“To His Own Master He Stands or Falls”
Conflict is one of the most important events in any relationship. People have differences of personality and convictions and when our differences collide, conflict is the natural consequence. Conflict is important because it is a specific, memorable opportunity for two people to meet together in disagreement, compare their differences, repent if needed, and then decide to accept one another despite their differences.
Ideal descriptions aside, conflict is frightening. Individuals feel frightened by their differences, struggle to respond to one another confidently, and struggle to allow others to express their differences. A common quick-fix-response to conflict is to create and enforce a sense of conformity, which we hope will substitute for the true echad unity we learn about in scripture. “Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is echad.” Rather than serving God as a diversified Body, we settle for trying to make everyone think and respond by a set of behaviors that we create and prescribe. Legalism is very enticing, but it turns out that relationships do not thrive in cookie cutter unison.
Another seemingly “quick fix” to conflict is to put ourselves “above” it. In our defensiveness, we look for all the ways that the other person is “wrong” or “sinning,” and for the ways that we are “right” and “righteous.” Although we disguise this sort of thinking with spiritual language–citing doctrine, the Bible, our pastor–this behavior often veils our assertion of ourselves over the person we disagree with. We make ourselves out to be their “better.” Worse than legalism, our attitudes place us into Christ’s judgement seat.
In Romans 14, Paul carries on an extensive conversation regarding conflict. He discusses matters of conscience, and the ensuing judgment between Church members who had differing convictions in regard to matters of conscience. While this passage speaks to questions of judgment and faith, it also observes that God’s people will not always agree, and that different convictions are not necessarily wrong. Paul also clearly states that we are all called to come under the authority of Christ’s–we are not to place ourselves above others. In verse 4 Paul asks, “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” And then further on he says, “But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” Despite differences of opinion or even conviction, we are all under the authority of Christ. Christ will judge each person. Our call is to prioritize the will and mission of God over our differences.
When God’s people are knowledgeable of His mission—and the Church’s special role within it—our priorities change. To understand the truth of the Gospel is to understand that we are the people of God because God has named us so. We fall under the authority of the Trinity, and have no righteousness of our own. The Lord calls all humankind to repentance, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, He desires His Church to facilitate others toward Him. Once we are firmly established in our call, and under our Authority, the grey spaces of biblical interpretation and the resulting differing convictions of others need not be so threatening. As we work through conflict and cultivate fellowship that transcends disagreement, we identify with 1 John 4, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.” The intended vibrant love of the Church is one way that we demonstrate God to the world. Our relationships have missional importance.
In John 17, Christ prays for us to be unified as the Trinity is unified, and we see that working through conflict is essential for the health and calling of the Church. God will fulfill His mission despite us, but when we willingly enter into relationship with one another and come under the authority of Christ, we are able to represent the image of God to the world in a radical way. In Matthew 5:43-48 Jesus teaches,
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Jesus asks His followers to have relationships that move beyond what is humanly possible. Jesus does not describe “tolerance,” he is not speak of “acceptance,” at least not in the sense that society currently does. When popular culture demands that we “tolerate” other’s views, it often is pushing us to conform to a cookie-cutter-legalism that bans our disagreement with other people. No, what Jesus is talking about is our divine calling to love our enemies, and to treat those who disagree with us with honesty, truth, love and relationship. He tells us that we must treat our enemies as peers. God moves the boundaries of our relationships beyond our preferences, and tells us that all people are our neighbors, and that by the power of the Holy Spirit, we may be the neighbor to all. God’s relational call on our lives requires that we come under His authority and work through conflict with one another, He asks us to do all that is in our power to keep conflict from splintering the Church apart and tarnishing the image of God.
Hannah M. Landon
Hannah Directs PBI’s Outdoor Leadership Degree (the Explore Program) with her husband Dennis. This summer she is thrilled to have her first experience travelling outside of North America!