By John Quek
In the family of Abram (Abraham) and Lot, problems emerged when the two families were living too close for comfort. When strife broke out amongst their herdsmen to the degree that it was too difficult to manage and the close proximity to one another grew tense, the elder in the family said to the younger, “Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren” (Gen.13:8).
In another case, when Joseph met up with his family whom he had lost after being sold as a slave, his brothers later feared repercussion from him upon the death of their father (Gen. 50:15). They thought to themselves, “Perhaps Joseph will hate us, and may actually repay us for all the evil which we did to him”. Anxious, they lied to Joseph that their dead father had commanded Joseph to “forgive the trespass of your brothers and their sin; for they did evil to you.” (Gen.50:17)
Joseph was soft hearted and he “wept when they spoke to him” and said to them, “Do not be afraid…… you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Gen.50:19-20)
Then there was Paul and Barnabas. Friction arose between them when they had differences of opinion. This disagreement let them to go their separate ways.
In Acts 15: 36 -39, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another”.
With the disagreement each went on his own route and own plans, however, they continued “strengthening the churches”, with Barnabas and Mark sailing to Cyprus, and Paul together with Silas going to Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:40-41).
There are many different problems in a family and the situations in many cases are not uncommon.
You could easily enumerate the families in the Bible that have problems. Starting from the beginning of time, from Adam and Eve to the time of the apostles, there were accusations, cheating and dissent. Families quarrel; children fight with each other; young and old dispute with one another –we all will be drawn into such situations. The people whom we love the most or those we should love the most—our families—often become the ones we fight with the most.
How do we resolve our differences in the family of God? Here is my observation:
In a group of more than 2, one of the many in any situation needs to make the first move to resolve a problem. As in the case of Abraham and Lot, the uncle, Abraham made that choice to initiate to resolving the situation. Sometimes it is not easy to start an approach when the matter has already heated up but it takes a cool head and humility to displace further arguments.
Matt 5:23 – 24 informs further, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.”
“First go” directs anyone who had been offended to initiate a discourse and to resolve the matter not that you are an older member of the family or wiser of the lot. Making the first move is often the hardest to do, similarly having to say sorry. This may not be easy but necessary. If the person who had been wronged did not take the first step to bring up the matter to mend the problem, how else would the other party be aware of the offence he had caused?
Admittedly to take the first move often is a difficult thing to do but it is totally essential nonetheless to resolve conflicts.
An understanding and soft heart to forgive
Joseph understood the need to forgive his brothers for what they had done to him. It is also needful to understand God’s providential care and His plan. More importantly, Matt 6:14-15 gives a better perspective of the importance to forgive, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins”.
In Matt 18:21-23: Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
Saying sorry is already so very difficult to do for many let alone forgiving. Today we termed this forgiving spirit as being magnanimous. Joseph was magnanimous indeed if you have gone through the short account of his life history. He has shown us this attribute for us to learn and to follow. It will take a very strong yet soft-hearted person to show this quality of forgiveness after having gone through life the way Joseph did.
Sometimes things could be much better if we were to leave the problems behind and move on. Phil 3:13
“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.”
Paul and Barnabas, after a sharp contention on a trivial issue concerning who or who not to take along to visit churches, separated and went on their own journeys.
I like what Paul and Barnabas did. There is nothing wrong to disagree. No harm in suggesting what you prefer and/or against other’s preference as long as it does not overstep or go into the boundary of sin. The important thing Paul and Barnabas did was keeping the course of the gospel going without any personal hindrances or doing what is best with a bigger picture in mind i.e. “And they went out and preached everywhere” (Mark 16:20) and followed the great commission to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you”( Matt 28:19-20)
Saying sorry and to forgive are already not easy but as mentioned, it is needful nevertheless. It is similarly important and also as difficult as it is that we, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3) and “Live in peace with each other” (1 Thess. 5:13).
A commentator said this, “But the man who loves God must labour after this, for it is indispensably necessary even for his own sake. A man cannot have broils and misunderstandings with others, without having his own peace very materially disturbed: he must, to be happy, be at peace with all men, whether they will be at peace with him or not.”
So “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Rom 12:18) and when a man’s ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him (Prov. 16:7).
This statement “If it be possible” tells me that the possibility can be negative as well in that sometimes making peace may not always be possible or it could not always be done. In any case, one must attempt to do so and endeavour to preserve peace or to deflect anger or animosity amongst ourselves. Invariably, it may require us to accept the situation for the sake of being at peace with one another as Paul would expect us to do, “Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why do you not rather let yourselves be cheated?” (1Cor. 6:7).
Let’s not squabble, argue and fight amongst brethren over trivial matters. If and when we do, for the betterment of the church and God’s work, just remember “FOR WE ARE BRETHREN.”