Series: Blessed are the Peacemakers, by Rosie Moore
In my previous devotion, “Called to Peace”, we saw that if God has made peace with us, we are called to be faithful stewards of every conflict we face. God rarely provides an eject button to deliver us from difficult relationships. We need to ask ourselves, “As far as it is possible with me, how can I live at peace with this person?” (Rom 12:18). Peace isn’t always possible, but God is pleased with our efforts to be reconciled with everyone.
You may currently be embroiled in an ongoing conflict. You may feel that you have been mistreated and are harbouring anger, resentment, or hatred over a broken relationship. You may be so fearful of conflict that the mere thought of Christian reconciliation looms large in your mind. It is a painful crisis to avoid at all costs.
But every relationship is an opportunity to showcase the love and power of Jesus at work in your life. Conflict presents a challenge to throw off worldly ideas and fleshly instincts, to renew our thinking and put on the new nature of a peacemaker, “to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:22-23). Conflict invites us to “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to [our] neighbour, for we are all members of one body”. God challenges us to deal with anger quickly, lest we give the devil a foothold in our lives (Eph 4:26-27).
The problem is that many Christians have only witnessed poor examples of communication and conflict resolution in their lives. Moreover, most Christians have only a general understanding of what the Bible teaches on peacemaking. In this series, I hope to explore some of the principles and practical applications of Biblical peacemaking. The underlying assumption is that conflict is not an accident, but a God-given stewardship for the purpose of sanctifying us. Here are seven biblical practices of a true peacemaker:
- Mind your own logs.
- The heart of conflict.
- The A’s of confession.
- Go and be reconciled.
- Quick to hear, slow to speak.
- Speak the truth in love.
- Gently restore.
Today I will deal with the first two practices of peacemaking.
Mind your own logs.
On the sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructed His disciples, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “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” (Matt 7:1-5).
We all have a tendency to be blinded by the massive logs of sin in our own eyes. That’s why the first practice of a peacemaker is to first to examine ourselves, then offer sincere help and correction to brothers and sisters struggling with sin. Matthew 7:6 is Christ’s book-end to this instruction on godly correction: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” Verse 6 is a warning not to suspend all discernment, but rather to evaluate situations and people carefully. It is sometimes wise not to engage with an unbelieving mocker or fool bent on our destruction (Prov 26:4-5; Prov 9:7-8). Jesus himself illustrated this discernment with those who opposed Him (John 2:24). Nevertheless, the main point of Christ’s teaching is to mind our own logs.
When my children were young, their fighting sometimes drove Pete and me crazy, especially on thirteen-hour car trips with six of us crammed into our Fortuner. As boredom and mileage increased, the bickering intensified. It usually reached a crescendo in the Karoo, when the weather got particularly hot and the 4am start unravelled in grouchiness. “You’re breathing on me! Why do I always have to sit in the back? I hate the smell of boiled egg sandwiches! Why do you always get to choose the music? I’m sick of being in charge of the cooler box!” The arguing and moaning went on and on.
I prayed earnestly about the quarrelling and decided to teach our kids the seven habits of peacemakers outlined above. I thought I had done a pretty good job with the peacemaking curriculum until one day, as I glanced out the window, I saw our eldest daughter sprinting across the lawn, howling for help, with her younger sister in hot pursuit. The pursuer was in full war mode, wielding a cricket bat and yelling, “Mind your own logs, Jessie, mind your own logs! Mmmommmm, tell Jessie to mind her own logs! She won’t listen to me!”
The irony of quoting Jesus’s instruction in Matthew 7 was lost on the warring duo! It was a stark reminder that all conflict finds its source in our sinful human hearts. Without a new heart of flesh from the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27; Gal 5:16-23), our best attempts at peacemaking will be mere window dressing. Unless our heart is regenerated and given new desires, we will never be able to uproot the weeds of conflict that thrive in the soil of selfishness.
The heart of conflict.
When offended, our flesh rises up in revolt against everything Christ says in Matthew 7:1-5. As Solomon observed, the human heart is “deceitful above all else, and desperately sick. Who can cure it?” (Jer 17:9). Jesus taught his disciples in Matthew 15:19: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander”. James confirms that the heart is the source of all human conflict, not external circumstances or other people’s actions:
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” (James 4:1-3).
James’s assessment is accurate. Have you observed how the love of money or material possessions can translate into envy? And envy can lead us to be obsessed with financial security; it can tempt us to lie or mistreat employees; work compulsively; or fight with a spouse or business partner over finances; or sue siblings over an inheritance? (1 Tim 6:10; Acts 5:1-3; Matt 6:24) Longings for respect, acceptance, approval, comfort, and success can be the source of bitter conflict if we allow them to rule our hearts. I have noticed that family conflict is often borne out of parents’ desire for peace at all costs, leading to a failure to discipline or shepherd their children in the ways of the Lord.
When our desires are not met, we instinctively feel angry, bitter, or disappointed. We demand, judge, or punish one another. Pride and the desire to always be right can make us defensive, blind to our own wrongs, slow to accept correction and quick to find fault with others. We need supernatural help not to destroy our relationships when conflicts arise!
True peacemaking is impossible without the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. But once we commit to follow Jesus, we are new creatures in Christ. Our new Master does not give us the option of indulging our desire to escape or attack when we disagree. Instead, He gives us a humorous analogy—
“Mind your own logs, so that you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
In owning our own role in a conflict, there are two types of fault to watch out for: The first is having an ultra-sensitive attitude which causes us to be offended too easily. The second fault is our own sinful actions or reactions. Both sinful actions and attitudes are logs which need to be removed.
If we think back to the Fall, minding our own logs is a reversal of what Adam and Eve did in the garden when they hid from the Lord, and then blamed each other for their own disobedience. The process of removing our own logs is a powerful remedy against two of the most insidious tendencies of our sinful hearts: Hiding and blame shifting.
Remedy against hiding.
Instead of hiding our guilt as Adam and Eve did, we are inviting the Lord to search our hearts and expose “any offensive way in [us]” (Gen 3:10; Psalm 139:23-24). Removing our own logs means that we do not hide our sin as we are prone to do.
Firstly, we do this by prayerfully studying the Bible and asking God to show us where our attitudes and actions have not lined up with His ways (Heb 4:12). His living and active Word is sharper than a two-edged sword, able to convict and uncover the sinful thoughts and idols of the hearts. Scripture is like a mirror that reveals who we truly are (James 1:23-25). It is God’s instrument to show us our own heart. And so, we cannot remove our own logs without regular time with the Lord, in which we submit to His Word and pray to Him who knows our thoughts before even a word is on our tongue (Ps 139:1-5). We cannot remove our own logs without coming out of hiding and confessing our sins to God (Prov 28:13), allowing Him to cleanse and free us from it.
Secondly, we remove our own logs whenever we ask a godly friend or mentor to counsel and correct us, to candidly show us our role in a conflict. If we do not want to be blinded by hypocrisy, or to conceal, deny or rationalize our wrongs, an objective Christian brother or sister can help us to see the truth about ourselves.
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov 27:6).
Remedy against blameshifting.
Instead of blameshifting as Adam and Eve did (Gen 3:12-13), Christ commands us to forsake our own logs, regardless of what the other person may do. When we take the plank out of our own eye, we are also challenged to confess to the person who has offended us. We need to use the Bible’s own language to describe our sinful actions and attitudes, instead of euphemistic words that excuse our sin — “I was frustrated with you…” A Christian who has removed his own logs takes full responsibility for his sin. She sees her sin as God sees it and corrects others as a forgiven sinner:
“God has shown me how wrong I have been in holding onto my hatred and anger against you for what you did to me. Yes, you committed a terrible sin against me, but I have been murdering you in my heart for too long…”
God uses conflict to help us see, confess and forsake our sinful heart desires. Only when we have removed our own logs are we ready to gently correct and restore a Christian brother or sister caught in sin (Gal 6:1; Matt 18:15). Conflict may be an opportunity to be as merciful to others as God is to us (Matt 18:21-35). If God is sovereign and promises to work all things for good in the lives of those who love Him, surely every conflict allows us to showcase the gospel and follow the example of Christ, who did not take revenge but kept entrusting Himself to the One who judges justly?
When we face offense and conflicts, believers need to ask ourselves a straightforward question from the outset:
“How can I show Jesus’ work in me by taking responsibility for my contribution to this conflict?”