“The woman You put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” – Adam, Genesis 3:12
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” – Cain, Genesis 4:9
“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” – Brothers of Joseph, Genesis 37:19-20
Jesus got angry but He didn’t use His anger in that way. He presented His case gently, tenderly and respectfully. He asked questions. He was invitational. He allowed people to make up their own mind and make their own choices, even if it was against His ways. Even though He is always right.
Anger is a feeling that comes to all of us. It can lead us to sin or we can use it as a sign, a kind of diagnostic tool to help us evaluate our situation. Maybe we need to have a conversation with another person to express how we feel. Maybe we need to draw boundaries. Maybe we need to flee from a hostile or dangerous situation. Maybe we need to get help. Or we can yell, scream, hit others or walk out in a huff. It’s our choice.
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” – Matthew 18:15-16
Jesus gave us a clear method for resolving conflict:
Talk to the person we are having the conflict with first. Not our girl friend, our sister, our mom or co-worker. Bringing a third person into the conflict first is seldom wise because often we are not looking for resolution—we are looking for validation. We hope our friend will agree with us and say the other person is wrong and we are right. This is called “triangulation” because we are creating a triangle when we bring someone else into the conflict. Especially when all in the triangle have relationships, it creates more conflict not less. When I tell my mother about the fight I had with my husband, what happens is I make up with my husband but my mother will still be upset. It is harder to just take it to the person we are having the conflict with, but no other two people can resolve it.
For me, I struggle with the conversation I have in my head. I discuss the matter with them in my head having both sides of the conversation—mine and theirs! When the conversation does not go well, I am still angry but then I never have the conversation out loud. You can see how this is faulty logic, right? The truth is we can never accurately predict how the conversation will go! We can pray and trust God. We can be open to having our minds changed. We can at least get our feelings out in the open. It is always best to talk it out.
Jesus urges us to settle matters with our adversary quickly. How do we do that? We must be tenderhearted, kind, and respectful. We must not only state how we feel and what we think, we must ask questions. We must be interested in how they feel, what they are thinking. We must be sympathetic and assume the best, not the worst. We must remain hopeful—not merely in them, but in the ability of God to changes hearts and work all things together for good.
Sometimes talking to the person we have the conflict with does not work and there are still concerns that need to be resolved. That’s when we need to bring another person in to help and talk to both parties. Bringing a wise trusted friend or counselor into the situation could add the light of Christ to it. What is said when two people are alone or at the kitchen table in front of only the children might sound different when said in front of someone else. A third person cannot resolve our conflict but they can ask questions we might not have considered, help us think through our feelings, and help us better understand each other. They may be able to come up with acceptable alternate resolutions we cannot see because we are embroiled in our emotions.
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. – James 4:1-3
Sometimes we are angry because we are selfish. That’s what James is talking about. I want what I want and when you get in my way, well then I am angry and I am angry with YOU!
It is easy to see how this can sabotage a relationship. Sometimes we must choose between what we want and the health of our relationships. Jesus holds us to a high standard, especially in marriage. His law of love tells us we can’t just walk away when we can’t have our way. Indeed, we are called to submit in humility, to value the other’s needs as higher than our own.
In the light of James’ wisdom, let us closely examine what we want and clearly define it.
- What do we want exactly? Why do we want it?
- How does what we want align with God’s Word? Does it clearly agree? Is it a little bit shady?
- Does our desire reveal a character flaw? Pride? Greed? Envy? Ambition for fame or power? Comfort? Fear?
- Is our desire for someone else? Are we trying to control someone else’s life? Remember Jesus taught and invited but never controlled others even though He was always right!
- Could we be patient and trust maybe God has a better timing? Maybe God has an even better idea?
- Can we be open handed with our desire? Could we submit to the other person out of our love for them and our desire to be more like Jesus?
Jesus desires us to have peace. Peace with God, already settled by His blood, and also peace with each other. As we follow the Prince of Peace and trust in His truth and love, we will find peace.
Beloved Jesus, may everyone who hears these words be encouraged and strengthened to follow Your perfect teaching and find peace. May it begin with me.