country. David had several competent soldiers, but I was the one he chose to be his commanding general.

After months of posturing and small skirmishes the two armies met. On that fateful day Abner brought his army south and I led mine north. The two armies came face-to-face at a small pool located at a place called Gibeon, 2:12-13, 12 Abner the son of Ner, and the servants of Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon. 13 And Joab the son of Zeruiah and the servants of David went out and met them at the pool of Gibeon. And they sat down, the one on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the pool.”

So there we were, in a face-off. Neither side making a move. I had been discussing strategy with my brothers and was about to call for an attack when Abner proposed a compromise. He suggested each side select 12 men to represent the two armies. The 24 men would engage in battle and the winner would decide the victory. Well, that suited me just fine, I agreed to the challenge, here’s how it’s recorded, 2:14-15, 14 And Abner said to Joab, ‘Let the young men arise and compete before us.’ And Joab said, ‘Let them arise.’ 15 Then they arose and passed over by number, twelve for Benjamin and Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David.”

The 24 men fought bravely, each fighting for his king and country, but it ended with no one victorious, and no one left alive, 2:16, “And each caught his opponent by the head and thrust his sword in his opponent’s side, so they fell down together. Therefore that place was called Helkath-hazzurim, which is at Gibeon.” Helkath-hazzurim—the field of daggers!

As soon as the last of the men fell I signaled for an attack, Abner was caught off guard and we scored a decisive victory, 2:17, “And the battle was very fierce that day. And Abner and the men of Israel were beaten before the servants of David.” It’s a day that I will never forget, not because we won the battle; but because of the great loss I suffered.

Abner realized he couldn’t take us and fled, making a beeline north attempting to save what he could of his men. But my brothers and I weren’t about to let him escape unscathed, Abishai and I glanced at Asahel. No words needed to be exchanged, we three were of one spirit. Asahel met our look, gave us a smile of conformation and bolted like a wild gazelle after Abner who was running for all he’s worth, 2:18-19, 18 And the three sons of Zeruiah were there, Joab, Abishai, and Asahel. Now Asahel was as swift of foot as a wild gazelle. 19 And Asahel pursued Abner, and as he went, he turned neither to the right hand nor to the left from following Abner.”

Abner didn’t get far when Asahel started closing in on him, 2:20, “Then Abner looked behind him and said, ‘Is it you, Asahel?’ And he answered, ‘It is I.’” Looking back, I have to admit, Abner did give Asahel warning. Asahel was faster and stronger, but Abner was the more seasoned soldier. In many ways Abner and I were alike, we could read people. We knew their weaknesses and would strike when they least expected it. But, this time Abner warned Asahel twice.

Abner wasn’t warning Asahel out of mercy, he knew if something happened to Asahel he’d have me to deal with, 2:21-22, 21 Abner said to him, ‘Turn aside to your right hand or to your left, and seize one of the young men and take his spoil.’ But Asahel would not turn aside from following him. 22 And Abner said again to Asahel, ‘Turn aside from following me. Why should I strike you to the ground? How then could I lift up my face to your brother Joab?’”

Asahel was a son of Zeruiah. We were cut from the same cloth. Concede victory? No way. It was all or nothing, we cower to no man, 2:23, “But he refused to turn aside. Therefore Abner struck him in the stomach with the butt of his spear, so that the spear came out at his back. And he fell there and died where he was. And all who came to the place where Asahel had fallen and died, stood still.”

Asahel’s death brought our army to a screeching halt. As the men came upon my brother’s lifeless body, they stopped. The sight of Asahel lying dead, with his insides poured out on the ground caused the men to stop and think. They realized Abner was luring them into a trap. Abner was gaining the high ground placing his army at a tactical advantage. My men stopped their pursuit. By now it was getting late. Abner was assembling his troops and preparing to redeploy them. My men were right to stop. I didn’t.

When we caught up to the men gathered around Asahel’s body Abishai and I continued on right to the front of our army. It wasn’t good tactics, a sense of duty, or loyalty to the king that was driving us. It was bitter anger, 2:24, “But Joab and Abishai pursued Abner. And as the sun was going down they came to the hill of Ammah, which lies before Giah on the way to the wilderness of Gibeon.” The men, loyal soldiers all, had fallen in behind and continued the pursuit, foolish as it was.

That’s when Abner stopped; he had gained the upper hand, 2:25, “And the people of Benjamin gathered themselves together behind Abner and became one group and took their stand on the top of a hill.”

Abishai and I stopped at the bottom of the hill and looked up at Abner and his army. It would have been nothing short of suicide to attempt further pursuit. Abner knew it and we knew it.

Then Abner spoke some words of wisdom. In the midst of battle he kept his wits about him, for that I must respect him. Here’s what he said, 2:26, “Then Abner called to Joab, ‘Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that the end will be bitter? How long will it be before you tell your people to turn from the pursuit of their brothers?’”

He asked three rhetorical questions; all that cut to the heart of the matter. This is the wisdom of a counselor. Rather than telling me what to do he asked me questions. Asking questions is much less threatening to me. It makes me think, it gives me a choice, and makes me defend my position. Look again at what he said, his first question was, “Shall the sword devour forever?” This war had been going on for a long time. When would it end? In conflict that pits brother against brother the only winner is death, symbolized by the sword. It may not always be physical death, it may be the death of a relationship. But death is the only winner.

His second question was, “Do you not know that the end will be bitter?” Nothing good comes from a power struggle within a family. When there’s a winner, there must be a loser. No matter who prevails there will remain a bitterness between the parties.

His third question was, “How long will it be before you tell your people to turn from the pursuit of their brothers?” In other words, “The ball’s in your court, you can stop this right now.” Still seething with anger I realized Abner’s words hit a cord with my men and resentfully, I told him as much, 2:27, “And Joab said, ‘As God lives, if you had not spoken, surely the men would not have given up the pursuit of their brothers until the morning.’”

I’d like to say I listened to Abner’s wisdom, but I didn’t. This moment was a turning point in my life. Had I listened, my life would have taken a very different direction. But, I didn’t listen; I was controlled by bitterness. Rather than believing he was being honest, I suspected Abner realized eventually I’d prevail…I mean we’d prevail, David’s army would…this wasn’t about me; was it? Maybe it was. Maybe my life was all about me.

Nevertheless, I realized charging up that hill would be suicide for me and my men. This day’s battle was over; I sounded retreat, 2:28, “So Joab blew the trumpet, and all the men stopped and pursued Israel no more, nor did they fight anymore.”

IV.            Joab commits murder

As the war dredged on David became more powerful and Ishbosheth weaker. It became abundantly clear that soon all of Israel would recognize David as king. Abner was no fool, he could see what was coming. Although Ishbosheth was king, Abner was the one with the real power in Israel and he sent a message to David seeking a truce. David took the bait and welcomed Abner with open arms, even making a big feast for him. After negotiations Abner departed in peace.

I knew nothing of this until I returned to Hebron from a campaign, 2 Sam. 3:22-23, 22 Just then the servants of David arrived with Joab from a raid, bringing much spoil with them. But Abner was not with David at Hebron, for he had sent him away, and he had gone in peace. 23 When Joab and all the army that was with him came, it was told Joab, ‘Abner the son of Ner came to the king, and he has let him go, and he has gone in peace.’”

I couldn’t believe it! Was David getting soft? Was he losing his edge, didn’t he realize what Abner was up to? Abner came to spy out David’s resources, not to make peace—or at least that’s the way I saw it! I had a private word with the King, 3:24-25, 24 Then Joab went to the king and said, ‘What have you done? Behold, Abner came to you. Why is it that you have sent him away, so that he is gone? 25 You know that Abner the son of Ner came to deceive you and to know your going out and your coming in, and to know all that you are doing.’”

David wouldn’t listen. He figured Abner was being straight. David told me it was done and he had sent Abner away in peace, I was told to leave it alone. Well I wasn’t. This wasn’t about peace between Israel and Judah, this was about what Abner did to my brother. I wasn’t about to let it go.

As soon as I left I sent men to entice Abner back to the city, 3:26, “When Joab came out from David’s presence, he sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the cistern of Sirah. But David did not know about it.” If David wasn’t going to take care of matters, I would.

I went to the city gate and waited. It wasn’t long before Abner and his entourage crested the horizon and made their way back to the city gate. Abner greeted me with a smile and a customary bow. I returned the gestures and asked him inside the gate’s guardroom, “I have a special message for you, my friend,” I told him, 3:27, “And when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the midst of the gate to speak with him privately, and there he struck him in the stomach, so that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother.”

As his life was draining from his body Abner looked into my eyes, his lips struggling to form words. Slowly I removed my dagger from his gut and I heard a gurgled whisper, “Do you not know that the end will be bitter?”

How did he know bitterness would mark my life? I served David as commander of his army my whole life. Success? I had it. Position? I had it. Wealth, I had it. But all was wrapped in bitterness.

Abner was right. I died a bitter man. In another fit of rage I murdered a second time; this time it was my own cousin, Amasa. David chose Amasa to replace me as commander after I killed Absalom against David’s wishes. I held my position under David as commander to the bitter end. And that’s what it was, a bitter end.

After David died I sided with his son Adonijah to replace him as king, even though I knew David’s wish was for Solomon to take the throne. From his deathbed David warned Solomon about me, 1 Kings 2:5-6 ‘Moreover, you also know what Joab the son of Zeruiah did to me, how he dealt with the two commanders of the armies of Israel, Abner the son of Ner, and Amasa the son of Jether, whom he killed, avenging in time of peace for blood that had been shed in war, and putting the blood of war on the belt around his waist and on the sandals on his feet. Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace.’” As Abner, David too was prophetic. I wouldn’t go to the grave in peace.

Solomon became king and upon learning I had sided against him, he ordered my death. I fled to the tabernacle and took hold of the altar; 2:28, “When the news came to Joab—for Joab had supported Adonijah although he had not supported Absalom—Joab fled to the tent of the Lord and caught hold of the horns of the altar.”

As I knelt there my bloodstained hands on the altar I thought about my life. It had been all about me. When someone crossed me, I’d eliminate them. I had no use for anyone that didn’t see things my way. The words David wrote came to mind, “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Why didn’t I follow that path? Because it had always been about me and what I wanted. For me life was a never ending war. I was at war with everyone, my king, my wife, my children, and even my God.

Would anyone mourn my passing? How would I be remembered? I prayed my children would not be like their father. Again Abner’s words came to mind, “Do you not know that the end will be bitter?”

Solomon was given word as to my whereabouts; I knew the end was near, 2:29-32, “29 And when it was told King Solomon, ‘Joab has fled to the tent of the Lord, and behold, he is beside the altar,’ Solomon sent Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, saying, ‘Go, strike him down.’ 30 So Benaiah came to the tent of the Lord and said to him, ‘The king commands, ‘Come out.’’ But he said, ‘No, I will die here.’” My last recorded words were words of defiance, life was about me; so was my death.

“Then Benaiah brought the king word again, saying, ‘Thus said Joab, and thus he answered me.’ 31 The king replied to him, ‘Do as he has said, strike him down and bury him, and thus take away from me and from my father’s house the guilt for the blood that Joab shed without cause. 32 The Lord will bring back his bloody deeds on his own head, because, without the knowledge of my father David, he attacked and killed with the sword two men more righteous and better than himself, Abner the son of Ner, commander of the army of Israel, and Amasa the son of Jether, commander of the army of Judah.’”

Conclusion: Today’s story capsulized Joab’s life. Joab lived with a “root of bitterness.” Bitterness spouts when a person fails to obtain God’s grace, Heb. 12:15, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”

The life of David stands in stark contrast to Joab’s life. Cleary David not only obtained God’s grace he extended grace to others.

Recall Abner’s advice through his rhetorical questions? “Shall the sword devour forever?” The conflict had been going on for a long time. When would it end? In conflict that pits brother against brother the only winner is death. It may not always be physical death, it may be the death of a relationship.

His second question was, “Do you not know that the end will be bitter?” Nothing good comes from a power struggle within a family. When there’s a winner, there must be a loser. No matter who prevails there will remain a bitterness between the parties.

His third question was, “How long will it be before you tell your people to turn from the pursuit of their brothers?” In other words, “The ball’s in your court, you can stop this right now.”

Joab had come to a turning point in his life. He was in a position to put a stop to the conflict, but he chose not to. Even after peace was made Joab refused to submit his stubborn will.

Is there conflict in your life? Are you at odds with someone in your family? Someone you work with? A friend? A brother or sister at church? “Do you not know that the end will be bitter?” Let’s pray.

[1] (See Josephus, Ant. 7.1.3)

Featured minister in Idaho Falls – Alipio Amaral

Charles Barnes writes this post for today:

Called to Idaho Falls – Alipio Amaral

From time to time in this email we want to share glimpses of the lives of people God has brought to Idaho Falls, or sent out from Idaho Falls. We do this not to exalt one person or one church over any other, but to rejoice in the ways God has worked in the men and women He sends to our city.

Alipio Amaral came to Idaho Falls last March, and is the discipleship pastor of Watersprings Church. Alipio’s excitement for inductive Bible study is contagious, as is his enthusiasm for ministry in Idaho Falls. You can hear him share much of his testimony in a sermon he preached at Watersprings November 30, 2014, A Life of Impact, available from the webpage http://calvaryif.org/tvMedia/guestSpeakers.php.

Alipio grew up in Hawaii. One day when he was five years old, he was hit by a truck while riding his bicycle. The truck that struck him was going twice the legal speed limit, and sent him flying twenty-five feet in the air. Landing head first into the base of a stop sign, he cracked his head wide open, and bit off his tongue. He was flown inter-Island to the capital city of Honolulu, where at Queens Medical Center he was put on life support. He had slipped into a coma, and his entire right side was paralyzed. His church flew his mother over to the hospital where she commenced a vigil of prayer. The doctors explained to her that Alipio’s worsening condition would render him immobile, inoperable, and incapacitated for the rest of his life, and recommended that she have them pull the plug on the life support equipment. Believing that God had already healed him, his mother told the doctors “no” and waited and prayed for nine days until the night that Alipio woke up. When he awoke, his mother asked him if he remembered anything, to which he confidently responded with his tongue that had grown back, God told me He wants me to tell people how He healed me. He walked out of the hospital two months after he entered, on a Christmas day.

As Alipio continued to grow up in Hawaii, the hedonistic culture of the Islands began to influence him, and he walked away from the Lord. His family life was focused on God, but by high school Alipio had become a rebellious teen. Yet during those teen years God did not forsake him. Alipio was involved in 15 car accidents, some in which he could easily have been killed, and he walked away from every one. The nearness of death in some of these accidents, plus a friend’s remark about his self-centered behavior, brought him to a point of clarity about the direction his life was going, and one day at home, alone, he rededicated his life to the Lord. From that time on, Alipio has had an insatiable desire to understand God’s word, loves to study it and teach others how to study it.

When he was 18, his family moved to southern Oregon. Alipio attended Southern Oregon University for two and a half years, and then Calvary Chapel Bible College in Murrieta, California for a year and a half.  He has skill painting murals, and used that skill to finance trips to Israel and then Austria. In Austria he was taking some training that included a mission trip into Hungary and Serbia, a few months before NATO started bombing the country. When sharing his testimony in a high school in Serbia, he saw how the Lord can work, as every student in six consecutive classes accepted his invitation to receive Christ. Yet what impressed Alipio just as much was the willingness of two Christian teachers in that school who were risking their jobs to allow the gospel to be preached there.

For the next 13 years, Alipio served the Lord in Europe, sharing the gospel, planting churches and starting a Bible college. Most of those years were spent in southern Portugal, and he will tell you that the soil of people’s hearts there is very hard. The Lord also sent a girl, Ashley Carlyle, to Portugal whom Alipio had first met in Hungary, who happened to be from Idaho Falls, and who would later become his wife.

Less than a week after returning to the States in 2010, Alipio was asked by his church to go to Brazil to take charge of a Bible College and Conference Center.  While willing to go wherever God would send him, Alipio wasn’t eager to go to Brazil immediately, and stayed in Oregon a year while Ashley went to Bible College.  Shortly after getting married, Alipio and Ashley went to Brazil, and were there for two years. However in July 2013 when his mother was diagnosed with brain and lung cancer, they returned to the States to take care of her.  His mother passed away on October 14, 2013.

A few months later, God opened the door for Alipio to join the staff of Watersprings.  God is using his love for studying His Word in various groups he’s leading or teaching here.  Also, Alipio is working on preparations for a discipleship school that will start September of 2015.

Conflict and Gospel Grace Reconciliation (4)

Let’s say that you have a conflict with a family member, a coworker, or another Christian in Idaho Falls that is not being fixed between the two of you.  You have talked to this person but issues have not been resolved.  And if you feel compelled that you are unable to let go of the issue, what would Jesus instruct you to do?

Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:15-19:

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he hears you, you have gained your brother.  But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’  And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church.  But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.   Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

Today, we are looking at our fourth message in this series on conflict and gospel grace reconciliation.  With today’s content, I am utilizing thoughts from Ken Sande in Billings, Montana, who leads a ministry focused on Christian peacemaking.  The Scripture references are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible.

Step Four

So what is step four in the process of pursuing reconciliation in the midst of conflict?  You should pray about bringing one or two others to hear the conflict between you and that other person.

“We should try to keep the circle of people involved in conflict as small as possible for as long as possible.” – Sande

“I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.  And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.” (Philippians 4:2-3)

“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?  Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?  And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matter?  Do you not know that we shall judge angels?  How much more, things that pertain to this life?  If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge?  I say this to your shame.  Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?  But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!  Now therefore, it is already an utter failure for you that you go to law against one another.  Why do you not rather accept wrong?  Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?  No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren!” (I Corinthians 6:1-8)

Ken Sande provides a sample illustration of how to engage in initiating help from someone else in the conflict:  “Bob, I would prefer to resolve this matter just between the two of us.  Since that has not happened and because this involves issues that are too important to walk away from, my only other option is to obey what the Bible commands, which means asking some people from our churches to help us out.  I would prefer that we go together to get that help, but if you will not cooperate, I’ll ask for it by myself.”

It is in this conflict, two men can seek the help of a godly peacemaker, whether that might be another friend, neighbor, church member, or pastor.  Sometimes, this can extend out to continual sessions for counsel and prayer together.  The additional one or two also serve as witnesses to what they observe.  So what if there is no repentance?  What if there is no demonstration made to pursue God’s will and peace?  What if there is no display of humility in the issues of conflict?

Step Five

“And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church.  But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”

Share the conflict with the spiritual elders in your church.  The elders would desire to meet with those of you in conflict.  The elders might desire to consult as well with the one or two others that have met with you in the conflict.   You should listen to the counsel of the elders.

“Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.  Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17).

The only times that you may disobey the elders is if they are clearly asking you to disobey Scripture.  For instance, Acts 4 states, “So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God, you judge.  For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard’” (Acts 4:18-20). Peter and the other apostles declare in Acts 5:29, “We ought to obey God rather than men.”

But going back to the elders’ instruction and counsel, if the elders witness unrepentance in regards to sin, this must be lovingly shared to the members of the congregation.  And the whole congregation must move together in church discipline towards an unrepentant member of the congregation.

Only God knows the true hearts of individuals, but a congregation must not allow one to continue as a member of the local fellowship when that individual is teaching contrary or living a contrast to the life and gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So what would be examples of this in the Bible?

“Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.  For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17-18).

 “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife!  And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed, might be taken away from you.  For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed.  In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.  Your glorying is not good.  Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?  Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened.  For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.  Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  I wrote to you in my epistle not keep company with sexually immoral people.  Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.  But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.  For what have I do to with judging those also who are outside?  Do you not judge those who are inside?  But those who are outside God judges.  Therefore put away from yourselves the evil person (I Corinthians 5).

“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9).

“But we command you, brethren, in the name of Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.” (II Thessalonians 3:6)

“Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses.  Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear” (I Timothy 5:19-20).

 “But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless.  Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:9-11).

In these passages, we have examples of those attacking essential doctrines of Christianity or living in notorious immorality.  When a church member is blatantly teaching that which is contrary to Scripture or living an ongoing, unrepentant life of sin, the local assembly is to move congregationally (a church vote) in removing the sinning person’s membership.

Is this loving?  Deitrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Nothing is so cruel as the tenderness that consigns another to his sin.  Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin.”

Three concluding notes of caution:

  • Some in the practice of church discipline will wrongly call people (divisive) heretics and practice church discipline. Wrong application.
  • Some in the practicing of discipline will completely cut themselves off from those they have disciplined. They think only law and never offer gracious gospel to the one they disciplined.  This is a mistake.  Wrong heart motives.  We are to continue a loving, evangelical witness.
  • Some practice second, third, fourth degrees, etc. of separation. Their thinking is “I have separated myself from this person and so must you to the same degree.  If you don’t follow my example, then I will separate from you.” Wrong zeal.

In following these paths, we quickly lose the main purpose of love and gospel grace reconciliation.  We have become the Pharisees, and we place ourselves on a pathway of bitterness.

We must have hearts that pursue love, grace, peace, and forgiveness.

Ken Sande says forgiveness can be expressed with four promises: (1) I will not dwell on this incident. (2) I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you. (3) I will not talk to others about this incident. (4) I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.

“Here is the ultimate weapon:  deliberate, focused love (cf. Luke 6:27-28; I Cor. 13:4-7).” – Sande

 “Bless those you persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another.  Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble.  Do not be wise in your own opinion.  Repay no one evil for evil.  Have regard for good things in the sight of all men.  Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, says the Lord.  Therefore ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:14-21)

Peter says, “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing” (I Peter 3:8-9).

Conflict and Gospel Grace Reconciliation (3)

Introduction:  Two brothers had two different personalities and goal.  The one brother talked to his dad.  The other brother talked to his mom.  This eventually caused the younger brother and his mother to scheme against the wishes of the father and the older brother.   The conflict brought a huge upheaval that eventually resulted in the formation of two separate nations.  Family conflict occurs in page after page of the book of Genesis.  And yet through the generational stories, gospel grace reconciliation trumps it all at the end of Genesis.  When we open up the book of Exodus, we read story after story of new conflict among the Hebrew people.  The Bible is the book that we must go to in giving us the guidance we need to deal with conflict.  We are in a Sunday morning series dealing with conflict and gospel grace reconciliation.  Today, we look at step three.   In review, step one calls us to overlook transgressions by others as the Lord does with us.  Step two urges us to search our own hearts and see how we might have contributed to the conflict.  Step three involves going to your brother or sister to talk about the conflict.  In this message, I am utilizing thoughts from brother Ken Sande in Billings, Montana.  Also, I am using the New King James Version of the Bible.

Step Three – Jesus tells us, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” – Matthew 18:15

Elsewhere Jesus says, “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way.  First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24

So if you have a problem with your brother or you know that your brother has a problem with you then you need to get together and prayerfully seek God’s reconciliation in your relationship.

Before you decide to talk to your brother or sister?  Ask yourself these questions:

Is it dishonoring to God?  Is it damaging your relationship?  Is it hurting others?

“A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” – Galatians 5:9

Is it hurting the offender?

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart.  You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.” – Leviticus 19:17

“Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter.  If you say, ‘Surely we did not know this,’ does not He who weighs the hearts consider it?  He who keeps your soul, does He not know it?  And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?” – Proverbs 24:11-12

“Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed.  Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” – Proverbs 27:5-6; 9:8; 19:25; 28:23

“Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” – James 5:19-20

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” – Galatians 6:1

The Greek word for restore is katartizo – to mend, to repair, to equip, to complete, to prepare.

You should be going to your brother for gentle restoration.  This is ongoing, loving, continual action for gospel grace reconciliation.  Be going to your brother as many times as the Holy Spirit does in communicating with you over issues in your own life.

“The Greek verb used for “go” in Matthew 18:15 implies a continual action.  If you don’t succeed at first, try to discern what went wrong, seek appropriate counsel, and correct your mistakes.  Give the other person time to think (and give God time to work), and then go again.  You should continue seeking to resolve the matter privately until it becomes apparent that further personal conversations are truly pointless or are likely to do harm.  At that point you should consider whether it would be wiser to overlook the matter entirely.  If doing so is inappropriate, you will need to seek help from others, leading to step four.” – Sande

So how do you prepare for such an encounter?

  1. First, you need to prepare your own heart. If you desire to promote peace, you will not rip into your brother but be humble and transparent before him about your own shortcomings.

Do you need to confess any of your sins as you talk with that other person?

Here are some example scenarios:

“Bill, I appreciate your forgiveness, and I will really work at controlling what I say in the future.  In fact, I’d appreciate it if you would let me know if you ever hear me talking like that again.  In the same way, I believe there are some things you could do differently in the future that might help to avoid similar problems.  May I explain what I mean?”

“Linda, there’s no question that my careless words contributed to this problem, and I am really sorry for aggravating you.  At the same time, I’m not sure you realize who you contributed to this problem.  As much as I would like to drop the matter, I’m afraid we’ll have similar problems again unless we get all of our concerns on the table.  May I explain how I see your conduct in this matter?”

  1. Prayerfully plan your interaction with that other brother or sister with these suggested guidelines.

Give the hope of the gospel.

“When someone has disappointed or offended me, my natural tendency is to come at them with “the law,” lecturing them about what they have done wrong and what they should now do to make things right.  This approach generally makes people defensive and reluctant to admit their wrongs, which makes a conflict worse.  The Lord is graciously working to teach me a better way to approach others about their failures.  Instead of coming at them with the law, I am learning to bring them the gospel.” – Sande

Look at what God has to say to the most schismatic church in the New Testament.

 “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge, even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you, so that you come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” – I Corinthians 1:2-9

Be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath

“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” – James 1:19-20

God’s wrath is always perfect.  We have the perfect illustration of Jesus cleansing the temple.  Also, God’s wrath is a perfect demonstration of His righteousness in the book of Revelation.  But our wrath is usually 99.9 percent of the time not perfect when we are engaging with other adult brothers and sisters.  The meekest man on the face of the earth, Moses, did not exhibit properly a righteous wrath with the complaining, carnal children of Israel.  We must take note of this.  We must learn to listen in the heat of conflict.

“In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” – Proverbs 10:19

“A quick-tempered man acts foolishly” – Proverbs 14:17

“He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” – Proverbs 16:32

“He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit.” – Proverbs 17:27

“He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.” – Proverbs 18:13

“The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil.” – Proverbs 15:28.

Seek to agree

When in conflict with that family member, or friend on the job, or church member, is there anything that they are saying which you can agree with about yourself?

“Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness. And let him rebuke me; it shall be as excellent oil; let my head not refuse it.” – Psalm 141:5a

“The ear that hears the rebukes of life will abide among the wise.  He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding.  The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom, and before honor is humility.” – Proverbs 15:31-33

“But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ” – Ephesians 4:15

Use the Bible carefully 

This is critical.  Don’t use it to tear down a brother or sister.  Use the Scripture in proper context and to the proper situations.

Recognize your limits

“Finally, whenever you are trying to show someone his fault, remember that there are limits to what you can accomplish.  You can raise concerns, suggest solutions, and encourage reasonable thinking, but you cannot force change.  God may use you as a spokesperson to bring certain issues to the attention of another person, but only God can actually penetrate the other person’s heart and bring about repentance.  Paul clearly describes this division of labor in 2 Timothy 2:24-26: “And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (emphasis added).  As we have seen throughout this book, God calls us to be concerned with faithfulness, not with results.  If you prayerfully prepare, speak the truth in love, and do all you can to effectively communicate your concerns to the other person, you will have succeeded in God’s eyes regardless of how others respond (Acts 20:26-27).  God will take it from there—in his time your words will produce exactly the results he wants.” – Sande

Next week, we will conclude this Sunday morning series on conflict and gospel grace reconciliation by looking at step four (involving one or more witnesses) and step five (taking the conflict to the church).

Conflict and Gospel Grace Reconciliation (2)

Conflict and Gospel Grace Reconciliation (2)

I was born in Idaho Falls in December of 1969.  I grew up in a Christian home.  I have practically spent my whole life in the Christian church in Idaho Falls.  I am no stranger to the conflict that arises among brothers and sisters in this city.  Conflict can occur over a number of reasons: (1) Bible doctrine issues, (2) different goals and philosophy of ministry, (3) miscommunications, (4) personalities, and (5) pride, etc. and etc.  It is in the midst of conflict in Idaho Falls, where God asks us to trust Him, to glorify Him, and to be peacemakers among the body of Christ.  Last week, we looked at how central to our Christianity is the pursuit of peace.  And it is through our Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, that we are able to have peace with God and with one another.  And our unity in the body of Christ is the best apologetic (defense) for establishing who Jesus is and the spreading of His salvation message.  We have been given the ministry of reconciliation.    So last week, we started at ground zero in looking at what God tells us to do when we are hurt with a brother or sister.  We can separate ourselves entirely from that brother, fight that brother, or pursue gospel grace reconciliation.  God calls us to the latter.  And at the very beginning of our hurt in our relationships with others, we should prayerfully consider how we can overlook what offended or hurt us by that other individual.  Love covers the multitude of sins.  But what if this is something that we can’t overlook and where we are currently not on speaking terms with that brother or sister?  What should we do?

Today, let us continue in considering God’s steps for us as we desire for His glory to be manifested in gospel grace reconciliation.  In this message, I am utilizing the helpful wisdom of Ken Sande, who lives in Billings, Montana.  All Bible verses are taken from the New King James Version (NKJV) of the Bible.

Step Two – Let God search your own heart and point out His path to sanctify you.  Ask yourself this question, “How can I show Jesus’ work in me by taking responsibility for my contribution to this conflict?”  Let God show you how the inward hurt is revealing the emotional surrounding and protecting of an idol in your life.  Jesus, the wonderful counsellor, tells us something very, very, very hard.

“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?” – Matthew 7:3-4

Notice how Jesus perfectly assesses the conflict:  your brother’s speck and your plank.

“Where do wars and fights come from among you?  Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” – James 4:1

What we get hurt about is what we treasure most.  And it is the threatening or loss of that treasure (often very good desires) in our hearts that spur on the intensity of our hurt and the fight.

Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:21

I know that when you are in the midst of conflict or loss, whether it is in your marriage or immediate family, on the job, or with a brother or sister in a church family, it is an easy tendency to bunker down and maintain your own right standing before God and others.  Job did this in the Bible: “But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.” – Job 23:10.  “Let me be weighed on honest scales, that God may know my integrity.”  – Job 31:6.  Job’s friends, such miserable counselors as they were, sought to point out sin in his life but to no avail.  Job’s friends were pushing and applying orthodox truth and a remedy to the wrong person and situation. Of course, this wasn’t the problem in Job’s life.  But in the middle of the great loss, Job did have a severe difficulty trusting the ways of God.  At the end of the book of Job, God asks him question after question.  He couldn’t answer one.  And then in conclusion, God inquires of Job, “Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him?  He who rebukes God, let him answer it.  Then Job answered the LORD and said: Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer You?  I lay my hand over my mouth.  Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; yes, twice, but I will proceed no further.” – Job 40:2-5. Job humbles himself before God.  And this, brothers and sisters, is the start of his healing.

Likewise, David defended his integrity before God by saying, “You have tested my heart; You have visited me in the night; You have tried me and have found nothing; I have purposed that my mouth shall not transgress.” – Psalm 17:3.  But then David also prayed in other Psalms, “Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my mind and my heart.” – Psalm 26:2.  “Search me, O God, and know my heart:  try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” – Psalm 139:23-24.  And so we should pray like this when we are hurt in the midst of conflict.  “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” – I John 1:8

What is it that you treasure most right now?  Ask yourself these questions:

  1. What do I think about when I first wake up? Or when I go to bed at night?
  2. What is it that makes me the angriest during the week?
  3. Why am I so troubled by that circumstance or that other person?
  4. What do I feel is being threatened?
  5. What am I most passionate about?
  6. Who or what do I shed tears over?
  7. What is it that makes me the most depressed?
  8. What is it that I wish I had that I don’t have?
  9. Who or what am I trusting the most in the conflict?
  10. Who or what do I desire to talk about the most?

These questions that you would ask yourself in the midst of conflict might reveal a number of heart treasures:  (1) position, (2) family relationships, (3) church family friendships, (4) pride in our service for the Lord, (5) personal independence, (6) emphasis of a particular ministry, (7) procedures, (8) personal spiritual gifts, (9) personal doctrinal interpretations, (10) safety, (11) reputation, (12) self-preservation, (13) security, (14) success, and (15) happiness, etc. and etc.  These good treasures can be troublesome idols when they are elevated above Jesus.  Conflict brings to the surface those personal heart treasures that the Holy Spirit is calling us to deal with and allow the Lord Jesus Christ to be sovereign over.  Healing comes when we repent and let go of our personal treasures and let Jesus be King in our hearts and sovereign Lord in this city.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer” – Psalm 19:14.

“Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips” – Psalm 141:3.

Let God do His work of sanctification in you in the midst of the trial.

So what if this other person in your life is continuing to make things difficult for you? “If he is an employee, it may be appropriate to fire him, and if he is an employer, you may need to look for another job.  But what if the other person is your spouse, a child, a longtime friend, or a member of your church?  These relationships should be not be easily forsaken, so when one of these people disappoints you, you will need to choose between two courses of action.  On the one hand, you can trust God and seek your fulfillment in him (Ps. 73:25).  You can ask him to help you to continue to grow and mature no matter what the other person does (James 1:2-4).  And you can continue to love the person who is blocking your desire, pray for God’s sanctifying work in his or her life, and wait for the Lord to open the door for progress at a later time (I John 4:19-21; Luke 6:27).  If you choose this course, God promises to bless you and, no matter what the other person does, to use your difficult situation to conform you to the likeness of Christ (Rom. 8:28-29).  But there is another course we often follow.  We keep fighting to achieve our desire, dwelling on our disappointments, and allowing our desire and disappointments to control our lives.” – Sande.

In the conflict, you can follow the wrong path of “I desire, I demand, I judge, and I punish.”

David Powlison writes about the idolatrous judging that takes place in our hearts:  “We judge others—criticize, nit-pick, nag, attack, condemn—because we literally play God.  This is heinous. [The Bible says,] ‘There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and to destroy, but who are you to judge your neighbor?’  Who are you when you judge?  None other than a God wannabe.  In this we become like the Devil himself (no surprise that the Devil is mentioned in James 3:15 and 4:7).  We act exactly like the adversary who seeks to usurp God’s throne and who acts as the accuser of the brethren.  When you and I fight, our minds become filled with accusations: your wrongs and my rights preoccupy me.  We play the self-righteous judge in the mini-kingdoms we establish.”

So going back to that initial question in step 2, “How can I show Jesus’ work in me by taking responsibility for my contribution to this conflict?”  Let me suggest three critical areas.

  1. One of the biggest problems can be the use of your tongue.

“See how great a forest a little fire kindles!  And the tongue is a fire, world of iniquity.” – James 3:5b-6a

“There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise promotes health.” – Proverbs 12:18.

Have you been complaining against the Lord’s people?  “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned.” – James 5:9

Be on guard against exaggeration.  Is your communication only emphasizing your side of the story?  “Do not be a witness against your neighbor without cause, for would you deceive with your lips?  Do not say, ‘I will do to him just as he has done to me; I will render to the man according to his work.” – Proverbs 24:28-29.

Be careful not to gossip.  “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no gossip, strife ceases.” - Proverbs 26:20.

Have your conversations been wholesome?  “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” - Ephesians 4:29

  1. Another problem could be you are violating one of the most important commandments in the Bible – the golden rule.

“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” – Matthew 7:12

Here are some questions for you to consider:

  • Would you want someone else to treat you the same way that you have been treating him?
  • How would you feel if you found out people were saying about you what you have said about her?
  • If your positions were reversed, how would you feel if he did what you have done?
  • Ten years from now, would you feel right about you are doing right now with this person?
  1. And yet one more problem among other sins could be your submission to authority.

In America, we don’t like to submit to anybody, especially when we think that the authority is more corrupt than we are.  But God enters the picture and states to you, “Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.  For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.  Honor all people.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the king.  Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.  For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully.” – I Peter 2:13-19

  • Is my earthly authority causing me to sin personally?
  • How can I be trusting God in the midst of whatever my earthly authority is doing or not doing?
  • Am I becoming my own authority in this conflict, whether it is related to family, church, or American government?

We are out of time this morning, but we will pick things up again with step 3. . . .

Step Three – Going to your brother for gentle restoration.  This is ongoing, loving, continual action for gospel grace reconciliation.  Be going to your brother as many times as the Holy Spirit does in communicating with you over issues in your own life.

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” – Galatians 6:1

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” – Matthew 18:15

Conflict and Gospel Grace Reconciliation (1)

What do you do when you are in the middle of conflict?  It is natural to be overcome by the big problems and lose sight of the big God.  Actually, your big God completely engulfs any of your problems.  God would tell you to do three things when in the middle of conflict.  And let me acknowledge that I am utilizing helpful thoughts and structure by a Christian brother named Ken Sande who lives in Billings, Montana.  All Bible references are taken from the New King James Version (NKJV).

1. First of all, trust God

God is sovereign.

Scripture reminds us over and over again, “The LORD shall reign.” – Exodus 15:18.  Indeed, our God does reign.

Over nations.  Over cities.  Over Idaho Falls.  Over churches.  Over marriages.  Over every individual life in this room. “Every conflict that comes into our lives has somehow been ordained by God.  Knowing that he has personally tailored the events of our lives and is looking out for us at every moment should dramatically affect the way we respond to conflict.” – Sande

“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever.  Amen.” – I Timothy 1:17

God is good.  (Yes, all the time, God is good)

“God has spoken once, twice I have heard this: that power belongs to God.  Also to You, O Lord, belongs mercy; for You render to each one according to his work.” – Psalm 62:11-12

The more confidence we have that God is both sovereign and good, the meeker we can be.  Meekness is an attitude toward God that causes us to accept all his dealings with us as being good, and thus to accept them without resistance or resentment (Rom. 8:28).  A meek person is content and thankful no matter what his circumstances (Phil. 4:12-13), because he sees that God has already given him everything he needs in Christ (Matt. 5:5; Romans 8:31-32).  Thus, instead of thinking, “I’m missing out; it’s not fair,” a meek person thinks about and gives thanks for God’s goodness, mercy, power, and provision (Acts 4:23-31; 5:40-42; 7:59-60; John 18:11).  Meekness has nothing to do with weakness, for both Moses and Jesus are described in the Bible as being meek (Num. 12:3; Matt. 11:29).  In fact, meekness has sometimes been referred to as “power under control.”  This quality is highly commended throughout Scripture (Ps. 37:11; Matt. 5:5).  Meekness has a direct impact on our dealings with other people, especially in the midst of conflict.  Knowing that God works for good in all things, a meek person is able to endure mistreatment from others with patience and without resentment or bitterness.  Because this attitude does not come to us naturally, we need to pray that the Holy Spirit will work steadily to help us to become meek.” – Sande

What thoughts have you been thinking about God throughout this past week?  Certainly, what you are thinking about God has direct bearing on your horizontal relationships with one another.

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” – Colossians 3:1-2

I would encourage you to wake up each morning and meditate on the attributes of God; likewise, when you go to bed at night.

2. Secondly, seek ways in how you can glorify God

“Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.  Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.  Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” – I Corinthians 10:31-11:1

How can you honor and please the Lord in the middle of conflict?  How can you glorify God?   Rather than being continually upset or fearful by what you think is going down in the conflict, seek how you can grow and glorify God in the midst of the conflict.  This is the whole purpose for why God is allowing it.  Your good and His glory.

As other people watch you in conflict, what fruit of the Spirit do they see? “And we labor, working with our own hands.  Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat.  We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.” – I Corinthians 4:12-13.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Against such there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23

“That the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience . . . the older women . . . reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things . . . young women . . . to love . . . discreet, chaste . . . young men . . . sober-minded . . . sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.” – Titus 2:2-8

3. Third, be a peacemaker

Think about what your natural tendencies might be in conflict.  To escape from others?  To leave them? Or to fight others? And to shut them down?  Both responses add more hurt.  In one verse, we see both of these natural responses in chosen Abram’s family:  “And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence.” – Genesis 16:6.  An escape or fight response usually ends in KYRG:  Kiss your relationship goodbye.   Thankfully, God stepped into the middle of this.

Now there are instances where you might need to step down or step aside to give God time to work in your heart.  To calm down.  To pray.  To rest.  To let God redirect your thoughts.  I can understand this.  And also, flight is good when one’s physical life is in grave danger.  But here is the Lord’s way.  Don’t permanently leave your marriage, your family, your brother or sister, or your church family.  Let God do His ongoing work in you and those around you.

In the midst of the conflict, commit yourself to resist fleeing or fighting.  Resolve in your heart to do this – what God desires of every one of you.  Be a peacemaker.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . those who mourn . . . the meek . . . those who hunger and thirst for righteousness . . . the merciful . . . the pure in heart . . . Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” – Matthew 5:3-9

Seek to be a fulfillment of your Lord’s prayer for you.

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:  I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” – John 17:20-23

“As death drew near, the Lord focused on a single concept he knew to be of paramount importance for all those who would believe in him.  He did not pray that his followers would always be happy, that they would suffer, or that their rights would always be defended.  Jesus prayed that his followers would get along with one another.  This was so important to him that he tied his reputation and the credibility of his message to how well his followers would display unity and oneness.  Read his prayer once more and think about how important unity is to him.  Is it equally important to you?” – Sande

Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Romans 15:5-7

“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” – I Corinthians 1:10

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” – Ephesians 4:1-3

Endeavoring – “The Greek word that is translated “make every effort” in this passage means to strive eagerly, earnestly, and diligently.  It is a word that a trainer of gladiators might have used when he sent men to fight to the death in the Coliseum: “Make every effort to stay alive today!” So too must a Christian agonize for peace and unity.  Obviously, token efforts and halfhearted attempts at reconciliation fall far short of what Paul had in mind.” – Sande

“Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” – James 3:18

In conflict, we are to (1) trust God, (2) glorify God, and (3) be peacemakers.

Now, the Bible does give us a plan (a path of clear steps) in how to go about resolving conflict and seeking gospel grace reconciliation.  In this sermon series, we are going to look carefully at the gradual increase of steps of a clear gospel plan that God has laid out in His Word.  In this message, we only have time for considering step one.

Step One – Ask yourself some questions in light of these verses.  How big should this issue be to me personally?  Could I just put the issue that I have with my brother or sister and my personal hurt over this before the cross of Jesus?  Do I need to even talk to the one I feel hurt with about this?  Sometimes, in our hurt, we make things that are small very big.  And then we enlist others to join in on our hurt.  Maturity comes by how we can overlook personal offenses against us.

  • “Do not strive with a man without cause, if he has done you no harm” (Proverbs 3:30).
  • “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins (Proverbs 10:12).
  • “A fool’s wrath is known at once, but a prudent man covers shame (Proverbs 12:16).
  • “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32).
  • “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts” (Proverbs 17:14).
  • “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression (Proverbs 19:11).
  • “He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears” (Proverbs 26:17).
  • “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).
  • “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things” (Romans 14:1).
  • Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Corinthians 13:4-7).
  • “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
  • Bearing with another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Colossians 3:13).
  • “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’ Be hospitable to one another without grumbling” (I Peter 4:8-9).

If you are short-suffering with another person, how do you think that other person will naturally respond back toward you? Why are you so short-suffering with that other person?  Is God that way with you?  Look at what you have thought wrong or said wrong this past week.  Look at what you did that you shouldn’t have done or at what you should have done that you did not do.  Did you repent over every sin that you committed this past week?  If you haven’t repented over every offense this past week that you have committed, what has God done with those sins?  I will tell you.  It is His love that covers the multitude of your sins.  Such glory.  Such love that pours from the heart of our Father.  And it is up to you through the presence of Christ in your life to respond the same way to one another.