conflict

Proverbs 26:17-28

Today’s reading is Proverbs 26:17-28.

Verse 17 of today’s reading starts with a strong image to make an important point. Imagine a German Shepherd walking along the road. It is looking for food because nobody owns it and it is hungry. All of a sudden, someone walks over the to the dog, grabs its ears, and picks it up. What will happen?

My guess is that the person who picked up the dog will be bitten squarely in the face. And he will deserve it! He picked up the dog in a way that would be excruciatingly painful for any dog. He also disrespected the dog by picking it up. Finally, given that the dog is a “stray” (v. 17), the dog has no loyalty to the stranger who laid hands on his ears. Of course he will lash out in self-defense against someone who appears to be a threat.

Verse 17 tells us this is what will happen to someone who jumps into an argument where he is not the injured person or the injuring person. Instead of being the mediating influence that he expected to be, he is going to be severely hurt.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers” but that doesn’t describe someone who got involved in an ongoing argument without any first-hand knowledge. Only God knows the real truth; the person who wants to drag you into his or her argument wants to convince you that they are on the side of justice. Unless you are appointed or elected to interpret the law, stay away from someone else’s dispute. It will hurt you and do little to no good for anyone else.

Acts 15

Today’s reading is Acts 15.

This chapter records “The Jerusalem Council” where the apostles came together to decide if the Gentile believers had to obey any of the Jewish law. This may be the same event Paul described in Galatians 2, which is why we read Galatians last week. Not all the details fit, so it is uncertain whether or not this is the same visit to Jerusalem that Paul described in Galatians, but the tensions between the Jewish and Gentile believers were an ongoing challenge that the visit described in this chapter went a long way to solving.

The theological issue of Gentiles and the law seems like it was solved pretty easily in verses 1-35. By contrast, Paul and Barnabas who had been chosen by the Holy Spirit, had a disagreement that was unsolvable in verses 36-41.

  • The occasion for their disagreement was a desire to return to the churches they had founded on their first missionary journey (v. 36). Ultimately, this trip would become Paul’s second missionary journey.
  • The reason for their disagreement was John Mark. Barnabas wanted John Mark to come but Paul was opposed to it because John Mark had deserted them on the first missionary journey (v. 38).
  • The result of their disagreement was that they split and went their separate ways (v. 39).

This passage is instructive in a number of ways. According to verse 40 Paul was“commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.” This suggests that the church at Antioch (see v. 35) officially backed Paul, so he would seem to be the winner of this dispute. Over time, however, God used John Mark to write “The Gospel According to Mark” and even Paul had to admit that Mark was useful in Paul’s ministry (2 Tim 4:11). So while Paul may have been backed officially by the church, apparently Barnabas was wise to include Mark despite Paul’s objections.

One lesson from this passage is that, sadly, there are times when godly Christians have problems with each other that cannot be solved. That seems strange to admit. If everyone involved is walking with God, it would seem that every issue should be solvable. But if godly men like Paul and Barnabas could not agree to extend grace to Mark after his failure, we should accept that sometimes disagreements among God’s people cannot always be resolved.

Another related lesson is to realize that God used Paul and Silas and he also used Barnabas and John Mark. In other words, although they did not agree, that did not mean that one party was in sin and the other was not. Have you ever had a disagreement with another believer that could not be solved? Were you convinced that you were right and they were wrong? Did you conclude that they must be in sin or at least unwise? Let this passage cause you to reconsider. As believers we should do everything we can to resolve our issues with other believers but we should also be prepared to “disagree agreeably” without condemning the other person. Can you choose to believe the best about another believer even if you can’t resolve every problem?

Numbers 21, Psalms 60–61, Isaiah 10:5–34, James 4

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 21, Psalms 60–61, Isaiah 10:5–34, James 4. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can't do all the readings today, read James 4.

Conflict is part of the atmosphere around us, whether through sibling rivalry, office politics, presidential campaigns, or first degree murder, someone is always struggling with someone else. James 4:1-2b tells us that all conflict comes from “your desires that battle within you.” It is the impulses of our sinful nature—envy, jealousy, lust, hatred, and others—that create every disagreement, every conflict, every war. Verse 2c reminds us as believers that God is the source of everything and that, instead of striving with others to get what we want, we should bring our desires before the Lord through prayer. It is our prayer-less striving that keeps us from finding satisfaction in this life because God prevents the accomplishment of our goals when we pursue them as Christians without asking him to provide them to us. But, verse 3 reminds us that asking God in prayer is not like buying from a vending machine—prayer in, goodies out. No, sometimes we ask God for things and don’t get them because we “ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (v. 3b). Our biggest problem is not in our strategy—ask for what you want instead of fighting for it. No, our problem is that we want the wrong things. We want things for our own satisfaction instead of giving glory to God through our spiritual growth or the advancement of God’s kingdom in evangelism. James accuses us of spiritual adultery in verse 4; we made a commitment to God but we’re friending and flirting with all the same desires and goals that unbelievers have. Like a jealous husband, our partner in adultery, the world, is the object of God’s anger; if we choose to have an affair with this world, we put ourselves on the wrong side of God’s wrath (v. 4b).

Except for one thing: God knows how intensely we struggle with affection for success, recognition, materialism, and pleasure. Instead of sending us away in divorce, he placed his Holy Spirit in us to give us a competing desire to love and serve him (v. 5). But this calls for humility; when we’re frustrated for not getting the thing(s) we want in life, we need to honestly assess whether or desire for those things come from a desire to serve and glorify God or from our own selfishness. If we turn to God in those moments of struggle, he gives us the power to resist sin and draw closer to him in holiness (vv. 7-10).

What is going on in your life that is causing you frustration? Is it something in your personal life, your family or friendships? Is it a professional or financial setback or just stagnation in your job? If you find yourself arguing and fighting with others day after day, it is time to assess whether you’re cheating God. Instead, allow him to lead you where he wants and provide you with what he wants you to have. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (4:10).

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we'll talk scripture again tomorrow.