17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[a] says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Those of you who were here last Sunday will hopefully be able to recall that in my sermon we talked about the issue of conflict and how the Bible calls us to be peacemakers rather than peace breakers. And just as I started my sermon last week with a little video, I want to do the same today…(Show video from Marathon, Volume 5, “Learning to Say, ‘I’m sorry,’” featuring Dan Seaborn at a Promise Keepers gathering.)
Dan Seaborn knows what conflict is, doesn’t he? But thankfully he also learned with God’s help how to resolve that conflict. And that’s what we’re trying to do as well as we continue with my sermon series on how to live a good news life in a bad news world where conflict is often the order of the day. Now last Sunday we looked at 3 peacemaking principles. For starters, we learned that it is wise to talk to God first before talking to the person with whom you’re having conflict or anyone else for that matter because God will often times change either your heart or the other person’s heart without any help from you. We also learned that God calls us to always take the initiative, the first step in peacemaking, regardless of whether we are the one who was offended or the one who did the offending. And then lastly, we learned that peacemaking works best when we try to understand the other person’s feelings and see things from their perspective rather than immediately throwing up the walls of defense and resenting them for what they’re saying. And the best way to do that is to open our ears and listen to them before we open our mouths.
Now as we pointed out last week, none of this is easy. Hence the title of these 2 sermons: “The Hard Work of Peacemaking.” But even though it isn’t easy, it’s definitely worth the effort, for as we also noted last week, though conflict is bound to invade our lives sooner or later, relationships are always worth saving. So this morning I want to spend our time taking a look at 4 more biblical peacemaking principles in the hopes that they will move and inspire us to deal with the conflict in our lives in ways that are pleasing to God and that imitate and emulate how he dealt with us when it came to the conflict caused by our sins.
And the first principle that we want to look at today is this: Confess your part in the conflict. Jesus had something to say about this in his Sermon on the Mount when he proclaimed: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Introspection, which is the fancy term for what we’re talking about here, isn’t much fun, is it? It requires that we take a good, honest, and inward look at ourselves. When we do that, we don’t always like what we see. It isn’t a pretty picture. And because we’re usually not very good at recognizing our own faults, because we all have what we might call blind spots, it’s sometimes wise to ask an objective third party to help us evaluate the role that we might be playing in this conflict. Or, you may want to just talk to God about it. Ask him, “God, am I the problem here? If so, please make it clear to me. Am I being unrealistic or insensitive or perhaps too sensitive?”
You see, confessing your own faults can be one of the most powerful steps toward reconciliation. For when you begin by humbly admitting your mistakes, it kind of defuses the other person’s anger. It disarms their attack because they were probably expecting you to be defensive or resentful. So with God’s help avoid the mistakes that most people make and that causes them to be peace breakers rather than peacemakers. Avoid making excuses. Avoid shifting the blame. Avoid pointing the finger. Instead, honestly own up to any part you played in the conflict. Accept responsibility for your mistakes and ask for forgiveness.
Then another peacemaking principle I want to pass onto you today is this: Attack the problem, not the person. Prov.15:1 says: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Listen, my friends, you will never get your point across, you will never attain reconciliation with another person, when you respond to them harshly. Now I know what some of you are thinking: “But what if they speak harshly to me?” Again, we go back to Prov. 15:1: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
One of the lowest points of my ministry occurred when I was serving at my first congregation, still fresh out of the seminary and very green yet. One day I ran into one of our inactive members at the hospital. He wasn’t in the hospital as a patient. He was just visiting someone there. And I told him we’d been missing him in church and asked if we might see him back there soon. Well, he responded with some sort of a smart comment that really got a fire burning within me. So guess what I did? I’m ashamed to say I followed suit. In fact, before long he and I were engaged in a shouting match right there in the hospital lobby. It was terrible and it’s something that to this day I regret. But it taught me an important lesson. And that is, how you say something is just as important as what you say. Or to put it another way, you will never be persuasive when you are abrasive. Prov. 16:21 says: “A wise, mature person is known for his understanding. The more pleasant his words, the more persuasive he is.” (TEV)
Most of us here today remember the days of the Cold War when Russia and the United States were stockpiling nuclear weapons that were so destructive and both sides finally agreed that they should never be used. Most of those weapons were then destroyed. Well, it would do us well to follow that example, to destroy our arsenal of verbal nuclear weapons that we sometimes like to launch when we are involved in a conflict, things like condemning, belittling, labeling, insulting, condescending, and being sarcastic. The Apostle Paul puts it this way in Eph. 4:29: “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.”
Then moving on to another peacemaking principle: Cooperate as much as possible. That’s what Paul is talking about in our text when he says: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Understand, my friends, that peacemaking always has a price tag. Sometimes it costs our pride. Sometimes it costs our self-centeredness. Sometimes it costs our need to always be right. But let us not forget that the peacemaking God carried out with us also had a price tag, the price of his own Son’s death on the cross. Yet he was willing to pay that price so that we could live at peace with him for all eternity. So he set the standard for us and he stands by ready and willing and able to help us meet that standard in our own lives.
I might also add one other thing here about that Rom. 12:18 passage we just looked at. Notice it says: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” That passage doesn’t come with any guarantees, does it? It doesn’t say that if you strive to live at peace with everyone, then everyone is going to live at peace with you. In fact, the words “If it is possible” seem to indicate that at times it won’t be possible, that there will be times when all our efforts at peacemaking are rebuffed. In those situations, though, that verse lets us know that we can still pillow our head in peace at night knowing that we did exactly what God wanted us to do even though it wasn’t successful.
And that takes us to one more biblical principle for peacemaking: Work toward reconciliation rather than resolution. Now what’s the difference between the two? Well, let’s say that a married couple is having major problems. We would be able to say that resolution has occurred if they get a divorce. For now they’re no longer yelling at one another. They’re no longer arguing. They’re no longer making their home a living hell. But reconciliation occurs when they realize that their marriage is worth saving and with God’s help and perhaps the help of a counselor they work through their problems and remain together as husband and wife.
Or let’s say a pastor is having a problem with his congregation. Resolution of the problem could be said to occur if the pastor resigns or takes a call to another church for the conflict is now over. But reconciliation occurs when pastor and people come together and after discussing how each side has contributed to the conflict, they forgive one another and start working together again toward the common goal of carrying out the mission Christ has entrusted to them.
You see the difference? Resolution focuses on the problem while reconciliation focuses on the relationship. We can have a relationship with another person even when we are unable to resolve our differences. Or to put it another way, we can disagree without being disagreeable.
So, there’s no doubt about it. Peacemaking is hard work, isn’t it? But it’s definitely worth it, not just because it restores broken relationships, but because we are never more like God than when we are working to establish peace in the midst of conflict. So review your friends, your family members, your co-workers, your acquaintances, your neighbors. Is there someone that you’re having conflict with right now? If so, take the principles that we’ve studied over the last 2 weeks and that I’ve included on the insert in the bulletin and put them to good use. And thus do what the final verse of our text for today encourages us to do when it says: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”