Okay, chapter 23 did me in. You are so complementary about my ability to find a story in these obscure Biblical passages, but I just can’t. Doo-doo-ronomy 23 (I had to go there, didn’t I?) takes us someplace that I cannot possibly make a devotional from. Nope. I got nuthin’.
Let’s try II Corinthians 7 instead. Here’s a challenge that is hard to ignore. Paul says, in the back half of verse 1, “Let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.” (II Corinthians 7:1b) The relationship we have with God, for all of it’s grace and mercy, is one that calls us to constantly strive to become more like Him, to become holy. Holiness, whatever that means, is not optional for the Christ-follower. It is what we do.
So, what does that mean? That call to holiness? Well, among other things, apparently it has something to do with the way we relate to one another. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Let us follow PEACE with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” Holy living and healthy relationships are somehow inextricably connected. The rest of chapter 7 is a history lesson of Paul’s work to remedy a conflict between him and the good folks in Corinth.
It seems there was someone in the church that was attacking and insulting Paul, challenging his authority as an apostle, and dividing the church. Perhaps it was the guy in an incestuous relationship in I Corinthians 5. Paul had openly confronted that sin in his first letter and maybe that same guy had continued wreaking havoc for a while, refusing to be obedient to Paul’s instructions. The conflict had gotten so bad that Paul cancelled his plans to visit the church and wrote a “severe” letter to them instead. Not this letter, and not I Corinthians. There must have been another letter in between these two.
In any case, the conflict had risen to a point that Paul chose not to visit, wrote a letter that caused him and them pain (verse 8) but had finally resulted in reconciliation. He says it produced Godly sorrow (verse 11), true repentance (verse 9), and a change in behavior (verse 10). There was so much change that now Paul wanted to see them, and they wanted to see him. What had been a real adversarial relationship was now a source of genuine affection and encouragement.
Sunday was Jon-Mical’s family birthday celebration. He had his party with his friends on Saturday and the family fun was on Sunday. That meant two things, Jon-Mical was tired, and Jakson was hopped up on sugar after two days of eating birthday cake. A perfect recipe for conflict among the brethren.
When we arrived, Jakson was confined to the upstairs and Jon-Mical, to the bedroom downstairs. Josh was practicing a Biblical concept, “Come out from among them and be ye separate.” There had been a pretty severe conflict before and the two brothers were anything but brotherly. We walked into the house and Jennifer said to me, “Go to the bedroom.” (I thought I was in trouble for some reason.) In the bedroom I found a broken-hearted Jon-Mical, sorry for his sins, and trying to deal with the hurt that this conflict had caused. So, I read him II Corinthians 7 and preached a sermon on conflict resolution. NOT! I just put my arm around him and we talked about the Patriots-Jaguars football game. Hey, I didn’t get this counseling degree for nothing.
There are some things we can learn about how to handle conflict in this chapter though, if we read between the lines. Maybe you are struggling with a relationship in your church, at work, in your family. The requirement for complete holiness is that you do everything you can to bring healing to that situation. Here are four ideas:
First, a time apart is not a bad thing. The struggle in Corinth was so emotional, so intense that Paul realized a face-to-face confrontation would not be healthy or helpful. Cooling off might be necessary. I often tell clients, “Some situations you cannot make better, but you can make them worse. Don’t make them worse.” When you are so angry, or so hurt, or so frustrated that a rational conversation is unlikely, stay away until all parties have time to heal a little bit.
Second, seek to speak the truth, not inflict pain. Sometimes when I am hurting, I want the other guy to hurt just as bad. I am more interested in doing damage than in dealing with the core issue. Even though I am telling the truth, I am doing it in a way to point out his shortcomings and to create consternation in him. In another place Paul says we are to “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15) Tell the truth, be candid about your own feelings, but do it in a way that is helpful and not hurtful.
When that is really hard, idea number three is use a mediator. Paul sent Titus in his place to the Corinthians. Titus could objectively listen to both sides, do some “interpreting,” offer suggestions, and measure how close the two sides were to being able to talk face-to-face. One of the great benefits of being in a healthy, mature church fellowship, is the presence of elders, mentors, leaders that can help navigate through relational difficulties. At the risk of sounding self-serving, a good, Christian counselor is not a bad idea when the conflict has reached the nuclear stage.
The final thing I see in Paul’s letter here is stay positive. Look at verse 4, “I have the highest confidence in you, and I take great pride in you. You have greatly encouraged me and made me happy despite all our troubles.” He ends the chapter by saying, “I have complete confidence in you.” I challenge couples to practice the 2:1 rule. Before you say anything negative, say two things positive. Compliment, Compliment, Criticism, is a good formula. Maybe even follow that with another compliment or two.
Making peace is not an easy task. It takes work. But reconciliation is what we are about. AND it is the way to holiness. Time does NOT heal all wounds. When we have hurt someone, or been hurt by them, we don’t wait back in the bedroom for the pain to go away. Confront it. But do it in the right way, at the right time, with the right motive. You will be better for it and God will be pleased.
As for Jakson, last Sunday, he was practicing Deuteronomy 23 with a shovel in the backyard. (I can’t believe I went there to end this.)
See you tomorrow.