If you are facing conflict in your personal life, your professional life, or in your church congregation, you are not alone! There is division and dissension among Christians and in churches across the United States. The key issue in every dispute is not whether conflict will happen, but how we will respond to it when it does happen.
(image Watts, The Good Samaritan, courtesy Wikimedia commons)
Will we respond in love?
And, what does it mean, this commandment to “love” one another?
As to what it means to “love one another,” consider first, Christ’s love for us.
Though a love that lays down its life for others is counterintuitive to human nature, that expression of God’s love for us is the first model for how we are to love one another.
Following from that expression, we then observe how we are to treat others. The Lamb of God has loved each of us sacrificially, paving the way for reconciliation between God and man. We, in our personal relationships, are commanded to do likewise.
In Matthew 5:23-24, we are admonished not to approach the altar of God until we have become reconciled to our fellow humans:
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.And Jesus taught us to pray: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
These are not empty words, “as we forgive our debtors.” Our extension of forgiveness – of compassion– to others is a condition to being forgiven. This fundamental attitude toward our fellow human – an attitude of love — does not allow for ostracisation, for “other” ness, for building walls and fences.
When we fail to forgive, we risk being like the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21 – 35. This servant, after being forgiven a large debt, displayed a lack of compassion toward another who was indebted to him for a lesser amount. In this parable, when the Master found out about the lack of compassion shown by the servant who had been forgiven so much, he had him thrown into prison and tortured until he repaid back every bit of his original debt.
Truly, the consequences that flow from our own hardness of heart toward those with whom we differ are the consequences we really need to fear. For, how can we approach the throne of God to ask for forgiveness for our sin, when we fail to extend even a smaller measure of grace to those who have sinned against us?